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March 25, 2021

7 Best Practices for Building a Multilingual Website on the HubSpot CMS

With more and more businesses operating online, geographical factors have become less of a barrier, prompting a rise in multinational companies. However, as you expand your customer base into new regions, a new communication challenge arises — language barriers.

To be able to serve your international prospects and customers the content that’s most relevant to them, you’ll need to have a multilingual website.

Here are seven best practices for building a multilingual website in HubSpot.

1. Don’t Rely on Machine Translation

Regardless of what language they speak, you want the majority of your customers and prospects to be able to consume your content. This can require translating your website into other languages. 

While there are automated ways to do that with tools like Google Translate, we don’t recommend them because they tend to be a bit flawed. In fact, serving a poor translation to your audience can actually offend them more than help them because it can imply you don’t respect or care about their region and language.

When building a multilingual website, instead of using machine translation you should instead use a fluent writer or translator to build out unique pages in each language. Even starting with a single high-quality translated page and scaling from there is recommended over relying on machine translation.

2. Include a Language Toggle in the Header

If a web page is available in other languages, the option to read those variations should be easily accessible through the page’s header.  Like with a site search, users have come to expect that this is where the language selector is located. Don’t make users dig for the language they need. You can present visitors with language options through hyperlinked icons, a visual toggle or a drop-down.

If you use HubSpot’s multi-language feature, it will automatically populate your language switcher with the language variants you have available. If not, you’ll need to manually add all your links. 

If a specific page doesn’t have a translation in a desired language, redirect readers who are seeking that to the homepage of their language of choice.

3. Every Webpage Doesn’t Need to Exist in Every Language

There’s a common misconception that when you build out a multilingual website, each language variant needs to have all of the same pages. However, it’s totally fine to start a new language variant with fewer pages than the main site so you can start to get local traffic and have content that audience can read. 

You don’t need a one-to-one for each language because not all content will be relevant to all audiences. If you have offerings that don’t apply to certain regions, you don’t need to translate those pages into those languages.

4. Use Common Modules for All Variations of the Site

Don’t create a whole new set of modules for each language variation. That will just require additional upkeep and be less scalable in the long run. Instead, set up your core modules with logic that can work in all scenarios. 

For example, instead of building out multiple headers and footers, build just one that will switch the text out to display the relevant language and regional content. 

As you add more regions and languages to your website, extending the functionality of existing modules as opposed to duplicating them will prevent your website from getting bloated and difficult to maintain. You want to keep the code base as scalable as possible.

5. Don’t Use GeoIP to Automatically Redirect a User to a Specific Language Variant

Using a user’s physical location to redirect them to a language variant can be bad for a couple of reasons: First, GeoIP isn’t 100% accurate, especially in regions like Europe where countries are close together. So, using it can lead to someone being redirected to the wrong language variant. Secondly, even when GeoIP is accurate, people travel, so their location might not be indicative of their native language. Thirdly, search engines are located somewhere in the world, so using redirects in this way can prevent them from being able to crawl your entire website and have serious ramifications on SEO. Finally, you shouldn’t assume that prospects wouldn’t benefit from seeing variations for other regions. 

That being said, GeoIP can still be useful for helping people arrive on the right language variation, you just should use it for a hint instead of hard redirect. If someone arrives on a language variant that doesn’t align with their GeoIP, you can create a pop-up asking if they’d like to switch to the potentially more relevant content.

6. Optimize For Local Search 

When people search for a keyword in different geographic regions, different results might be presented to them due to local SEO because Google knows the user’s current location. So, to increase the likelihood of your target audience finding your website, there are technical practices you need to follow when creating a multilingual website.

First, you should indicate what the language is in the URL. This can be done using a country code in the domain like “company.ar” or “company.ca”. Or, you could put a language code in the URL like, “company.com/es-ar” or “company.com/en-ca”.

On top of that, you also need to include meta tags in the page head that indicates what language and region this page is intended for and what alternates exist. In addition to increasing your ability to rank within local SEO, this also decreases your chances of getting flagged for duplicate or similar content.

Search engines penalize duplicate content because they see it as an attempt to game the system. Using the proper meta tags will indicate that your similar pages are language variants so they’re indexed properly.

7. Use HubSpot’s Multi-Language Features

HubSpot’s multi-language features can automatically enact some best practices for SEO and UI on web pages, landing pages and blogs. HubSpot also allows you to translate the module field labels on the backend if your team is editing in multiple languages. 

A downside of the feature is that it only works with subfolders, so if you want separate top-level domains or subdomains, you wouldn’t use this feature. You’d want to create multiple versions of the website. 

The pros of using subfolders are that it helps with your overall domain authority to have all your content on the same website. Additionally, using SEO region and language tags will still give you local SEO benefits. But, there are potentially more local SEO benefits from using the country code in the domain. There’s no hard and fast rule on whether subfolders or separate domains are better, but we generally recommend the subfolder option in order to maximize the authority of a single domain. 

If a subfolder strategy does make sense for your company though, HubSpot’s multi-language tools will be super beneficial for implementing multilingual website best practices.

Christopher Mathieu

Christopher Mathieu is the Chief Design Officer at New Breed, where he oversees the creative strategy behind every project we produce. His unique ability to combine his fine art background with his technical web expertise has led Chris and his team to produce countless sales-ready websites and inbound marketing...

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