Written by Creative Strategy, UX Design

How to manage multilingual content within a consistent UX design

WordPress Multisite is perfect for international companies looking to create a consistent user experience for their multilingual content.

KyleBondo.com - Build a WPMU monster for multilingual content

International Brand Management

One of the WordPress Multisite patterns that I get asked about at WordCamps has to do with creating multiple language content networks that benefit from a consistent user experience (UX).

Pattern At-A-Glance

I’ve dubbed this pattern the Sea Dragon. This beast weaves in and out of the sea lanes of the floating global market, moving from ship to ship to eat unwary sailors from any nation. But when it comes to the surviving sailors trying to tell hunters what they saw, each language uses different words and ideas for the same thoughts. This means that if you plan on taking this monster on, you need to have a good handle on each language involved in the tall tale. To ignore a detail or mistranslate a concept could mean the difference between taming this Monster or being eaten by it.

The metaphor behind the Sea Dragon is ideal for companies with global markets or organizations with international audiences. Each language-specific site within the Sea Dragon Monster Site Pattern is loosely connected to the next site by (A) a unified theme design that supports overall brand identity, (B) a centralized domain name, and (C) all of the Monster Site’s required languages organized by using the WordPress Multisite sub-folder option. The advantage of sharing all these Monster Site features is that content navigation, number of pages, and functionality can be moderately independent of the other (if needed). It also places each language into its own folder (e.g. “en” for English, “bp” for Brazilian Portuguese, “es” for Spanish) after the main domain name, making analytics and troubleshooting easier to manage.

KyleBondo.com - The Sea Dragon Monster Site Pattern

Fig 1. The Sea Dragon Monster Site Pattern leverages the centralization power of WordPress Multisite to share a theme, branding, domain name, and simplified folder organization while still allowing each site to have customized content.

Pattern Advantages

If done right, the Sea Dragon’s true power lays in its capability to provide a multilingual organization with a centralized administration for each language, while providing it in the language of the administrator. This means that an English-speaking administrator can make content changes on the Brazilian Portuguese site without really having to know Brazilian Portuguese. The same can be said about an administrator in Rio de Janeiro making changes to the English site, only their administration menus in Portuguese.

Many Coils, One Body

Each of the sub-sites within the Sea Dragon has unique content geared towards the language of the target audiences. But since they all share the same theme, each site has the same look-and-feel, branding, and global functionality. Only the navigation titles and the number of pages are different. This way a service, product, or post that is intended for one group of customers, but not another, can be excluded from translation.

Case in point, if the American audience (which primarily speaks English) is informed about a service available only in the United States, the same page does not need to appear in the Brazilian Portuguese translated site. This allows an organization to tailor each site’s offerings, but maintain the same overall structure of the pages so that admins from one language can still understand what content goes where without truly having to learn the language.

Many Teeth, One Jaw

Normally, maintaining three single instances of WordPress, each with content in one particular language, would not be too difficult. However, when you consider that the content is targeted to specific audiences, combining everything into one Monster Site can alleviate some common pains such as updates, theme edits, and adding/removing plugins. With a Monster Site that can have any of its Super Admins provide the update to the entire network, you can reduce the need to have an admin associated with each language site, and focus on content contributors instead. In fact, you could centralize all administration from an admin located in the organization’s home country, and only require content to be translated and delivered as needed. This would remove the need for any administrators outside the Monster Site network, creating a restricted access limitation and better security.

Many Sightings, One Dragon

When you centralized your languages into one Monster Site, you also create the capability to make the organization’s headquarters the only location that realistically controls the posting of all translated content. Each branch office could get a say in the quality of the post, and could even provide the translations. But when the structure is more or less the same for each language, an admin does not really need to know the language in order to post the content to the correct location, spell everything correctly, and provide the proper syntax and special characters.

In many ways, the Sea Dragon Monster Site Pattern can allow an organization to have customized, tailored content for several different languages, but not have its websites administer, updated, or even edited by anyone except the few individuals associated with the main office. You would certainly need native speakers of each language available when customers started to call, but as far as the website was concerned, it could be completely centralized without needing the overhead of multilingual admins.

Sea Dragon In Action

International companies are a perfect use case for applying the Sea Monster pattern. A professional security firm that I once worked for had offices in the United States, Brazil, and Central America. Based in the United States, the company was interested in expanding its reach to include personal protective services during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

To facilitate business operations in multiple locations for clients speaking multiple languages, I created an American English, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish version of their website utilizing WordPress Multisite as the foundation. With WordPress acting as the central hub for presentation and content management, the UX for all three languages was identical. This maintained the company’s brand and expanded its reach to include an international audience.

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Last modified: July 1, 2021