How to translate a website from English to French

French English translation

To reach as many people as possible, the internet is a formidable tool and if you use it to the fullest extent, then your possibilities are endless. With the development of the internet, reaching an international audience has become far easier, and having a multilingual site will help to maximize your exposure.  Translating a website from one language to another, say from English to French, presents certain obstacles that must be overcome.  Here are a few tips on how to translate a website from English to French, focusing on the written word of the translation.


Separate sub-domains or separate websites?

When translating a website, the first question might be whether to use a single site with separate sub-domains or sub-folders, or to have complete separate domains, with a dedicated website per language.

If you plan on having similar content on each site, then it’s entirely possible to use WordPress, PrestaShop, Drupal or a handful of other CMS systems to create a multilingual site with a shared database, whether you use separate domains, or sub-folders.  Read our guide on choosing how to structure a multilingual website.


Don't use automatic translation websites

The most obvious piece of advice you can get when it comes to translating anything is don't use Google Translate, or any website of the sort. They can be helpful in understanding a language you don’t speak, but most of the time, they are still wildly inefficient.  Despite all the improvements added to these programs, they translate a sentence mechanically, without thinking of the particular meaning you intended to convey, or the specifics of the language that you used and therefore often generate inaccurate translations.

Even if sometimes sentences will translate word for word from one language to the other, like for instance “What time is it?” which perfectly translates into “Quelle heure est-il?” there are still structures that will not follow that rule.  Imagine that you are selling vitamins, and your pitch goes along the lines of “If you are feeling under the weather, then we have what you need.” In French, Google translates this into “Si vous vous sentez sous la météo, nous avons ce dont vous avez besoin”, and this does not work in French at all.

This can generate pretty ridiculous or even hilarious translations.  Just watch on Youtube some songs processed through automatic translation websites in various languages and then back to English. The translated version will be considerably different from the original!  Besides being funny, a bad translation can have a significantly negative effect on what you are trying to accomplish.  It will make you seem less serious and less professional.  If you want to do things properly, then it is better to trust a qualified human. The translator will know when to keep the structure word for word, modulate, transpose or adapt.

French grammar can be very complicated and it’s therefore also important to have the translation carefully proofread to make sure that you have used the right tense, remembered to add the plural to the adjectives, and haven’t made other inadvertent mistakes.

The better the content of your website, the more professional you will appear.


Use idioms

Idioms are expressions, used in all languages, where the meaning does not come from the words themselves but rather from the context.  To be more explicit, when one says “It's raining cats and dogs”, it does not mean than animals are literally falling from the sky. It just means that the rain is pouring heavily.

English websiteFrench SEO

Using idioms when translating your website is a good way to connect with your audience. Idiomatic expressions make a website more lively, everyone knows them and uses them, and to some extent, it puts you on the same level as your audience. Using idioms helps visitors relate to your website and form an emotional attachment to your words, so they are a very good tool when used properly.  As we have seen at the top of our list, however, they don't always translate well from English to French.

To overcome that obstacle, you can use online dictionaries like Wordreference, Lexilogos or Reverso which have collected these idioms and give you their equivalent in French, thus allowing you to sound more accurate and authentic.


Research your keywords well

If you want to increase traffic to your site, then the most effective method is to improve your position with search engines via French SEO for relevant keywords that have a healthy amount of search traffic each month.

When you translate your website from English to French, you will also have to research those keywords in order to pick the best translation possible.  Choose a keyword that is as close to the original as possible, but that also has a high monthly search volume French, as if no-one searches for a particular keyword, it won’t generate any traffic.  You may also want to look for synonyms of each keyword in order to multiply your chances of being found and to avoid too many repetitions in the content of your page.

With modern algorithms, Google penalizes keyword stuffing and it’s more important that your content reads well so that visitors are engaged, read to the end of an article and are interested in your service, than that you jam the keyword in as many times as possible.

It’s important that you also translate the URLs (web addresses) of each page and the Metatags, as these are all essential for SEO.  The URL, Title and Description Metatag are all that appear in the search results on Google and other search engines and when you translate them, it’s essential to also include the best keywords in the translated content, as well as writing them in a way that helps make your page stand out in the search results.

Whenever the team at Indigoextra translate a website, we always start by providing a report of the monthly search volumes for a range of different keywords, to ensure that we focus on the most relevant keywords for each page.  Please get in touch if you'd like assistance with translating your site, or helping it rank with the search engines in English or French.


Take into account your audience

Finally: target your website and its translation to your audience. You will not sell the same product in an identical manner to an English person and a French one. Depending on the language, culture and geography, the needs of your visitors will evolve. For instance, selling a linguistic trip to Montreal to learn French to English people is a great idea, but selling it to French people just doesn’t make sense.

Moreover, there might be some differences in the best way to sell a product, simply because French people have different references than their English counterparts. If you want to sell a music album in France, comparing it to French artists, rather than English ones will help you reach your potential customers better.  It is thus very important for you to adapt your content and selling techniques to your target, work with what they know and show them that you take them into account.

In the same way, taking into account the differences in culture also goes through the use of details such as:


  • Specific symbols like quotation marks (“...” in English but « ... » in French)
  • Punctuation in numbers (£1,000.50 vs. 1.000,50€)
  • The placement of the money sign (£10 vs. 10€)
  • The way you write a phone number (012-345-6789 in the USA vs. 01 23 45 67 89 in France)
  • Specific phrasings (like salutations in letters)
  • The tone of your message (serious, formal or casual)
  • Other cultural differences (this can also impact the overall design of your website, what different colours represent, etc.)
  • Subjects that are more or less sensitive in French than in English
  • Links to other websites need adapting so they are still useful for French visitors
  • Differences in companies, chains, agencies' names, acronyms, laws ….


All of these will be used differently in an English-speaking country and in France and are ways in which culture plays a big role. So if you want to connect with your visitor, adapt to them and their culture.

Translating your website into another language is an effective way to increase your visibility and generate more traffic.  In order to appear high with search engines and to then convert that traffic into sales, you need to be sure that you work with a professional translator who understands all the challenges involved with website translation and SEO and who will help you go beyond the language barrier in order to help you prosper.