Skip to content

A Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Translation (6 Best Practices)

WordPress translation is relatively simple from a technical standpoint. You can use plugins to do most of the work for you, such as creating new pages for translated content, adding language switchers, determining which languages to show to which users, and more.

However, plugins can’t do all of the work for you.

If you try to translate your website without really understanding what the task involves, you may end up with a multilingual mess on your hands.

wordpress translation

Fortunately, there’s a set of best practices you could follow to create solid translations. Things such as knowing what type of WordPress translation you want to implement, what plugin you should use, and whether to hire a translator, can help you ensure that the translated versions of your website are accurate and accessible.

In this article, we’ll go over six best practices for creating a multilingual website. We’ll discuss the importance of each strategy and show you how to implement it. Let’s get to work!

📚 Table of contents:

  1. Choose between machine and manual translation
  2. Pick a translation plugin based on your website’s needs
  3. Hire a proofreader, a translator, or an editor
  4. Remember to translate images and menus
  5. Add a language switcher or use automatic geolocation detection
  6. Test your website with local speakers

1. Choose between machine and manual translation (or both)

When it comes to translating content, there are two options to choose from. You have machine translation or manual (human) translation.

The former involves using software to translate text from one language to another. This process typically takes a few seconds and doesn’t involve a lot of work.

You may already be familiar with translation tools such as Google Translate:

Google Translate

These days, you can use software to translate entire websites and not just scattered phrases. This usually means connecting an online tool such as Google Translate or Microsoft Translator to your website, running the content through it, and creating new versions of each page with the results.

This method can be very cost-efficient compared to hiring a professional translator. Software solutions might charge only a handful of dollars for thousands upon thousands of words, whereas professionals may charge you hundreds for translating a single page. Plus, machine translation is typically much faster.

As you might imagine, machine translation isn’t perfect. However, it’s come a long way in the past few years, and the quality of machine translation is constantly improving.

Manual translation, on the other hand, depends entirely on the quality of the professionals you hire. A great translator will have a real understanding of the language, as well as any cultural cues that translation software might not be able to pick up on.

Usually, your choice between man or machine will come down to cost. If you can afford a professional translator and wait for them to deliver, you may get better results than with machine translations. Alternatively, some companies and tools offer a mix of machine and manual translations. This means the software does the brunt of the work and translators focus on correcting errors and improving accuracy.

Understanding the pros and cons of each model is important. If you expect perfect results from machines or quick translations of hundreds of pages from professionals, you’ll likely be disappointed.

2. Pick a translation plugin based on your website’s needs

There are many WordPress translation plugins to choose from. Some of them focus on machine translation, others on a manual approach, and most use a combination of both:

Best WordPress translation plugin: WPML vs Polylang vs Weglot vs TranslatePress

Your choice of WordPress translation plugin should depend on the translation method you want to use and your budget. For more information on the top options on the market, you can check out our comparison of WPML vs Polylang vs Weglot vs TranslatePress.

3. Hire a proofreader, a translator, or an editor

Using machine translation can help you get your website ready for an international audience in record time. However, relying solely on software means you may end up with content that contains inaccuracies, lacks context, or misses cultural cues.

To avoid these issues, you’ll likely want to cover your bases by hiring a proofreader, or a translator, or an editor to go over your translated web pages. A translator can help you ensure the content is optimized for local speakers and that it’s not riddled with inaccuracies. Editors, on the other hand, can make larger-scale changes to make translated content more engaging.

Whether you’re hiring a proofreader, an editor, or a translator, the easiest approach is to look for help online. These are some of the most popular platforms where you can find all three types of professionals:

  1. Smartcat. This freelance platform focuses solely on translating, editing, and proofreading jobs. You can filter professionals by languages or language pairs and see what industries they have experience in.
  2. BloggingPro. This website offers a job board for writers and editors. You can publish a job and let applicants come to you instead of browsing for options on a freelance platform.
  3. Upwork. This platform enables you to publicize projects with a great level of detail and decide who can apply to them. Although Upwork allows all types of professionals and projects, translation and editing services are easy to find and advertise.

In terms of pricing, platforms such as Upwork enable you to pay by the hour or per project. Smartcat, on the other hand, lets you pay a monthly fee that entitles you to different quantities of translation or editing work.

