Top 10 Best Practices for Multilingual Websites

1. Language

Digital communications must address the users’ language preference. The use of machine or automatic translations as a sole solution is strongly discouraged even if a disclaimer is added. If government agencies decide to use translation software, they should have the translation reviewed by a qualified language professional before posting it to the website to ensure that the translation correctly communicates the message in a culturally relevant manner. USAGov en Español (formerly known as, the trusted source for government information in Spanish, offers users a complete experience including content, navigation, and all functionalities and features in that language.

2. Culture

Agencies should conduct usability tests to understand the cultural considerations of their target audience. Regardless of language used, the online experience must be culturally relevant to achieve an emotional connection with the audience. Although USAGov en Español and, its English-language counterpart, have the same structure, and look and feel, the Spanish site offers content and images that resonate with the Hispanic community.

3. Access to Multilingual Information

Enable users to find your multilingual website via prominent access on the English site. Access to multilingual websites should be made available on the global navigation on the top right of every English page. The Federal Trade Commission provides the “En español” link as part of their global navigation on their English site.

4. URL Strategy

Use a stand-alone, dedicated URL for marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) purposes. That URL can then re-direct to another one more in line with your agency URL convention. The Social Security Administration uses to market and drive traffic to their Spanish language site.

5. Comparability and Maintenance

Ensure that your multilingual website provides a comparable user experience to your English site. MedlinePlus provides the same experience on the English and Spanish sites through consistent maintenance of content and look and feel.

6. Users’ Expectations

Manage users’ expectations by indicating when a user is going to navigate to an English-only area, external website, or will require a special program or software to view an application. The USAGov en Español website indicates that a link is pointing to English-only text by adding “en inglés” in parentheses at the end of the link. “En inglés” should also be part of the link to comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794d). For example, Desarrolladores (en inglés) is a correctly formatted link from the USAGov en Español website footer.

7. Toggle

Enable users to toggle between comparable content or features on the English and multilingual websites if available. Users on the National Cancer Institute can go back and forth between their English and Spanish pages without having to go through the home page.

8. Digital Features and Functionality

Provide similar digital features and functionality on multilingual websites as available on the English site. The EPA site in Spanish offers basic features such as email, RSS feeds, podcasts and more, as well as access to their social media accounts.

9. Integrated Operations

Integrate your multilingual website initiatives with your internal infrastructure, overall operations and online-offline strategy. USAGov en Español provides phone, chat and email support in Spanish through 1-(844)-USA-GOV1, as well as marketing campaigns and outreach materials in Spanish. In addition, USAGov en Español is an integral part of the overall online and offline strategy of the Office of Products and Programs part of the Technology Transformation Service in GSA. This was especially evident when a name change and redesign were implemented for both and USAGov en Español.

10. Marketing and Outreach

Develop and execute a targeted multilingual marketing and outreach program that includes branding, social media and email marketing strategies, and KPIs (key performance indicators) to measure success. Many agencies conduct dedicated outreach both online and offline for their multilingual sites including:

Prepared by Laura Godfrey, Fedora Braverman, Lina Younes, and Leilani Martinez, based on the Hispanic Online Best Practices developed by Lee Vann.