Localization is a great way to expand your reach and increase conversions. But translating your WordPress website manually can be a time-consuming and inefficient process. In this post, we’ll share some tips to help you localize your WordPress website quickly and easily.
Choose a translation-ready WordPress theme. Divi, Avada, The7 are some great choices.
Choose the right translation plugin. WPML is a safe bet for most cases.
Leverage geotargeting. Automatically detecting the user’s location and redirecting them to the appropriate version of your site can improve conversion rates significantly.
Test before you launch. Make sure you have a solid localization test plan to avoid embarrassing mistakes or offensive content that could damage your brand reputation.
Integrate with a translation management system (TMS) to get more advanced control over your translation process, e.g. assigning other people to translations, having a centralized “memory” of past translations you can reuse, etc.
The Challenge: Why localizing your WordPress site manually is a bad idea
First of all, you need to find a multilingual WordPress theme (see below). Although the most popular WordPress themes are now multilingual-ready, there’s no guarantee that yours will be. If it’s not, you’ll need to delve into stuff like PO files, gettext, and custom PHP files. Needless to say, that’s a lot of work.
Second, even if you do manage to find a suitable multilingual WordPress theme or create one from scratch, you’ll still have to translate all the strings yourself in an UI that’s not exactly optimized for easy translation.
Finally, if you ever make a small tweak in the original language, you’ll have to go through the entire translation process again for all your other languages, without any diffing tool to help you easily identify what’s changed.
All of this can be incredibly time-consuming. And, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can also get quite costly.
The Subject: Exactly what to localize?
Now, an important thing to understand about localization is that it’s not only about the text content that you publish on your website. It’s also about the features you include in your website and how they integrate with other languages, like date formats, currencies, legal terms, etc.
It’s also about images and videos. In an increasingly visual world, these play a key role in content consumption and engagement. Localized text with unlocalized media content can lead to a feeling of low-quality or “lazy” content, which will definitely impact your conversion rate.
Finally, you’ll also need to consider your website SEO. While multilingual SEO is a topic in itself, you definitely have to consider which search engines are the most popular in which countries and how you can optimize your content for each of them.
The Tips: How to localize your WordPress website quickly and easily
Now that we’ve seen why localization is important and what exactly we need to localize, let’s have a look at how we can go about it.
1. Choose a translation-ready WordPress theme
As we said, you’ll need a localizable WordPress theme if you want to translate your website without having to work on the core files. Here are some popular options:
This is the most popular multilingual WordPress theme, with over 3500 themes already translated. It’s also the solution we used in this guide.
Another WPML-enabled WordPress theme, Avada is the #1 selling WordPress theme of all time on ThemeForest. Unlike Divi, Avada only features a back-end page builder, which uses the WordPress admin dashboard. This can be both a pro and a con, depending on your preferences.
The second-most-selling theme on ThemeForest, The7 is marketed as “the most customizable WP theme,” which means that it’s especially good for users who have a strong design background. Just as the previous two, The7 supports WPML, so it’s a safe bet if you want to translate your website.
Although not really a theme, we’ve included this one here because of its popularity with WordPress eCommerce sites. A definitive advantage is that WooCommerce’s own strings are already localized in quite a few languages, so you’ll just have to translate your product descriptions. Again, this can be done more easily with WPML.
WordPress “Twenty” themes
Although not nearly as fancy as the others, these regularly updated themes are perfectly suited for simple website needs. If you want to get a nice design without the hassle of choosing among dozens of layouts and features, they are definitely worth considering. They are also some of the best-supported when it comes to multilingualism.
2. Choose the right translation plugin
You might have noticed that most of the themes mentioned above come with built-in support for WPML, the most popular translation plugin for WordPress. This is not accidental: Being in the market for more than a decade, WPML has become an unofficial standard, and has been supported by most WordPress themes and plugins.
Of course, any plugin you choose must be supported by your WordPress theme of choice, so make sure to check this one out.
