How to Build a Localized and Multilingual International Website

Does your company do business around the world?  If so, you’ve come to the right place. Over the past 10 years Bonsai has built websites for international companies and learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t! In this article,  we discuss how to successfully create localized & multilingual international websites.

At Bonsai, our focus is to make the website as great for your end customers as it is for you, your content management team, and IT team to maintain. 

Before we get into how to do it, let’s look at our two primary stakeholders and why it's incredibly frustrating when this process is done incorrectly.

  1. “Pam the prospect” is sitting in a business meeting discussing a need that your company solves half way around the world. She starts searching for companies and comes across your website, only to find it’s slow to load, not in her language and worse, your company's products and services don’t reflect what your company offers in her market. Do you expect Pam will chose to work with your company? 
  2. “Cami the content administrator” is doing her best to manage multiple websites in different regions of the world. Stakeholders from each region are constantly requesting the site be kept up to date, but each region has it’s own content management system (CMS) which means she has to copy over content, get it translated and the tech team has to manage all of these different websites. What a headache!

It can be a frustrating experience all the way around, but it doesn’t have to be!


In the sections to follow we’ll go over:

  1. How to target the right markets
  2. Localization vs. language translation
  3. Why a single content management system is the way to go
  4. Don’t forget compliance
  5. Localizing your domain
  6. The need for speed



How to Target the Right Markets

Throwing your precious marketing resources against a virtual wall to see what sticks, is not the best strategy.  You'll need a hand from data analytics.

  1. Google Analytics can tell you where your visitors are coming from and the language setting of their browser helping you identify what markets to target. 
  2. Google Ads Keyword Tool can tell you how often people are searching for your products or services in different regions around the world. 

If you have an SEO agency, they can help with this research and find which markets the data shows to be most lucrative for your business. 

Beyond these tools talking with your customers, prospects and partners can provide invaluable insights. 


Localization vs Language Translation

Localization means adapting your offering (products/services) and content to the culture you’re trying to target. This goes beyond translating content into another language, which is critical since the number of English-speaking internet users is around 25%. It also encompasses any other cultural requirements such as the formats of dates, accepted currencies, or preferred search engine.  

Remember, the more directly you speak to your prospective customer's needs and pain points, the more effective your marketing will be. Translating your websites content is exactly that, translating it from your language to that of your customers. 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

For example, if you have a localized website for your Canadian offerings you may have that sites content in both English and French. 

There are a few options and considerations when translating your site's content, just remember the key is to ensure what you intend to communicate is what’s received.

  1. Human translation vs. machine translation – Where budget allows, we highly recommend human translated content whether by qualified internal resources or an external partner like, Straker, SDL, Translate Plus. At a minimum, translate your site's primary content with professional human translators. 
  2. Google Translate – if you’re ballin' on a budget, or wanting to dip your toes in the water, Google Translate is a free option but tread carefully. Remember, the key to success is having the message you intend be the message received. Google Translate is shaky at best and often results in a poor translation. 
  3. Artificially intelligent machine translations – AI & ML are making significant strides in natural language processing which significantly reduces the cost and time needed to translate content. This is a relatively new area and should be pursued cautiously. We recommend using services like these for secondary pages like blogs and resources, which include a note on the page that it’s been translated by machine. Also, give users the ability to provide feedback as to the quality of the translation.


A single Content Management System is the way to go

We see far too many clients who are beaten down, tired and frustrated of trying to manage multiple websites for each region. Different logins, managing permissions, updates, security patches, stakeholders, consistent brand standards and the list goes on. Distributing your websites to meet your localization needs might save you a little upfront but will cost you exponentially in operational costs. 

Instead, use a single Content Management System (CMS) to manage each of your regional sites. From one centralized platform, you have access to all your localized sites and have one system to keep updated and secure. Make the change once and it’s reflected across all of your region’s sites. The benefits are quite significant.

  1. Brand continuity A CMS is driven by templates which can be shared across each of your localized sites ensuring your brand is represented accurately everywhere. BONUS: extend your CMS to allow for color and layout modification to make your site more cultural sensitive where applicable.
  2. Resource availability and collaboration – content, images, and other digital assets can be shared easily across each localized site.
  3. Front-end design and user experience - Developers don’t have to dig into multiple sites to switch out logos or handle other design aspects.  
  4. Security and updates - It’s just one site to keep up to date and secure.
  5. Translation workflow - Integrate into a translation provider’s software via API. Or, give access to the regional site “owners” to manage their content without losing control of the brand and family of sites. 
  6. Savings - Less time and effort mean your technical and operational costs are reduced. 


Don’t forget Compliance

You have to ensure your website is compliant in the countries you target. Some examples of this are HIPPA privacy compliance, Taxes (check out Avalara), ICP licensing in China, and GDPR regulations in the European Union, California and soon the rest will follow.


Localizing your Domain

And now, a more technical aspect. As you know, your domain is essential. The choice to make here is if you go with:

  1. A top-level domain (
  2. A sub-domain (
  3. A sub-directory approach (  

An argument can be made for all of them. At Bonsai, we prefer to use a top-level domain where possible. When the domain is not available in another country, a sub-domain approach works. A sub-directory is okay as well; it’s just not our favorite.  

Once you have your domain, be sure to “tell” search engines how your localized content can be accessed. Place this code above the closing head tag to inform a search engine that if a user is in a certain area, they should be sent to a localized version of your site: link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=” />

For more information on promoting your website to drive more traffic, leads and conversions, keep an eye out for our blog post on digital marketing for global websites.


The Need for Speed

It’s the nature of the beast — your typical visitor is not going to wait more than two seconds for a page to load. Here are some strategies for improving page load time:

  • Caching pages for faster load times
  • A Content Delivery Network (CDN) to serve your content closer to where the user is resulting in faster page load times
  • Load balancing where an origin server is nearby or in your target markets
  • Optimizing images and reducing file size in order to keep page weight down 
  • Sending mobile-friendly images to mobile devices
  • Keep your CMS and hosting environment updated and secure.

There are many factors that contribute to a slow page load. At Bonsai, we’ve helped countless companies reduce their page load time, like BizX who was experiencing 8 second load times before and 1.7 seconds after we optimized their site. Before working with Bonsai, BarTender Software was experiencing 14 second load times in China, as of this writing their site now loads in under 4 seconds in China.

Closing thoughts

As you can see there’s a lot to consider when developing a website for a global audience. Even as long as this article is, there is still a lot more we could have covered.  Hopefully you’ve learned what to do and what not to do in order to ensure your international endeavors are a success. 

Now that you know how to build a website for a global audience, learn how to attract and track a global audience in part 3 of this series.

If you have any questions, or need our assistance in creating your website drop us a line!


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