Thoughts > Design & Engineer

Multi-Regional WordPress Websites

August 13, 2020

Doing business in a diverse and multi-lingual world has many unknowns. But one thing is certain: success with global expansion and long-term business sustainability requires communicating with clients in their native language.

Why it matters

Building a multi-regional website for your business has many benefits. The most important ones are recognized as a customer-centric company, increased sales, and expansion into new markets. These benefits are achieved by delivering the best possible user experience to your website visitors.

Business Value

Indirect value is just as important as direct business value in the form of increased sales. This includes expanding your reach, positioning your business as a global entity, and strengthening your brand. A continuous and consistent presence in different markets is a significant contributor to a business’s long-term sustainability. At a time when websites are the modern shop windows, a strong and globally present brand is one of the cornerstones of any successful company.

Challenges

Global business expansion and international presentation of brands, products, and services is a massive undertaking that involves many challenges, ranging from technological and financial to timelines and logistics. Many great technologies are available to help, but there isn’t one solution to rule them all. Each company must choose the best approach for their specific requirements and organizational structure.

Knowing how to structure web properties that engage new visitors and allocate existing resources is essential. There are two basic approaches to creating a web page for global visibility (as outlined by Google):

  • A multi-lingual site – a website that offers content in several languages (e.g., English and the Spanish version of the site)
  • A multi-regional site – a website that targets different geographic locations (e.g., the United States and Spain, as target product markets)

Creating multi-lingual pages is a relatively simple task that typically involves translating content into a specific language while all other elements remain consistent across pages. In contrast, a multi-regional website is a more significant challenge. It often requires much more than translating content into the appropriate language.

For example, colors can awake unique emotions and connect with other meanings in different parts of the world.Similarly, images may have different meanings or even be inappropriate in some regions. Local teams may also have a completely different market strategy and competitive landscape, which calls for unique layouts and functionality.

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Key Considerations

URL Structure

One of the most important decisions to make is the URL structure of your web pages. It is the foundation for developing the whole project, and it has many dependencies, including budget, market, and SEO considerations.

According to Google, “it’s difficult to determine geo–targeting on a page-by-page basis, so it makes sense to consider using a URL structure that makes it easy to segment parts of the site for geo–targeting.” Though selecting the URL structure may seem like an easy task, it is one of the most critical decisions in building a global web strategy.

Server Location

Not long ago, one of the most critical factors in building a website was ensuring that the server is as close to the target market and visitors as possible. Location remains important, but thinking globally while keeping a budget under control means understanding trade-offs.

Modern technologies such as content delivery networks (CDNs) can come to the rescue and lower a site’s response time and latency. Selecting a data center in a location that has good data connectivity is also very helpful.

It’s also worth stating that Google is not taking physical server location into account as much as it used to. They note that “some websites use distributed content delivery networks (CDNs) or are hosted in a country with better web server infrastructure, so we try not to rely on the server location alone.”

CMS

As a market leader in the web publishing world, WordPress ticks most of the checkboxes when it comes to selecting a backend for a global website network. Likely, most team members are already familiar with it. It’s modular and extendable. And it’s secure when set up correctly. Most of the major web-oriented businesses and services officially support WordPress through add–ons or solutions that help with service integration.

WordPress itself is a modular and flexible solution that allows the development of everything from large corporate sites to marketing mini-sites with custom tools created for a better user editing experience.

Typical Approaches

WordPress is one of the most successful platforms for building a unified global presence. WordPress is the most popular CMS globally, with over 60 percent of CMS market share. (WordPress is used on over 30 percent of all Internet websites.)

WordPress has a built-in solution called Multisite. Multisite allows users to create a network of individually customizable websites that share a common platform and use shared resources. For example, sites for the U.S., France, Japan, and Australia can be created in the same network with different designs, content, and functionality. WordPress Multisite is quite flexible, allowing different teams to work independently without affecting other sites in the network.

Built-in access control allow users to determine which team member has access to a specific page. For example, the Australian team may only be able to access Australia’s installation, while the CMO may have access to all pages. Also, web publishers may have access to all sites but with limited permissions that allow them to edit specific content.

This approach is a smart technological choice that reduces the technical requirements of a global web platform and enables a simple management platform for accessibility, performance, and security. It’s also economical since all sites are hosted on one server that uses verified open source technology.

Adding multi-lingual (and multi-regional) support to a WordPress site is relatively easy due to the built-in multisite support and several available multi-lingual plug-ins. However, without setting objectives that align with the key considerations mentioned above, it can look like opening Pandora’s box.

Our Approach

Convertiv has built numerous multi-regional sites based on WordPress over the years to help clients achieve their global business goals.

Optimizing this approach requires alignment in some key areas. To achieve the best results and optimize website processes, it is crucial to monitor the platform and perform regular performance and security upgrades and optimizations.

Regional teams need to work together to respond to market demands and trends quickly. While WordPress Multisite is a proven platform, it requires effective coordination to guarantee that a website will deliver maximum performance and that regional marketing teams will be equipped to successfully market products and services.

We always take the necessary steps to ensure our clients have the best tools for their business needs, and we’ve built several custom features for WordPress. Below are a few examples of custom features we’ve create to add value to multi-regional WordPress installations.

Shared Media Library

WordPress, by default, has a separate Media Library per site. This means that by default, site editors cannot see or upload content (e.g., images, videos) used and uploaded by fellow site editors managing other sites under the same brand. For example, a U.S. site editor will not be able to see images uploaded by their colleagues on a regional Spain site. This can be a problem, especially in a multi-regional situation with a significant amount of shared content between sites.

With this challenge in mind, the team at Convertiv built a solution for a shared media library using the default WordPress media library. Through this solution, website editors can see and use all media across all regional WordPress sites. The highly functional shared media library can filter images on per-site basis and enable image search across all sites for quick access and usability. Additionally, a shared media library saves time for editors and eliminates duplication of efforts, such as copying the same images to multiple sites.

Post Duplication and Synchronization

In some cases, there is a need for content duplication and synchronization between sites in the network. For example, what if you have multiple regional sites that use English as a language and want to duplicate the content between sites? The team at Convertiv built a custom solution for this type of task that allows editors to duplicate content to multiple sites with one click, while also keeping all sites in sync. If an editor needs to change anything on the original post, they can sync all duplicated posts with one click. Content duplication will copy images, content, and everything else related to the original post.

Hreflang Tags Across Sites in the Network

“hreflang tags are a technical solution for sites that have similar content in multiple languages. The owner of a multi-lingual site wants search engines to send people to the content in their own language. Say a user is Dutch and the page that ranks is English, but there’s also a Dutch version. You would want Google to show the Dutch page in the search results for that Dutch user. This is the kind of problem hreflang was designed to solve.” – Yoast

The team at Convertiv built a solution that enables editors to select related posts in the network and apply this attribute automatically after they duplicate posts using the feature described above.

Publishing Checklist

When multiple editors are working on multiple sites, it’s not easy for them to share the same content creation workflow. This is why the team at Convertiv built a custom publishing checklist feature, which enables users to set conditions that an editor needs to fulfill before publishing a post. One example is checking if post title, tags, and featured images are added before publishing. Activating this feature across regional sites allows for a uniform web presence and strengthens brand appearance.

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