Multilingual and Multi Domain Sites in WordPress

One of the things we’re doing more and more of recently is building multilingual, multi domain corporate sites in WordPress. Doing that used to be a fair amount of work, but we’ve been able to make it a lot simpler lately.

We start the process with a simple WordPress MU install, to which we then add the Multi Site Manager plugin, to be able to run multiple domains off of it. Now this is all pretty simple and straight forward. Now we used to have to build a theme in several languages, but we’ve recently developed some new stuff that makes that simpler.

Localized templates

One of the things I’ve done for the StudioPress themes is localize them, which is actually not even that much work if you read the how to for it that John Godley wrote. On top of doing that, we add some other code that I’ve written, which allows you to pick the language for a blog in the themes backend.

language select

Now this means, that we can run a multi domain, multilingual site in 1 WordPress install, while maintaining only 1 theme.

Localizing dates

One of the other things you need to take care of when you’re localizing your WordPress theme is localizing the date output. To be honest the way I’m doing that right now is a bit of a hack, but it allows for us to translate dates from within a theme, without having to use the backend in the other language. It works by adding stuff like this to the themes functions.php:

$wp_locale->weekday[0] = __('Sunday','orangevalley');

So now, we can have an english backend, and a frontend in as many different languages on as many different domains as we want, served from one WordPress MU install, with only one theme to maintain. How cool is that?

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51 Responses

  1. graywolfBy graywolf on 17 July, 2009

    When you use MU do all of the sites have to be on “one box”? is there a way to string it across several hosting plans? What if you sell a website how difficult is it to extricate a site out of MU?

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 17 July, 2009

      When you use MU do all of the sites have to be on “one box”?

      Yeah, it has to be one box.

      Is there a way to string it across several hosting plans?

      No, we don’t want that too in those cases :) We could make it work with several different IP’s though…

      What if you sell a website how difficult is it to extricate a site out of MU?

      Easy, you can just do a WordPress export like on any other blog per site.

    • RoyBy Roy on 17 July, 2009

      How about proxy-ing those sites with a internal scraping function, which only is used as an pass through window. That would solve your “problem”.

      • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 17 July, 2009

        Yeah, that’d work nicely :)

  2. derFrankieBy derFrankie on 17 July, 2009

    Just a quick question – do the different sites have to be on different domains or could they run on separate folders – e.g ?

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 17 July, 2009

      Separate folders work too, though I use another (custom built) plugin for that.

      • derFrankieBy derFrankie on 17 July, 2009

        Thx – I see – I’m looking for a decent multilingual solution for wordpress blogs for years now – and can’t find any.

        Do you plan to make your custom build plugins for this purpose available (even as paid solution)?

        • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 17 July, 2009

          Not for anyone not hiring us, but ehm, you could of course hire us ;)

          • derFrankieBy derFrankie on 17 July, 2009

            Will take it into consideration for my next commercial project in this direction :)

          • Daniel KoskinenBy Daniel Koskinen on 21 July, 2009

            @derFrankie – have you looked into WPML? Has worked decently for me.
            You can separate languages by subfolder (, subdomain ( or parameter (

        • PietBy Piet on 28 July, 2009

          You could try WPML ( they have a fantastic free plugin for multi-lingual sites!

      • AndrewBy Andrew on 19 July, 2009

        Can I ask the name of the custom plugin you’ve built? I am looking to host multiple blogs under the same domain using a homepage that shows posts from the various subfolders. Is there a plugin that will allow me to do this?

  3. codestylingBy codestyling on 17 July, 2009

    I think, it would be much easier to skip the “hacked” theme in terms of dates but allow loading the correct WPMU main language files in relation to the international presented page.
    This can be achived by a simple frontend locale filter.
    To get the backend in the right language and also make it comfortable for native writing authors (because they can choose the prefered language) i would suggest my plugin WP Native Dashboard that works with WP, WPMU and BuddyPress.
    This would be in total the maximum flexibility you can provide for any i18n site.

