Translating your WordPress Website for Multiple Languages

There’s no question that translating website content can help you reach a broader audience. Knowing where and how to start, though, is always a challenge.

There’s a large number of automated translation solutions as well as plugin options and third party services. Combined with the fact languages themselves can be complex, deciding how to best translate your website can be very overwhelming.

Website Multi Language Translations: Consider Your Needs

Make sure you know your audience.

For example, Spanish is not the same the world over! Mexico, Spain, and Argentina each have their own dialect of Spanish.

Assess how much content you’ll need to maintain.

Take a look at the amount of content you have. Then compare this with the rate at which you create new content, and how frequently you update your content. Thinking about how you spend on content will help you plan for the work needed for your translations.

Identify what content is most important.

One tip for saving a bit of money on human translations: Focus on your most important and most trafficked pages. Don’t translate every little thing on your site. Instead, focus on those things your Analytics tells you are important. Leave the rest of the site untranslated, or use machine translation for the rest.

Once you see how your audience reacts, invest in more at that point, rather than jumping in to full investment right away.

Prepare for contact.

If you’re translating website content in different languages, a supporter will very likely contact you in one of those languages. Think about how you’ll respond to emails and phone calls in other languages.

Website Multi Language Translations: Pick a Solution

Using Automated Translations

Automated translation tools are fantastic. They require little work and still get you a translated site.

Google Translate was the gold standard for many years, but in November 2019, they decided to sunset their full website translation tool.

This powerful plugin provides automatic translations of site content. While it’s not always perfect, it has been a quick and easy way to make your site available to individuals who speak different languages. Best of all, it was free for all to use!

Google has not issued an official announcement of this change beyond this: an update to the site where you once signed up to get the widget, which now suggests you use “browsers that support translation natively” i.e., Google Chrome:

Why Did Google Deprecate the Google Translate Toolbar?

We don’t know for sure, because Google hasn’t released an official statement. However, there are theories: translation provider
Argo Translation surmises that the change was due to the financial burden of providing the service, combined with abuse of the terms of use by private companies, which led to contamination of the translated content.

The statement on the old Translate Toolbar website also seems to point to another reason: Google already provides translation services through and through the Chrome browser.

Of course, none of that helps nonprofits.

Replacing Google Translate

So here’s what to do if you use Google Translate on your site:

Step One: Start planning.

While Google has not yet announced that it will pull the plug on existing translation toolbars, it hasn’t promised that it will keep existing installations running, either. We recommend that you plan to replace the translation toolbar before it stops working.

Step Two: Lower your expectations.

The beauty of the Google Translate Toolbar was its ease of use and (lack of) cost: with very little effort, you could add it to your website, at no cost whatsoever (besides, perhaps, the cost to have a developer add it for you).

Your Google Translate replacement options are not so easy, nor so affordable. The cost effective solutions require manual translations and the automatic translators can come with a steep price tag, so prepare yourself and your stakeholders for a bit of work and a bit of cost.

Step Three: Decide whether you’ll continue to use machine translations or switch to human translations.

If you decide to stick with machine translations, these options both provide automatic translation of your website using Google’s machine translation. In both cases, the website is translated on-the-fly when the user selects their language by clicking.

  • A WordPress plugin like Translate WordPress – Google Language Translator, which is still using Google’s massive translation machinery to provide translations via the Google Translate API in the background.
  • A paid service like GTranslate, which also offers you the ability to style the language chooser, correct machine translations, and to get statistics on which languages are most often used on your site.

Using Manual Translation with a WordPress Plugin

The biggest problem with the automated translations is that they are not perfect, especially if you’re an organization working on complex issues with complex terms and vocabulary.

The best solution is to switch to human translations, of which you also have several options:

  • A translation service / plugin like WeGlot, which fully translates all of your content, and lets you choose between machine translation (free for 200 words from one single language) and human translation (for a fee). You can get your site automatically translated to start, and then order human translations of parts of the site you’re particularly worried about. Check out WeGlot’s pricing structure.
  • A WordPress plugin like WPML or MultilingualPress, which allows you to manually manage human translations of each page/post on your site within your WordPress dashboard. You can even outsource the translations to a professional translation service directly from the plugin. WPML has two pricing levels, which you can compare against other multilingual plugins here.

How Enhanced Internationalization Features Help Access Now

Our friends at Access Now work with partners and supporters all over the world, fighting for cybersecurity and internet access as a basic human right. Although English is used for the majority of their content online, they provide lots of pages in other languages — sometimes only in the language that’s spoken in the country where a campaign is taking place, and sometimes in many different languages, when the campaign is global or regional.

When we built their awesome new site in summer 2016, we had discussions with the Access Now team about how to manage translations on their site. At the time, all they really needed was the ability to differentiate amongst pages in different languages, so we built them a simple tagging system in WordPress.

