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Go Universal: The Simple Guide to a Successful Multilingual Website Development

Having a strong web presence is important in businesses, especially now that technology has been available to all. However, your business will be more advantageous if you reach out for more customers, breaking the language barrier in your web-based promotion.

According to Mark Bishop in his book How to Build a Successful International Website, “the internet is the mechanism to bring the world together.” He emphasized the importance of multilingual websites in easing the cross-cultural communication.

There are three common types of multilingual websites. The complexity of developing multilingual websites varies on the needs and nature of businesses. Here are they:

1. Static Multilingual Website- Some of the businesses with small or medium businesses choose static multilingual websites to limit website’s functions and make translations easy with selected languages (two to three languages).

2. Standard Multilingual Website- Wikipedia and travel agency website are the common kind of the standard multilingual website. It offers different languages, but it doesn’t have a multilingual Content Management System.

3. Multilingual Website + Multilingual CMS- It is the most complex kind, because programmers would have to develop a multilingual CMS for non-English readers.

General Tips:

1. Aim consistency. It must have design consistency for branding, even though in some languages, particularly Arabic, it changes layout.

2. Localize SNS buttons. The social media buttons must also be localized. For example, Japan isn’t much Facebook-obsessed nation, but they like LINE and Twitter better.

3. Detect language. Use IP-based geo-location services to detect the location of the user, and let the website automatically translate the homepage based on the detected location of the visitor.

4. Context matters. Be culturally-sensitive, as the colors and other visual tools can be perceived differently.

5. Use flags. Use it to determine what language is used in the website. This will also serve as a guide where the visitors must click whenever they wish to change the language.

6. Use Unicode fonts. Both in CMS and in the website, use the Unicode fonts so the foreign characters will be viewed properly. Take note also of the special characters.

7. Hire a professional translator. Google translate and automated language translator hasn’t surpassed the human skills in understanding the context before translating.

8. Pay attention to other details other than languages. In building multilingual websites, the language is not the only factor to focus on. The developers must also consider details such as bandwidth and graphics size issues, because the internet speed varies in different countries. Also, we must be careful in using graphics (especially with text), as they won’t be included in the website translation per se.


Developing a multilingual website is metaphorically alike with baking a rainbow cake. You have to bake the individual layers of different colors, like developing several pages in different languages, until you can put it together in one single piece. That means quadrupling the effort as a rudiment to execute the projects successfully.

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