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 17 July, 2009

      We need to actually maintain those sites, that’s a lot harder if the backend is in Spanish :P

      • codestylingBy codestyling on 17 July, 2009

        Sure, but you can choose your language for maintenance as you need it on demand. It’s user dependend and possible choosen by login screen, personal profiles or quick switcher.
        Where is there problem with that ?

        • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 18 July, 2009

          Hmm ok cool, let me dive into your plugin :) Thanks for commenting here!

  4. AgusBy Agus on 19 July, 2009

    Can you share how to add theme option to choose language from theme backend?


    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 20 July, 2009

      Nope sorry.

      • AgusBy Agus on 25 July, 2009

        No problem. I’ve found free WPMU plugin for that.


  5. BlendsBy Blends on 19 July, 2009

    What about the database? It separate or not?

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 20 July, 2009

      It’s WP MU, so each site has it’s own tables within one bigger database, and they only share a couple of tables like the users one.

  6. JenBy Jen on 20 July, 2009

    A good multi-lingual plugin is the Qtranslate .

    Tricky to install though, you need to know what you are doing on this install.

  7. Bas van den BeldBy Bas van den Beld on 20 July, 2009

    You must have known I was looking for this and then made it, knew I could count on you ;)

    Nice on again Joost

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 20 July, 2009

      hehe you and a zillion other people ;)

  8. ShawnBy Shawn on 20 July, 2009

    Hey Joost, when you use WordPress MU this way on different domains can different themes and different plugins be used on specific domains? Would you choose this strategy over 6-7 separate WP installs if developing a blog network with different admins?

  9. MalBy Mal on 21 July, 2009

    Hi Joost, any favorite examples of a live multi language WPMU install that you could mention? I’m also looking into an MU solution for an entity that has offices in many countries and they want to use subdomains for remote offices. Thanks – Cheers -

  10. KarimBy Karim on 24 July, 2009

    Hello – I am attempting to migrate 6 blogs with individual domains (that have been ‘networked and are on the Blogger platform) to WP. Would this multi-domain plugin on the WPMU platform be what I am looking for? Or do I have to install separate copies of WP for each blog/domain? Thank you

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 24 July, 2009

      Yes this multi domain stuff is probably what you’re looking for :)

  11. Emerging HostBy Emerging Host on 24 July, 2009

    Really Cool , It will save lot of time and remove headache to manage sites

  12. breakcpa LarryBy breakcpa Larry on 24 July, 2009

    Thanks for posting about this, I would love to read more about this topic.

  13. kumpulinBy kumpulin on 24 July, 2009

    wordpress MU ?
    oh no,, I dont know it..
    but, sure.. I must learn more about it..

  14. ViralwordpressBy Viralwordpress on 25 July, 2009

    Multilingual Multi domains on WordPress. Now I like that idea.

  15. FlorinBy Florin on 25 July, 2009

    I used the Language Switcher (langswitch) plugin for WP and it’s working quite well. See it working here:

    You can select the language, it uses the wp included GNU Gettext so you can have a lot of languages if you want, all you need is to:
    1. make the .mo files for each language (in my case only)
    2. each article is to be written in the posts/pages area in wp-admin for all the languages, between the custom tag [lang_en][/lang_en], [lang_ro][/lang_ro], etc.


  16. Samuel LavoieBy Samuel Lavoie on 26 July, 2009

    With the futur merging of WP MU into the core WP development, will this multi domain plugin will still work ? any ideas if this can work with a WP instalation ?
    thanks for putting that enhancement to that plugin Yoast.

