Reaching New International Markets Through Multilingual Web Design

By Stirling Austin
The opportunity to easily reach new international markets

The internet has given small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to enter the global market in a way that was never before possible. They are able to sell their goods and services and build their brand directly through their website to customers all over the world with minimal effort. That being said, internationalising and localising your website is an essential step to take if you want to be noticed by overseas customers. Let’s start with some terminology.

Internationalising your website is the process of building your website to support multiple languages.

Localising your website means adapting your design and content to be relevant to local markets.

Translating your content and adapting your images and design into the native language of the intended audience is an essential step in any digital marketing campaign.

Extending your international online presence can be intimidating, and with the right planning, the process can be smooth and rewarding. There are a number of considerations to make.

The choice of technical platform.

Historically, multilingual websites required vast budgets, since they tended to be custom coded by in-house developers or large agencies, with high build and overhead costs attached and expensive to modify. This is because multi-language sites require a more involved back-end technical configuration to allow for the complexities of managing language synchronisation between site version designs and country specifics, ongoing updates, and any localisation work. If the back-end is not structured correctly in the first instance using the right technical tools and platform, this can turn out to be an expensive and problematic endeavour going forward. However, with new website building technology available today, this is no longer the case.

If you are going down the multilingual route, there are different considerations between proprietary and open-source systems (such as Shopify and WordPress), mainly in terms of control, ownership, flexibility, and price.

There is a multitude of different technology platforms available, but not all are equal when it comes to multi-language suitability. Proprietary pay-as-you-go systems, such as Wix and Squarespace, do have some multi-language capabilities but they are not specifically designed with internationalisation, localisation and multilingual mind. Proprietary systems force you to work within their infrastructure, so if you require significantly different country localisations, you will need to pay for customisation and if you decide to leave, you can’t take your investment with you as you are in effect renting the space. However, on the plus side of things, they offer an all-inclusive, out-of-the-box product that works well for standard requirements.

Open Source platforms such as WordPress have an ecosystem of dedicated plugins created specifically for multi-language web design and multilingual SEO. When it comes to your products and services, how and what you sell will vary depending on the market and country, so the design and content of your website’s different language versions may vary by both of these factors. Open-source systems integrate seamlessly with certain page builders such as Elementor, so that you have complete control over front-end design especially in terms of easily and cost-effectively adding other languages to the same installation for other markets, whilst localising the site versions for local market requirements. However, bear in mind that multi-language capabilities cannot necessarily be implemented retroactively on a website, it may actually turn out more cost-effective to simply rebuild the site.

Translating the content of the site in terms of design

When translating a website to another language, many factors need to be considered. First and foremost, the layout of the website – will the design look good when translated, and will it look consistent in another language?

The website design structure needs to be defined before diving into content adaptation and translation. The site should be designed with localisation in mind, taking into consideration cultural sensitivities in order to make your product or content more appealing to a wider audience and therefore translations will need to be adjusted accordingly. The tone of voice, cultural sensitivity in terms of icons, images, and colours all make a big difference.

  • Icons – a decision must be made to either localise symbols for each different culture or internationalise them by selecting only universal symbols.
  • Colours – cultural differences affect color perception in different countries.
  • Imagery – different images will have different responses in each market, for example, photos of people should always include individuals that are representative of the target culture.
Contextual Translation


  • Cultural considerations should be part of your website translation
  • Different cultures have different selling expressions and tones of voice
  • Translations will not only affect how people perceive your brand online but also your multilingual SEO scores
  • Use translators that understand how to use local selling expressions. (A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush doesn’t translate very well in French).

Transcreation is the merger of two words: translation and creation. It’s an intricate form of translating that preserves the original intent, context, emotion, and tone.

It’s important to remember that these decisions on translations will not only affect how people perceive your brand online but also what you can do with regard to SEO. Plus your site structure needs to lend itself to multilingual SEO. It’s not just about referencing the page with Hreflang tags (as many “experts” will tell you). It’s also about ensuring that the platform has multilingual flexibility for online referencing in different geographical locations, whilst achieving a quality SEO score and consistent ranking. No matter how perfect your multilingual website is, if customers can’t find you, your effort is wasted.

Make sure your digital efforts reflect your export business development strategy

A clear strategy that achieves your desired outcomes will justify the investment in internationalising your website and online marketing. International business development is about designing and implementing an export strategy that results in the successful sale of your goods or services abroad. If you are looking to grow your company’s international business, then your multi-language website should be the digital reflection of your export strategy.

You need to make sure that all of the information on it is accurate, for example from the relevance to local distribution channels, client demographics, and trade law/data compliance, to customer contact numbers in different countries.

Once you know your target audience, speak to them in their native language. A monolingual salesperson can’t sell to a non-English speaking prospect, so the same goes for online branding – 70% of internet users prefer navigation and content in their own language. Don’t expect success in foreign language markets with an English-only website.

Working with specialists

Having a web design agency that understands international business development, and the complexities and specifics of multilingual web design will optimise any investment you make. Your web designer should be familiar with the right tools, methodology and technical foundations to ensure an efficient and manageable multi-language platform going forward. The more experienced they are in this field, the more invaluable their specialist expertise will be to your business.

Pixel Executive is a full-service Digital Agency. Whether for a simple brochure website, a multilingual website, an e-commerce site, or digital marketing, we help you build your business and your brand. Our team is supported by a network of trusted specialists such as copywriters, translators, and experts in multilingual SEO.  Whatever your requirement for design, content marketing, or website maintenance, we support you every step of the way.