Translating Content Based on Location

A year later, they came back to us with new needs: they wanted to provide the same page in eight different languages, and they wanted users to not only be automatically directed to the version of the page in their language based on their browser locale, but also be able to easily toggle between the various translated versions. Because WordPress is so powerful and flexible, we were able to build on top of the work we’d already done, which is one of the things we love about building web solutions rather than, say, designing print brochures — nothing is set in stone!

As we started to tackle the new challenge, we considered adding on one of the well-known, out-of-the-box solutions like Google Translate and WordPress Multilingual Plugin (WPML). Google Translate provides automated translations and WPML provides tools for administrators to add their own translations. However, neither was perfect: they both direct the user to the appropriate translated version based upon locale, but neither provide an integrated interface that allows the site visitor to switch between translated versions.

Designing Custom Translation Options

We built a new feature on top of the simple language tagging solution, extending it to provide the switching functionality. Previously, the “tag” was simply the name of the language. In the new customization, we added new fields that allow Access to define the language’s native name, its corresponding locale code, and its reading direction (i.e., left to right or right to left, to account for languages like Hebrew and Arabic):

In addition, when the Access Now team builds a page, they are able to define that page’s language, and associate it with other pages that translated versions of that page:

Now, if a user visits a page that is available in a translated version that corresponds to the visitor’s locale code, they will be automatically routed to the appropriate language version. And on each of these tagged pages, a bar with links to the other translated versions (listed in the defined Native Name) is automatically generated:

Access Now can use this new internationalization feature on any future pages, and it is easy for them to add new languages. We’re so excited to help them reach audiences all around the world with their crucial advocacy for cybersecurity!

Website Multi Language Translations: Comparing Plugins and Technical Solutions

Now that you know what content you need to prioritize, it’s time to consider the technical solutions. When custom solutions like the one we built for Access Now aren’t an option, WordPress provides a gamut of plugins for translating website content. Let’s walk through the plugins with your end goals in mind:

Create a single post for each language.

  • Goal: Each language version of an article is set up as its own post. These are then linked together, indicating that one is the translation of the other.
  • Recommended plugin: WPML (Plugin cost: $29-$195)
  • Here’s one example we built: World Jewish Restoration Organization

Pros Cons
Each translated post has its own post, helping you fine-tune your changes Each translated post has its own post which increases the size of your database
Translates menu items, breadcrumbs Cost (but let’s be real…it’s not terrible)
Popular and well-tested Compatibility — consider how this will work with your themes or other out-of-box solutions

Accommodate all languages in a single post.

  • Goal: All language alternatives are stored and edited in the same post.
  • Recommended Plugin: qTranslate X (Cost: FREE, donation recommended)
Pros Cons
Easy to use interface Changing menu languages is not as easy as WPML
Side-by-side editing of content in different languages Uninstalling the plugin can be complicated
Free and well-supported Cannot set different urls for the same content without extra add-ons

Automatically translate all of your site content.

  • Goal: In this scenario, all content on your site is translated (including comments) and users can change the language by simply selecting another language from a dropdown menu.
  • Recommended Plugin: GTranslate (Cost: FREE)
Pros Cons
Fast and comprehensive (so many languages!) Not as accurate as manually creating content (a.k.a. “human translation”)
Free Cannot change/edit the translated content

Manage translated content as multiple sites.

  • Goal: Language versions are set up as separate WordPress sites, which are linked together with a plugin so visitors can ping back and forth between them.
  • Recommended Plugin: Multilingual Press (Cost: FREE)
Pros Cons
Powerful with easy synching Requires implementation and knowledge of WordPress Multisite (with its own pros and cons)
No plugin lockin (i.e., each site can work without the plugin and function on its own) See above — ya gotta deal with WP Multisite ?

Other options for translating website content.

Are you thinking what we’re thinking? Yes, it’s true: Human translations are more readable and user-friendly than machine translations, and there’s a high potential for unanticipated LOLs when translating website content with machine translation. But they’re also expensive and labor intensive.

Good news! There are great options for human translations, as well:

  • works exclusively with nonprofits to create human translations.
  • does local market SEO research and multilingual keyword work.
  • covers over 240 languages.
  • There are also translation collectives that focus on translations for political/social movements, like this Miami-based collective and this NYC-based cooperative.

If you’ve gotten this far down the list, then maybe you’re feeling like you just can’t afford human translation because of time or funds? Well, there’s always Google Translate, of course. Bablic may be the perfect solution: it starts with machine translation, but lets you override what you’d like to create for a perfected translation in less time.

Now get out there and enlighten your site visitors with the content they need in the language they read! Good luck with the translations, friends!


Lesley has been working on the web since she was in high school and ran her own small web design shop before she could drive. She has extensive experience performing user testing and usability studies, rewriting and improving complex language to appeal to a wide variety of audiences, and helping organizations adopt the right technologies to achieve their goals. Her heart really belongs to nonprofits and small businesses, where she can see the tangible benefits of a healthy web presence: donations, connections, engagements, and sales.