Top 7 Best Practices for Multilingual Website Design

Designing a good website is hard enough, but designing a website to serve customers in several languages is even more difficult. Here are the top seven best practices for multilingual website design. We’ll address the benefits of each of these practices and what you should try to avoid.

One Website, One Brand

Use a global template for all of your websites, whether you have separate websites for each country or different web pages with content tailored to each culture’s demographic. Using a global template creates a standard brand experience, visual presentation and user interface across your website no matter which language it is viewed in and ensures that everyone has the same experience regardless of the device they are using and their language preferences. The common website design and branding builds brand awareness with your entire audience and prevents inefficiencies because one linguistic niche ends up becoming its own thing.

Design Websites That Run on Anything and for Anyone

Design websites that will work for users anywhere in the world, not just the lucky few users with 4G and 5G connections. Design a lean and mean website that runs just as well on a cheap and older smartphone as it does a one year old laptop computer.

Use Standard Features

Where possible, use standard design elements that are universally recognised. For example, the drop down box is a standard website design element, and selecting a drop down box to pick the language someone wants to read the language is to be read in will be understood by a vast majority of users.

Listing languages as active links to take people to separate translated domains is another option, though they need to be visible to users to capture this traffic. This means not putting the links to the French and Spanish versions of your page at the very bottom, where few will scroll far enough to see it. Don’t use flags to represent languages. For example, if someone clicks on the Canadian flag, they may need the text translated to English or French. Someone selecting the U.S. flag may need content in English or Spanish. Location dropdowns or language drop downs are better.

Don’t Try to Do It All Yourself

If you are trying to redesign your website to add pages in other languages or translate your existing content into multiple languages, don’t try to do it all yourself. You can work with a team like AfterFivebyDesign to design easy to use drop down buttons so someone can select to see your website in perfectly translated versions in whichever language you wish it to be available. Don’t rely on Google Translate to convey your privacy policy, shipping discounts or marketing copy. Machine translations are known for being clunky and awkward, and this will lead search engines to downgrade your content. Firms like can build search engine optimisation into the translated content so you rank well in any search by your customers.

Internationalise What Matters to Consumers

Seeing their flag on your website isn’t going to convince customers to buy as much as seeing prices translated into their local currency would. Another issue you must get right is address formats; if addresses don’t translate correctly and customers fail to receive their products, you’re going to lose their business now and forever while their bad word of mouth marketing will hurt future sales. Also take care of dates and timestamps, since a European customer who thinks the product will arrive in a few months because the site uses American date formats may not buy from you.

Use a Few Images That Matter

Leave off the stock images that add little value, since this slows down downloads for those with limited bandwidth and clutters the page for everyone else. Use only a few relevant and, where possible, universally appropriate images on your site. This is where images of your product in use and logo get the most bang for the buck. And, don’t embed critical information in graphics, since the text in image files cannot be translated by AI.

Test, Test, Test

It is amazing how many people design advanced features to make their website accessible to the global market and then fail to test the interface. This is how funny pictures of bad Chinese to English translations end up circulating on the internet while creating a very bad public image. This will also hurt your conversion rate, be it an opt-in or a sale.  Have the buttons to translate text to another language or switch to another language tested, and arrange for someone fluent in the language to read it and ensure it came out correctly. The last thing you want is for the Asian language content to be posted left to right, essentially backwards, or translated text to come out sounding like a bad joke.

Internationalising is all about making sure that your site reaches the largest audience possible without compromising your brand image and having to overhaul your whole design for small niches. If you follow the tips in this article, the whole process should be much easier.