How to create a multilingual WordPress site
Lucas Prigge, December 12, 2016
There’s no doubt that WordPress, since its launch in 2003, has grown explosively in both market share and technical complexity.
We are often asked how best to use WordPress to create an international website. For this, a multilingual website is essential.
There are many ways make your website available in multiple languages. In this overview, we look at what’s possible with the help of some real world examples. We also dive into some popular plugin solutions (WPML & MLP) and discuss how best to present a WooCommerce shop in multiple languages.
WordPress Multilingual (WPML)
WordPress Multilingual, or WPML, is one of the most popular plugins for creating a multi-language WordPress installation. The plugin can easily be managed from a single WordPress installation, with no need for multisite. Whether you want a small landing page in two languages, or to speak to a worldwide audience in dozens of languages, WPML makes it possible.
WPML offers users a powerful interface, which includes a new user role, the ‘translator’. Users with this role can be assigned specific translation jobs by ‘editors’ in the WordPress backend.
It’s also compatible with many other extensions for WordPress, such as the well-known SEO-plugin by Yoast, and WooCommerce, the shop extension. We take a closer look at Woo later on. WPML has published a complete list of compatible plugins on its website.
Of course, every language brings an extra layer of complexity with it which means your website uses more server resources and this can weigh heavy on your website’s performance. As long as you have an efficiently-developed website and you’re using the right hosting as a foundation, multilingual websites can still be fast and stable.
Working with WPML
Andreas Schweizer from Schweizer Solutions (German) uses WPML for his project favelaclothing.com . He developed a WooCommerce shop in German and English with WPML for this popular clothing brand (131K followers on Instagram).
Andreas chose WPML because of its popularity and compatibility. The support for WooCommerce also played a large part because of its ability to show pricing in different currencies – essential for an international shop. WPML’s interface makes it possible to simply outsource translations to a translation agency.
Still, WPML has its drawbacks. It has a clear impact on (backend) performance. It can also complicate maintenance and troubleshooting of your site, especially if you have many pages and categories. You can easily find yourself editing the wrong translation by mistake!
Advantages of WPML
- Powerful interface
- Compatible with many other plugins
- Multisite not required
Disadvantages of WPML
- Negative impact on performance
A strong alternative for WPML comes from Germany. MultilingualPress, developed by WordPress VIP Partner Inpsyde, doesn’t just let users switch the website’s language, it automatically shows your site in the visitors’ browser language.
The plugin is suitable for bigger applications, because it’s based on WordPress’ multisite feature. Read our blog article about multisite if you’d like to know more about it. This also makes it easy to work with different TLD’s (like .com, .co.uk, .dk, etc.) via domain-mapping.
MLP is praised for its user friendliness. You can view available translations per post or page in the editor, find a list of links for all translations per widget, and duplicate sites easily. This feature lets you clone an existing subsite including all its settings, theme, plugins etc. This makes it very easy to quickly add new translations.
Working with MultilingualPress
Our friends from Chef du Web (Dutch) have plenty of experience with this plugin, using it on vixyvideo.com, a SaaS business video platform. The website’s purpose is to inform and persuade new clients. VixyVideo has international growth ambitions, so they needed an English-language version of their website.
They chose MLP above WPML or other translation plugins because it stays very clean – every translation is deployed in a separate subsite, with everything staying inside one multisite installation. In other words: the content differs per site, but every site uses the same code.
Other solutions, including WPML, can experience problems with URL-structures or custom plugin compatibility. Because MLP separates everything, these conflicts don’t occur.
One disadvantage to MLP lies not within the plugin itself, but in WordPress Multisite.
Multisite is difficult to combine with DTAP-environments, especially if the installs differ in their server configurations. Because MLP requires Multisite, this has to be taken into account.
Read more about MultilingualPress Pro on their website.
Advantages of MLP
- Easy to use
- Site stays clean
- Better performance because based on WordPress core
Disadvantages of MLP
- Multisite required
- Difficult to combine with DTAP-environments
Separate sites and integration with WooCommerce
In addition to the plugin solutions described above there are other ways to serve an international audience. Especially when dealing with very diverse cultures, a solution with separate websites might best suit your needs, not just with different languages, but also with changes to design and content.
If you’re looking to turn your WordPress site into a webshop, WooCommerce is the solution. If you’re trying to sell in other countries, your shop needs to be multilingual as well.
WooCommerce is quite a resource-hungry plugin in itself (depending on the number of products and variables), so to port your entire product portfolio into different languages, obviously takes up a lot of resources.
Don’t let this intimidate you: Joolz, a very successful pushchair brand, uses a multilingual WooCommerce solution that suits their needs perfectly.
Working with separate sites
Our partners at Van Ons (Dutch) created my-joolz.com, a WooCommerce webshop. This website keeps a worldwide audience informed about the latest products, provides support and product registration, and. of course, sells products.
Van Ons decided to use a separate WordPress-installation per country and/or language. Each website uses the exact same code – the same template, the same plugins, while new content is added per website in its own language via translation files and settings.
Performance is the main reason for this solution. Van Ons had started with WPML, but the large amount of content and number of products – some with up to 200 variations – made the sites perform slowly. The solution was found in deactivating and removing WPML, and switching to separate WordPress installations.
One of the effects of this change, is that separate logins per WP-Admin are now required. However, as you need to add content per language separately with WPML, this doesn’t make much of a difference. Besides, there are many tools that allow you to maintain several websites from 1 central dashboard, like ManageWP, InfiniteWP or MainWP (But Joolz doesn’t use any of these solutions).
Advantages of separate sites
- Improved performance per site
- Content separated per country/language
- Individual configurations possible per site
- Not dependent on plugins that require WPML-compatibility
Disadvantages of separate sites
- Separate WP-Admin logins required
- Higher hosting costs
What should I choose?
We hope this article provides you with an overview of the possibilities that WordPress offers to internationalize digitally. The right solution depends on your situation. Whatever solution you pick, Savvii can help you with optimized hosting.
Because no matter what language we speak, a fast website is important to all of us.
Contact us for for advice about your multilingual WordPress site.