A common question: how to add multiple languages to Shopify?
Over the years of collaboration, a recurring question has been asked about almost every project: « How do I add multiple languages to Shopify? »
And this is not an unreasonable request. Many of our clients live and work – like us – in the EU. It is the world’s largest trading bloc, a unified whole for business and commerce. Subsequently, our customers often consider other EU states as members of the same market.
But if the EU is unified in business, it is not unified in language. In fact, the beauty of the block lies in its variety of languages and cultures, each coming together to do something greater than the sum of its parts. To fully benefit from the possibilities of the EU, one language is not enough. To give customers across the block the experience they want and the experience they deserve, businesses need to tailor stores to their language.
And of course, there are other reasons for wanting multiple languages on Shopify. We have customers all over the world, not just within the EU, and anyone looking to grow internationally will need to make their store multilingual.
Until recently, however, there was no satisfactory way to add multiple languages to Shopify stores. Here, we’ll explain why the previous methods weren’t good, and we’ll explain why we turned to Headless Architecture as a resolution.
Oddly enough, the problem stems from one of Shopify’s strengths. As we all know, the e-commerce platform is an all-in-one solution to create stores from scratch. It provides everything – from inventory management to customization of CMS, POS and front-end. And this approach has proven to be successful. Shopify is the best SaaS ecommerce platform, offering everything you need at a good or very high standard.
But while covering more ground than other platforms is a strength, Shopify just can’t be the best in its class in every aspect of ecommerce. CMS is one of those aspects. Shopify is good, but it’s not the best. It lacks multilingual translation capabilities and advanced CMS modeling. As a result, Shopify doesn’t support multiple languages without some sort of tweaking.
Create, grow and grow your customers’ businesses with Wix
Find out how partnering with Wix can benefit not only your business, but your customers as well.
Several stores and translation apps
Before headless, two « solutions » were offered to Shopify users who needed a multilingual store: create multiple instances of their store or use translation apps.
Several languages and several stores
As standard, Shopify offers its users another instance of their store. From basic plans to advanced plans, Shopify users can basically duplicate their store’s backend to create a separate store. Shopify Plus users are entitled to up to twelve instances of their store. This offers the possibility of multiple languages.
With each new instance, you can select the store language. Non-Plus users can efficiently create two stores with two distinct languages, each with its own separate back end. And Plus users have the luxury of twelve expansion stores – what’s not to love? A lot, in fact. But we will come back to the pitfalls of this technique after briefly discussing translation applications.
Langify translation app
The Shopify App Store has apps for just about everything. This includes translating a store into many different languages. Langify is a multilingual application. Weglot is another. Are they an answer to the problem? It depends. Yes, they can translate a Shopify store to multiple languages. But at what cost? We bet there will be one more than you are willing to pay.
Here, we’ll go over the reasons why none of the above « solutions » are tenable. There are quite a few.
1. Increased content management workload
Duplicating a Shopify backend means that each adjustment needs to be done separately in each instance. Every product download, every new image, every piece of text. All must be completed separately in each instance. Not the end of the world if you only have two. But if you’re a Plus user with an international brand (or hope to one day be), you’ll need to enter new information four, five, six, seven times.
2. Duplicate stores, duplicate subscriptions
Each app you have running your Shopify store will need to be installed for each back end. And if these apps have a monthly subscription, you will need to pay it for each instance.
3. Decentralized customer information and account management
Suppose you have stores in Dutch and German. Two separate back-ends, supporting two distinct languages. Customer information is also kept separately. An order placed by a customer at the Dutch store is not visible in the German store and vice versa. Account information too. A Dutch customer cannot log into the German store and view their account. A help desk cannot effectively analyze all the information it needs from one place. It is far from ideal.
4. Cannot combine languages and currencies
An often oblivious drop in the duplication of backends to reach multiple languages, customers cannot choose language and currency combinations. An English customer living in Germany would not be able to shop in English and pay in euros. An unoptimized user experience like this will negatively impact conversion and traffic.
5. Weak URL structure
Multilingual stores are in fact several stores. Google will index each of them separately, each building its own domain authority. But it is not good. A strong focus on one area is necessary to be considered the authority. This shotgun approach doesn’t have that focus.
Also, your URLs will be ugly – www.nl.yourbrand.com or www.de.yourband.com, rather than www.yourbrand.com/nl and www.yourbrand.com/de. Not only do old sites create discomfort for your customers, jeopardizing traffic and conversion, they also hurt SEO rankings.
6. Translation apps damage site speed
The headless solution
It’s all been a bit dark so far, hasn’t it? Hopefully, at the very least, our own frustrations with Shopify’s lack of multilingual options have manifested themselves. But we are happy to say that there is now a satisfactory solution to the problem. One that doesn’t damage site speed and SEO (quite the opposite), and doesn’t leave the store owner more work to do. It is headless architecture.
Without going into too much detail here, the headless architecture is the decoupling of the front and the back-end. This means you can continue to make Shopify what it does best (SaaS ecommerce platform, back-end dashboard, etc.), while also introducing a top-notch CMS to support all content. . Basically there is only one back end, keeping everything in one place and essentially negating the 1 through 5 gripes above. For a closer look at headless, check out our thoughts here.
With a headless Shopify setup, we use Contentful CMS. This takes care of all translations, keeping them on a separate front end rather than integrating them into the back end. Contentful can also handle the highest quality multimedia content – images, videos and animations – and therefore gives business owners a much wider reach than just a multilingual store.
User experience is improved, site speed is kept fast, URLs are optimized, and SEO is not affected. Headless Architecture is a real game changer for multiple language abilities on Shopify. Of course, there are downsides to choosing this option. To find out what it is, read on about Headless Architecture and Multilingual Capabilities on Shopify. here.