Web Design

Bilingual Website Design – There Are Special Requirements

webdesign4In many countries around the world, there is a high potential for you needing to produce a bilingual web design. This could be anywhere that the website owner is trying to reach a wider audience. Perhaps by catering for ex-pats or in fact where a country has more than one native language.

You may have to produce a combined English/French site but this could easily be English/Spanish, Portuguese/Spanish or any other combination for that matter. Also it does not necessarily follow that English will be the lead language e.g. you could be producing a French/English arrangement.

So now the question arises of how the site should be structured in order to be discovered by the search engines and in a way that gives the site proper recognition and appropriate ranking; so that it gets listed in relevant search engine results.

There are a few general rules of thumb to adhere to:

* try not to mix languages in side-by-side or above/below translations
* identify individual pages in the language they represent
* use the meta tag for language to tell the search engine what language is being presented
* provide links from one language to the other that are easy to follow
* for sites that are multiple language sites consider an entrance page as the ‘index’ page that offers all the available languages so that the visitor can decide which set of pages they would like to visit i.e. they select their language of choice

Expanding on the ‘linking from one language to another’ statement a little, there are a couple of options available. You could provide a link that takes the visitor from the page they are onto the replica page in the alternative language, or you could just take them to the ‘index’ page equivalent for the alternative language and let them navigate from there.

The latter is obviously easier and has some benefits in that it takes the visitor to the main welcome/landing page for the site so that they get the site message before moving onto the detail.

But this may not always suit the visitor who may see it as an unnecessary click. This is really a judgment call and probably a decision that needs to be made by the customer.

Either approach works for multilingual sites as well, although the navigation is a little more complex.

There are a couple of preferred ways of approaching how the language pages are collected together. Folders can be created for the alternative languages or alternatively sub domains can be created for the alternative languages e.g. fr.mydomain.com

This general approach to bilingual or multilingual sites does mean that the web designer needs to be fastidious in his site updates and to ensure that all pages where required get updated appropriately in all languages.

With respect to Google there are assumptions that are made on a sites geographic location based on the domain name that is used, what server the site is located on and to an extent the language used. To ensure that the site is targeted to the correct geographic location you can use Google’s webmaster tools to define a location. But this feature does need to be used with caution and this makes it worth searching their help files for information on how and when to do this.

So if you are planning a website design in France or any other country that is going to be bilingual or multilingual make sure that the design is being approached in the correct way.

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About the author


Brian Stephens


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  • Interesting information. I have a bilingual website (Thai/English) and have followed many of these suggestions.

  • Hi Tom, yes there is a little more to bilingual websites than meets the eye. But if you have used a similar approach to the ones outlined here it should work well for you.

  • Hi Brian – I build most of my sites with Word Press and I found a very useful plugin for creating Multi lIngual sites – WPML Multilingual CMS – have you ever used this, and if so is it meeting the criteria you set out above?

  • Hi Barry, I built my bilingual sites using Dreamweaver, so no I have not tried the plugin. Should be fairly easy to check though, just view the source code and take a look at the header information for the meta tag. The rest is just down to how it is configured. Hope that helps.


  • hi all,
    I want to make my portal to be billingual. Am working in weblogic, i have created a hindi and englisg properties file and calling it from the jsp, but when am clicking on the hindi link a unicode is genarting .please help me in this.

  • Not sure I can help you with this as I don’t tend to work with java. You may be better looking for help on a java developer forum or something similar. Sorry.

    • I am afraid I don’t think this is a good idea. Quality of a post in terms of content is very important, especially for your human audience. Poor translation will likely drive people away and may even attract a negative response through social signals.

  • Good to know about your blog I have visit. I also have a bilingual website and I am very inspired from your ideas. Thank you for the post.

  • I need help creating a bilingual website using Webeasy 8 Pro; I have already built the pages on each language but don’t know how to link them. I have two flags that will instruct the visitor to click for the prefer language but I don’t know how to make it work! What should I do?Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Esmeralda, there should be a way to click on the image and add a URL to it. Then when you click on the image it will take you to the target page. You need to check the help files for your program to find out how to do this.

  • Some very good information here…thank you! In our experience with bilingual sites (English/Spanish) in Bogota, Colombia, we also believe it will increase the overall quality impression of a site to utilize native or fluent speakers in the language to create a truly bilingual website, to ensure correct grammar, good copy, and awareness of cultural factors. Although this takes more time and care, the end result is better, and can avoid creating the negative impression that can sometimes happen if one is using automatic translation or a non-fluent writer. It speaks to the care and quality of the designer and site owner and their desire to create a great website. I’m sure you’ve seen some sites in English or other languages that are very difficult to read because of their use of machine translation or non-fluent writers. While using a machine-translation into another languages may improve your SEO results in that language, if your business is, say, bilingual outsource website design as ours is (among other things), you want to make sure that any potential client is impressed with the work you’ve chosen to display to the world.

    • Hi Ingedesign, that is a very good point. Clearly the quality of a translation is important and in my opinion using a native speaker of a language for the translation is the only way to go. Automatic translations using software will be full of errors and will also be likely to have contextual problems.

  • Good article about localization of website, what about inbuilt language tools CMS like Joomla, are they helpful?

  • i interested in your web projected my office sinnar, nashik, maharashtra, india