CMS Considerations for Multiple Languages

CMS Considerations for Multiple Languages

Localising your website can represent an enormous task both in terms of time, energy and expenditure.

Not only do you have to consider the translation of content you have to consider how that translated content will be inserted and managed, which can be particularly tricky depending on the complexity of your website and regularity of updates.

However, the rewards and value of having a properly localised website designed for an international market can make the effort worthwhile. There are many things to consider before localising your website and choosing to work with the right Content Management System (CMS) for your individual requirements can be the difference between a successful project and a nightmare.

Open source or proprietary?

There are many considerations outside of localisation that must be considered when choosing the right CMS for your site. While most popular open source content management systems will contain free and paid plugins to assist you with localisation most high-end proprietary content management systems will provide professional localisation capabilities with support out of the box.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that one system is better than the other however, while proprietary systems tend to be more powerful, especially when a high level of customisation is required their costs can often make them inaccessible. Development costs also tend to be higher with proprietary systems and it can be harder to find developers especially if your requirements are advanced.

Regardless of whether you go open source or proprietary your CMS of choice should support the following for multilingual capabilities at a minimum;

  • Site architecture for global markets and languages –This will allow you to generate country sites and dictate which pages will be translated locally, regionally or globally.
  • Ability to import/export text as XML or other standard formats –This will make working with your translation provider easier by allowing you to import and export text in a standardised format; this is especially relevant if you have a large website and need the ability to upload translated content en masse.
  • Full Unicode support –This ensures that your website can display any character from any language such as Japanese or Arabic.
  • Support for media management –It is important to have the ability to store different assets such as images and other media for the purpose of localisation.

Which CMS is best?

When choosing a CMS it makes sense to look at your requirements as a whole, above and beyond your localisation requirements. While there is no ‘best’ CMS there are Content Management Systems that perform certain tasks better than others.

The below factors should serve as a guiding point when deciding which CMS to use:

  • The size of your website in terms of content and pages.
  • The regularity and complexity of updates.
  • How you will be managing the CMS – in-house or external.
  • The level of localisation required – how many languages, how many pages etc.
  • The complexity of the website – is it a basic site or is there a high degree of custom functionality?
  • Is the website an online store with E-commerce functionality?
  • SEO requirements.
  • Blog requirements.
  • Is professional support required?
  • Budget.

While this is not an exhaustive list we have explored the three most popular and fully functioning open source CMS solutions below.


WordPress is known for its ease of use and flexibility for both developer and end user and is by far the most popular open source CMS. Unlike Drupal, it is quite easy to learn the basics of WordPress especially if your requirements don’t involve complex customisation. If they do, an experienced developer should be able to customise WordPress to allow it to complete most custom functions. The beauty of WordPress is that it has a very large and active community which means that you can often find third party plugins that allow you to achieve your goals. WordPress has no localisation support or functionality out of the box but there are free (and paid) plugins that you can install to accommodate for this.

You can find the top six WordPress localisation plugins rounded up here.


Joomla is often thought as the bridge between WordPress and Drupal in terms of complexity and ease of use. Joomla has strong E-commerce and social networking capabilities out of the box, which makes it a popular choice for users who require this kind of functionality. Unlike WordPress, Joomla does have some localisation capabilities out of the box and it is easier to implement machine type translations such as Google Translate (which is generally not a viable solution if you require professional translations.)

Like WordPress there are plugins you can download to add localisation capabilities to your Joomla website.


Drupal is the most powerful CMS of the three but also has the highest learning curve. Drupal is excellent if you require a highly customised website with advanced functionality and have advanced development capabilities at your disposal. While it has the most power it is also the most lightweight CMS (which can change depending on which plugins you decide to use) meaning that load times are faster with a base Drupal installation in comparison to WordPress or Joomla. Drupal also has a high level of localisation functionality and options out of the box in addition to plugins that can aid with translation.


Much like open source Content Management Systems there are a myriad of options to choose from in the proprietary realm that are relevant for different uses. Popular choices include Adobe CQ, Sitecore, EpiServer, IBM Websphere, Demandware and Hybris.

Investing in a proprietary CMS can be a large investment and we don’t recommend choosing a proprietary solution without first seeking the advice of several professional developers or agencies to define which system is right for your needs.

Professional translation vs machine translation

Machine translation such as Google Translate or Bing Translator provides a quick and easy solution to websites that don’t require professional translation. They are easily installed via plugins and tend to be a viable solution for hobby or smaller interest type websites. The issue with this approach is quality of translation and if you plan to provide a professional, credible experience to the international marketplace this is not the solution for you.

Professional human translation can be cost intensive but is the only way to ensure that your site’s content is properly translated with all language nuances such as tone and expression left in tact. Translation agencies can provide a range of services that go beyond simply translating content such as;

  • CMS integration
  • Management of digital assets including audio and video
  • Translation memory discounts
  • Advice and consultation around how to best align translation with business objectives
  • Keyword research and search engine optimisation for different global markets

As with selecting the right CMS for your translation and business needs choosing a method of translation is dependent on your goals and you should strongly consider these before proceeding in any given direction.

Key Takeaways

  1. If possible, always consider and plan for your translation requirements before building a new website.
  2. Understand your business and website goals and needs before choosing a CMS.
  3. Different Content Management Systems are designed to excel in different areas – don’t fall into the ‘my CMS is better than yours’ discussion that often takes place online.
  4. If a proprietary solution is required seek out the professional advice of several developers or agencies to ensure you make the right choice.
  5. If making an impression on your international visitors is important work with a professional translation agency to achieve your translation goals – machine translation can be clumsy and appear unprofessional.
Written by Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf Bhana
Yusuf is Head of Digital at Toppan Digital Language. He has an interest in how technology can help businesses achieve their marketing objectives. He's been working in digital marketing and web development since 2001 across a wide range of industries and clients.

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