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How to translate a WordPress website: Your guide to a multilingual web presence

What do I need to do if I want to translate my WordPress website? This very question can cause many a headache. If your target audience speaks different languages, it is very likely that you need a multilingual website. 

But what is the optimal process for translating a website into other languages? How do your files get transferred securely to the translation company, back to you, and onto your website? This blog has the answers to these exact questions based on a website run by WordPress. 

What is a CMS? And why should you choose WordPress? 

The first question your translation partner will ask you is:

Which CMS do you use?

Hurrah! Just what you need, another acronym from the tech industry. But have no fear, here comes the definition. 

CMS stands for Content Management System (CMS), and there are a lot of them available today. From simple to complex, they are designed to meet specific needs. You can use them to structure, fill, manage and design websites. How straightforward or complicated the website translation project will be depends to a large extent on your CMS, because this ultimately determines the way in which texts can be exported from your website and then imported back again.

WordPress is currently one of the most popular CMS on the market. It is inexpensive, easy to use and offers many expansion possibilities for personalising your website. Here are 26 advantages WordPress offers as a CMS.

How is your website structured, where are the texts located? What actually needs to be translated?

You should really ask yourself the second question first. Before anything else, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with the overall structure and content of your own website. A table of contents or sitemap can be very helpful. These indexes can also be used later as the basis for a project plan. This makes it much easier to monitor which content is currently where in the translation workflow.

The content that needs to be translated has been identified. Now how does it get to the translation company?

There are different ways to translate a website and organise the data flow from the CMS to the translation company. Exporting, which is arguably the most common approach, also saves the most resources – whether it be time or money. This method consists of transferring the content into a file format that can be easily edited. The exporting, along with the re-importing, of the target texts after translation is usually achieved using something known as plugins .

Quickly export texts from your website with a plugin

Using a plugin to prepare the content offers two advantages at once:

  • Firstly, it eliminates tedious and time-consuming copying and pasting.
  • Secondly, thanks to the markup languages used, the original structure and formatting of the content are automatically maintained.

There are various plugins available for today’s most common CMS that can be used to export website content efficiently – usually in HTML, XML or XL(IF)F format. A professional translation company is able to handle all three formats. The WordPress Multilingual Plugin (WPML) is very popular for WordPress websites.

Which export format works best for a translation company?

The most “straightforward” format for implementation is HTML, because this markup language uses a limited number of element tags that are clearly defined. This allows the translation software – known as a CAT tool in technical jargon – to easily interpret and process these tags and content when importing the HTML files.

In addition to HTML, XML is another popular export format. It differs from HTML in certain ways, e.g. while the element tags should follow a certain pattern, you can name the elements whatever you want.

Follow these steps to translate a WordPress website successfully and efficiently:
  • Gain an overview with a sitemap or table of contents
  • Choose a plugin and install it if necessary
  • Export relevant content using an XLIFF, HTML or XML format
  • Send files along with website access link to the translation company
  • Conduct a short test run
  • Make yourself available for questions
  • Receive the translated files and import them using a plugin
  • Organise a final check before the content goes online
This means that XML files must be carefully analysed before importing them into the CAT tool – unless you expect the poor translator to struggle through the confusing world of tags. The translation partner does an initial, very thorough check to identify which elements in the XML file are used for what: Do they give structure to the text or just format? Are there element tags with content in between them that is not relevant to the translation? Are there special placeholders or elements that must not be translated? And is there perhaps even some HTML embedded within the XML structure? Specialists at the translation company will find answers to all these questions. They will also create a suitable file type filter that is individually adapted to the respective XML files. This filter makes it possible to import the XML files into the CAT tool in such a way that only the content to be translated is displayed to the translator for processing. The translator can then concentrate solely on their work, and there is no risk of accidentally changing the structure or layout of the website texts.

The third format would be XLF or XLIFF – both are very similar and worth mentioning because they are bilingual. This means that these XML-based files already have space reserved for the translations in addition to the source language content, making the format optimal for translation processes and, unsurprisingly, also a preferred export format. In the case of XLIFF files, the correct content is automatically imported into the CAT tool, and all that the specialists at the translation company have to do is check that any structure and formatting instructions embedded in the HTML format are displayed correctly and comprehensibly for the translator.

Either way, it makes sense to conduct a short test run with the translation company using a small number of files. This ensures that the export, translation and subsequent re-import can be carried out correctly.

How does the translator know where and how which texts are displayed on the website?

Since the CAT tool displays the source text without showing any formatting, graphics or structure, it is important to give the translator access to the website. A link to the beta page is usually sufficient for this, along with a user name and password for read-only access if necessary, of course. Despite having access to the website, translators may still have questions – which should obviously be answered as promptly as possible.

So, what happens after the translation?

After the translation is completed, the target language content is returned to you in the same format in which it was sent to the translation company. Now the content can be imported back into the website using the plugin. To make sure that everything ends up in the right place and is displayed correctly, you can either comb through the website yourself from start to finish or commission the translation company to carry out a final check before publishing online. A native speaker reads through the translated website once more line by line and checks that everything is correctly displayed and formatted and that nothing has been forgotten.

Your website is based on a different CMS. What now?

WordPress is just one of a range of CMS that offer convenient export and re-import options and plugins. SwissGlobal is more than happy to accompany you throughout your entire project and support you with our experience and expertise – no matter which CMS your website uses. Contact us now so that we can discuss your project together and get to work.