Meanwhile, freelance translators tend to charge by the word, with the average being around $0.10-$0.30 per word [1]. It’s also common for editors to charge by the word.

However, you’ll also find freelancers that charge flat fees for projects based on various factors, such as length, scope, and complexity. Therefore, you’ll want to carefully choose which type of service and payment model works best for your needs and budget.

4. Remember to translate images and menus

WordPress translation mostly focuses on written content. Plugins can help you translate any text they find on your site. However, they might not translate other key components of your site, such as images and menus.

Here’s why it’s important that you translate every element on your site:

  1. Improved clarity. Images often contain text or visual cues that convey important information or reinforce your message. By translating the text within images, you can ensure that your non-English-speaking audience fully understands the content and context.
  2. Better user experience. Navigation menus are the backbone of your website’s structure, guiding users to the information they seek. Translating menus ensures that users can navigate your site effortlessly, regardless of what language they’re browsing in.
  3. SEO benefits. Translating images and menus can improve your website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in different languages. By adding translated alt tags to images and translating menus, you’ll make it easier for search engines to crawl and index your site, potentially increasing your visibility in search results.

If you’re using a WordPress translation plugin, you’ll want to make sure that it works with menus. If not, you might need to create new menus and translate them manually.

You might also need to source new images in the desired language:

Translating a WordPress menu using a plugin

Alternatively, you could design images from scratch or hire someone to do it. However, this can be incredibly time intensive if you’re working on a website with hundreds of images.

To simplify the process, we encourage you to go through your site page by page and make a list of any images that will need a translation. If you can omit some of those images without impacting the quality of the translation, that’s great. For any images you want to keep, you’ll need to find a way to translate them.

5. Add a language switcher or use automatic geolocation detection

When designing a multilingual website, deciding how to present language options to your users is crucial. Two common approaches are manual language switchers and automatic geolocation detection. With the first method, you enable users to switch languages at will. The second approach automatically chooses what language to show based on the user’s location.

In terms of benefits, a manual language switcher is an easy sell. Users get to decide what language they prefer. It also means that you won’t need to collect geolocation data:

An example of a language switcher

The downside is that some users might not be able to figure out how to interact with the switcher. It also adds a step to get to the point where a user can enjoy the site in the language they want.

Geolocation detection uses IP addresses to figure out where a visitor comes from and what language to show the site in. This means users can start browsing the website right away. However, this approach might not always be effective. Some users would prefer to browse the website in another language (e.g., British users living in Spain would likely want to browse the website in English).

As is the norm with WordPress translations, the ideal solution lies somewhere in the middle. Showing a language switcher but also implementing geolocation detection can help solve the problems created by each method.

6. Test your website with local speakers

The final test for any new website is to do a trial run with real users before it goes live. That same approach applies to translations. Even if you’re sure your translation is impeccable, you might want to ask native speakers to check it out.

You don’t need a massive sample size for this test. If you happen to know someone who speaks the language, you could ask them to visit a page or two on your site and let you know if they find anything they don’t understand.

Keep in mind that you’re not testing for User Interface (UI) errors or a poor experience. This is simply to make sure that your site’s translation looks good before it goes live. It should cost you nothing, but it’s a vital step that can help you identify issues with the final product.

Conclusion 🧐

WordPress translation is not as simple as installing a plugin and letting it connect to a translation service. If you want to translate your website properly, you’ll need to understand and implement some best practices. This will help you ensure visitors get to enjoy your website in other languages, instead of them feeling like you’ve made a hash of things.

If you’re working on your first WordPress translation, here’s what you need to know to ensure that the result is good:

  1. Choose between machine and manual translation (or both). ⚙️
  2. Pick a translation plugin based on your website’s needs. 🔌
  3. Hire a proofreader, a translator, or an editor. ✍️
  4. Remember to translate images and menus. 🖼️
  5. Add a language switcher or use automatic geolocation detection. 🔀
  6. Test your website with local speakers. 🗣️

Do you have any questions about WordPress translation? Let us know in the comments section below!

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. Learn more below:

Yay! 🎉 You made it to the end of the article!
John Hughes

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Or start the conversation in our Facebook group for WordPress professionals. Find answers, share tips, and get help from other WordPress experts. Join now (it’s free)!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x