  17. Jehzeel LaurenteBy Jehzeel Laurente on 26 July, 2009

    Wow! Pretty cool indeed! I think I could apply this nifty trick with my other websites :D

    @Samuel Lavoie – that’s also my question in mind.. Hmmmmmmm…

  18. JamesBy James on 28 July, 2009

    I host a single blog in both English and French. I only have the xlanguage plugin by Sam Wong and have modified one theme. I also have the French wordpress language files on the server.
    Backend is only in English, which suits me fine
    It works a treat for me even if I have to write the articles in both English and French

  19. Michael Jon WissekerkeBy Michael Jon Wissekerke on 30 July, 2009

    no to convince my bosses to migrate from asp to php

    *evil laugh*

    thanks for the info Joost!

    • Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 6 August, 2009

      That is quite the change :)

  20. NeriBy Neri on 3 August, 2009

    Creo que es buena la teoria en un principio, pero definitivamente solo la implementaria solo para empresas grandes, para empresas chicas se pueden encontrar plug-ins mas sencillos en su manejo.

  21. bethBy beth on 7 August, 2009

    hey great concept and really cool!

    from seo prespective, will each site be able to garner its own PR? and be different for seo purposes; for example, each site would have same category and post with a different take? And if so, will database be easy for admin to understand and make different posts on same subject at same time to multiple domains but be different for seo and user experience?

  22. seospidyBy seospidy on 8 August, 2009

    this is one of the best concept i have ever seen and a awesone job done by u..

  23. CyrilBy Cyril on 9 August, 2009

    my solution to multilingual blog was to make videos in several languages! Do you know which are the best multilingual blogs out there?

  24. Ateljé DigitalBy Ateljé Digital on 13 August, 2009

    I’ve been searching around the good sites for MU-support and haven’t found any good and well tested way yet. You are working with one of the most wanted functions for WordPress at date. Good!
    Still trying to figure out how the MU-functions will influence my SEO work though.

    Thanx for the good post. I found the WPML as some other above. Think your trick is more reliable. But… as WPML is for free, and I wont be able to hire you. I will give that a try.

    Keep up your good work! Using your breadcrums with great success!!!

    best regards

  25. usmanBy usman on 19 August, 2009

    i like this and i will try this plugin.

  26. mochileroBy mochilero on 4 September, 2009

    What if what you need is to use two different API keys from google in order to be able to run maps in any of them?

  27. snomanBy snoman on 16 September, 2009

    Can we use MU to host our blog on our upcoming PC site and then use one of the mobile plug-ins to put a phone-friendly version on our mobile site ?

    We wanted to put the blog on our mobile site, as that’s what we launched and are promoting first, but find that there’s all sorts of conflicts with WP and our clever, device-detecting mobile system (eg we have created the world’s first mobile site with dynamic URL re-writing in all 6 major mobile browser languages) … so it would be more ideal to put WP on the PC site domain.

    SO THE BIG QUESTION IS… will WP allow us to put, not simply another blog on a different domain, but the mobile version of the SAME blog onto the other domain?

  28. snomanBy snoman on 16 September, 2009

    an alternative is to use a different domain for the blog as we own and but I don’t think we would get nearly as much SEO benefit for the main ski holiday sites (and that’s really the point of having the blog)

    we’ve been looking at adding all the plug-ins and settings listed on your excellent must-have page but will they all work with MU?
    and can we still implement a really simple mobile theme for one instance of the blog (ie on or ?

    we’re at the start of an incredible 4 month tour of the French and Swiss ski resorts and realise that we’re missing a potentially unrepeatable load of top drawer blog material… so we really need to get this right quickly…

    … what say you?

  29. snomanBy snoman on 16 September, 2009

    by the way – we just tested your excellent plug-ins with the dotMobi plug-in (its designed to put your site on a regular and a dotMobi domain, which is what we have) and there ae errors/conflicts so, really annoyingly, we can’t combine the best mobile WP plug-in with the best SEO plug-ins


    sinking into an un-optimised fug

  30. decha kunlaBy decha kunla on 5 November, 2009

    Really nice article, i read entries blog afternoon then add it to my bookmarks and wait for your next article, i plan follow as you.

    Thanks so much
    decha kunla