Some additional features that you might want to check for are:
Support of advanced custom fields. If you’re using custom fields for your content pieces, e.g. “event location” for event pages, “product category” for product pages, etc.
Integration with a translation management system. If you want to get more advanced control over your translation process, e.g. assigning other people to translations, having a centralized “memory” of past translations you can reuse, etc. (as detailed below)
Support for continuous localization. If you want to have an automated process to update your languages as you publish new content.
Once you set up the integration you don’t need to leave the WordPress platform to run the translation process.
The content is sent from WordPress to Smartcat and back automatically.
You can choose to localize all content or just a part of it (e.g. some pages or metadata) depending on the size of your website, time and resources.
Smartcat supports other popular plugins, for example it can extract content from ACF of CMB custom fields.
3. Leverage geotargeting
While a properly localized website will give its visitors the option of switching between languages, you can win several percentage points in conversion by automatically detecting the user’s preferred language and redirecting them to the appropriate version of your site right away.
This is especially useful for sites with sensitive content, which may be subject to various social or legal restrictions in different geographies. You don’t want to get your visitors triggered with content they might find inappropriate or offensive.
Another use case where geotargeting can do wonders is with various promotional campaigns. These work best when the visitor sees them as early in their journey as possible, before they’re distracted by other content.
All in all, geotargeting is an often overlooked feature that can help improve your conversion rates, especially in eCommerce.
Side note: As geotargeting works depending on geographies, not languages, you might want to use a language switcher that uses country flags instead of language codes — this way, for example, a promo campaign that runs in the UK won’t be shown to visitors from the US.
4. Test before you launch
When you’re shipping a product, you don’t launch it and hope for the best — you test. Well, guess what, your localized is a product, too! Unfortunately, all too often, web designers and developers assume that as long as it opens in a browser, it’s good enough to launch.
And that could be disastrous. If you google for “localization fails,” you’ll see it all: translated texts that don’t just make no sense, but are sometimes downright offensive.
It doesn’t help that the people who manage translations don’t usually speak the languages they’re localizing in, or that translators are often not informed about the context for which translations are supposed to be used.
5. Integrate with a translation management system
When your site is small or reasonably static, you might be able to manage the entire translation process within the WPML interface, or whatever plugin you’re using. But, as you grow and add more content or edit existing texts, you’ll start to see the limitations of this approach.
In this case, a translation management system (TMS) could be your next step. In a nutshell, this is a platform where you can collect all your content translations and manage them in a central location.
A good TMS will allow you to:
Assign translations to either people on your team or external providers, who can in turn be freelancers or translation agencies. After that, you’ll be able to track their progress, respond to their comments, keep notes of their performance, and so on.
Sync the content between your WordPress site and the TMS, so you don’t have to import and export them manually. Some will also support continuous localization, so they will automatically assign new content to translators when the source content changes and sync it back once done.
Have a central “translation memory” (TM) of previously translated texts so you don’t have to re-translate everything when you edit them. Some TMSs will automatically calculate a discount — assuming you’re contracting a translation vendor — for such “TM matches”.
Use automatic (machine) translation to get basic coverage (or even a rough draft) of your content before passing it to a human translator. Keep in mind that different MT engines work better or worse for different languages or subject domains, so check which of those your TMS supports, and which will be most suitable for your content.
Improve the quality and consistency of your translations with things like formatting, spelling, and grammar checks, glossaries (aka terminology databases), and concordance search (when translators have access to previous translations). This will also make localization testing much easier.
There are many TMSs out there, and we’re obviously biased, but we think Smartcat is a great option. It has all the features we mentioned above and many more, which you can start exploring once you need more advanced workflows.
The Takeaway: The core principles
As you can see, localization isn’t just a fancy buzzword the marketing department uses. It’s a real deal, and you need to start thinking about it from day one. While there are many ways to do it, the most important principle is to plan your localization in advance and make sure you have the right tools before you proceed.
We hope our guide has given you all the reasons you need to start thinking of localization not as an afterthought, but as a core pillar of your business.