There are dozens – if not hundreds – of WordPress translation plugins. But not all plugins are equal. Choosing the wrong one can hinder your international digital strategy and tank user experience.
Imagine you’re visiting a brand’s website for the first time, and the site is slow to load. Or some elements are in English, and some elements are in another language. Or basic functions aren’t working like they should, or the UX just doesn’t make sense.
How likely are you to stay on that website – let alone purchase something? How likely would you be to seek out a competitor offering a better brand experience?
For many international users, this is their reality when interacting with localized WordPress websites that use bad (or just poorly configured) translation plugins.
Your website is a reflection of your brand in your target markets, wherever they may be in the world. A poor user experience will erode trust and confidence in your company – especially in highly competitive markets. Here’s how a sub-par WordPress translation plugin can sabotage your international marketing strategy.
HOW WORDPRESS TRANSLATION PLUGINS WORK
Backend translation plugins are locally installed on a website’s CMS. The database is configured for multilingual use. In order to prepare a localized user experience, English content is exported via the installed plugin within the CMS. Then it’s translated and re-imported to add the localized versions of the content to the CMS.
WHAT GOES WRONG
Regardless of which type of technical setup is right for your organization, WordPress translation plugins can be hit, miss, or miss. Here’s where they can go wrong, and what to watch out for.
Page load times/failures
Connectivity and internet speeds vary significantly between markets. Jersey, an island in the British Isles, has the highest internet speeds in the world, with a mean download speed of 274 MBs per second (Mbps). Turkmenistan has the lowest, with 0.50. For context, the US’s mean download speed is 14th in the world (92 Mbps) and India’s is 80th (23 Mbps).
Whichever plugin you use, you’ll want to test and evaluate in-market response times to make sure your localized website loads quickly. If you have serious ambitions in markets with slower internet speeds, either now or in the future, your plugin strategy matters.
Search is the primary way consumers across the world discover new brands. So it’s crucial to take SEO into account when you’re choosing a WordPress translation plugin.
Of course, search engines are increasingly weighing mobile experience as a ranking factor. So if your localized website has long load times, you’ll be penalized for it – and for poor UX.
Control over the translations you’re rendering is also important. Installing plugins that rely on third-party multilingual content won’t allow you to optimize your own content for local search. Short term, this could limit the chances of local users finding your content. Longer term, it could prevent you from progressing your in-market strategy to develop SEO-informed content at the local level or refreshing page content to optimize and boost conversions.
English site structure dependency
Many translation plugins for WordPress require that all pages correspond to an existing English page. This will limit your ability to create custom, standalone content for a specific market. It may also mean you can’t respond to in-market trends or support market-specific campaigns, reducing the relevance of your site to your priority audiences.
From a structural standpoint, you may not be able to make crucial UX adjustments for a target market, instead offering visitors an experience that clashes with in-market preferences. You may not even be able to provide localized versions of imagery, further alienating your audience and driving them to competitors that provide a more authentic experience.
Incompatibility with customizations
One of the biggest benefits of WordPress is how easy it is to customize the platform to fit your needs. Unfortunately, the more customized your domestic website, the harder it is to ensure a smooth localization process – and a great experience for your in-market audience.
For instance, there are over 31,000 WordPress themes (free and premium). And they don’t all support every translation plugin. So it’s important to double check that your theme supports the translation plugin you choose. (And, of course, that your WordPress theme supports your international marketing goals. If your web design agency doesn’t take your future localization goals into account when building out your site, you could run into trouble down the road.)
Text stored outside the CMS (in images, plugins, or external platforms) will likely not be detectable by most translation plugins. In these situations, English content will show up in some elements of translated pages, resulting in an awful English/in-language hybrid experience.
The more complex your website tech stack, the more difficult it is to get translation plugins to work the way you need them to. Consulting with a localization partner about international UX and designing with localization in mind could mean the difference between success and failure in-market.
Difficulty managing & implementing a plugin
Even the best translation plugin won’t help you if it’s not implemented correctly. Despite their technical capability, many domestic agencies don’t have the localization experience to be able to troubleshoot issues or understand the downstream impacts to SEO, performance, and user experience.
Some plugins require more admin work than others. You’ll want to make sure you have the people power necessary to manage the website localization process, troubleshoot issues, and manage updates. And to ensure that everyone in the process is thinking beyond translation and focused on international user engagement and conversion. Particularly if you’re entering a highly competitive market. Often, domestic teams make assumptions about website translation and underestimate how important international UX is.
Pricing (you get what you pay for)
Pricing structures for WordPress translation plugins generally fall into three categories:
- Free (with paid service): Usually better performance. These plugins require another paid subscription or partnership, whether it’s a specific localization tool or with a localization vendor. Typically, they’ll have better customer support because of the other elements in the relationship. But this may limit your strategy to those vendor capabilities (technically, linguistically, and creatively).
- Paid (standalone): Hit or miss. Good plugins are very customizable and support typical marketing needs, like SEO, in-market content, and market-specific UX. They may require more in-house or agency technical savvy to implement correctly.
Generally, paid standalone plugins strike the right balance between performance and customization. These ensure that you can meet your global digital goals and offer a better international user experience without being beholden to any one technical or language solution.
Finding the right WordPress translation plugin is hard. You have to balance your content goals, technical resources, budget, and the experience you want to provide to your audience. It’s most important to choose a solution that fits your short-term goals and lays the foundation for your long-term strategy.
If you’re not quite ready to make the jump to full website localization, creating a landing page or microsite for a specific market can help test the market opportunity and prove the case for international content. But if you are ready, internationalizing your website design can increase your chances for success. Like minimizing unnecessary customization or ensuring displayable text isn’t hardcoded into templates in the backend.
Always consider translation solutions that are independent of a language service provider. This will give you full control over your current and future localization needs. And you won’t find yourself tied to a plugin (or localization vendor) that you can’t easily replace. As your localization maturity develops, your needs will change, so accounting for that in your technical decision-making is important. We’ve found that the backend plugin WPML has been the best option for companies that want to provide an excellent user experience, minimize admin headaches, and support a high-quality, SEO-friendly localization process – without being locked in to any one localization vendor or technology.