By 2022 around 550 million Chinese will be part of the middle class according to data released by the Chinese Bureau of statistics. The growth of the middle class in emerging markets is part of a global trend that is being repeated in countries as diverse as Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, and Turkey. It is the single largest economic transition in our generation.
This is a huge business opportunity for website owners. Setting up a multi-language website on WordPress is super simple with the WordPress Multilingual Plugin (WPML), but there is a lot more to running a multilingual site than just hitting publish in a new language.
One of the first sites I launched, more than six years ago now, was a multi-language website. We wanted to access a larger audience with the same content. Unsurprisingly it was a lot more complicated to run the site than we first thought. Here are five lessons I wish I knew before I got started.
1. Using Automated Translation Tools
The first choice you are going to need to make when running your multi-language website is how to translate your content. You can either hire native speakers (more on that in a bit) or use an automated service such as Google Translate.
The quality of the translation provided by automated tools is usually somewhere between okay and good (a bit like the writing of an eight-year-old kid). There will be mistakes with grammar, sentence structure and meaning. Your article will probably make some sense but the flaws will encourage your readers to leave your site and search for a better resource.
You can improve the quality of automated translations by reviewing your articles beforehand. Use simple sentence structures, while avoiding complicated verbs and nouns that could easily be mistranslated. Also, use the simple past, present and future tenses as much as possible.
2. Hiring Native Speakers
Comprehension is a major issue when working in a second or third language. It is more than just the language barrier. There are also cultural differences you need to be aware of when running a multi-language website, as these hilarious marketing fails make clear.
For these reasons, I recommend you use a native speaker to translate content as soon as you have the budget. You can get your articles professionally translated through the WPML dashboard. It is a useful service that removes the hassle of having to find your own translator.
While you might start by using the WPML translation service, try to hire a native speaker directly. This will ensure consistency in the quality and writing style of the articles being translated. You can also give the person extra work and responsibilities as you scale your business.
There are plenty of places to hire people to translate your content online. The obvious places are sites such as Freelancer and Upwork. Here is a good guide to hiring people through Freelancer, the tactics shared in that article work for both sites. Personally, I have also had success hiring people through expat Facebook groups and local job boards.
3. Learn About Other Search Engines
Google is the dominant search engine in most of the world. It is so important in the West that you can safely ignore the other search engines, but that is not the case in all countries. In much of Asia and the former Soviet Union, most of your web traffic will come from sites you may never have heard of.
Top of the list is China. With an almost 80% market share, Baidu is the Chinese Google. The two other important search engines in China are Shenma and Haosu. Yandex, meanwhile, is one of the biggest search engines in Russian speaking countries.
Other search engines to pay attention to are Yahoo in Japan and both Naver and Daum in South Korea. Ranking for content in these countries means understanding those markets and learning new SEO rules. Depending on what languages you are targeting, it is worth researching how Baidu works, and how Yandex works.
4. Get Active on Social Media & Guest Post
Once you are publishing articles, you will want to drive traffic to your website. The two best ways to do this are by guest posting and getting active on social media. I would recommend starting by creating language-specific social media channels for your multi-language website.
The most important social media channel for much of the world is Facebook. Twitter and Instagram lag a bit behind. Many other social media channels have a minimal presence beyond English-speaking countries.
As you can see from the map, there are some major social media platforms you will need to become active on if you want to get traffic from certain regions. VKontakte and Odnoklassniki are the biggest social media platforms in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. Facenama is only active in Iran.
The biggest market and anomaly to the social media market is China where Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are effectively banned. The most used platforms in the country are WeChat (a Chinese version of Facebook), followed by QQ. Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging platform, comes in third with more than 300 million users.
While launching and managing social media platforms in a second language is relatively easy, link building is far more difficult. You will need to hire a writer you can trust or an SEO agency to guest post and gain you exposure in your new language. There is no shortcut for this. It will take time, and you will need to find the right people with whom to work.
5. Scale Slowly
To avoid going bald from stress, start your multi-language website adventure in just one additional language. That will keep you focused. It also gives you the opportunity to find the right staff, experiment and see what works.
Keep in mind, growing your website in a second language will take a lot of time. More importantly, it will take a lot of your energy – until you find an excellent teammate that is. When you have a system that works, add another language and repeat the process, McDonald’s style.
A multi-language website is a good way to expand your audience and grow your business. As people get more money, they have more money to spend, and they might spend it on your products or services if only they could find and access them in their language.
You will face plenty of logistical challenges as you grow your business in a second or even third language. Hopefully, this guide has highlighted some of the problems you are likely to face, so you can prepare for them or even avoid them altogether.