A frequently asked question, how do I add multiple languages to Shopify?
Over the years, we’ve been asked the question over and over again on almost every project: “How do I add multiple languages to Shopify?”
And it’s not an unreasonable request. Many of our customers live and work – like us – in the EU. It is the world’s largest trading bloc, a unified whole for business and trade. As a result, our customers often view other EU countries as members of the same market.
While the EU is uniform in business terms, it is not linguistically uniform. Indeed, the beauty of the block lies in its diversity of languages and cultures, all pulling together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. A single language is not enough to take full advantage of the EU’s possibilities. In order to deliver the experience they want and deserve to customers across the block, businesses need to adapt stores to their language.
And of course, there are other reasons to use multiple languages in Shopify. We have customers from all over the world, not just within the EU, and any of them who want to scale internationally have to do their business in several languages.
However, until recently, there wasn’t a satisfactory way to add multiple languages to Shopify stores. Here we explain why the previous methods weren’t good, and explain why we turned to headless architecture as a solution.
Oddly enough, the problem lies in one of Shopify’s strengths. As we all know, the ecommerce platform is a complete solution for building business from scratch. It offers everything – from inventory management to CMS, POS and front-end customization. And this approach has proven its worth. Shopify is the best SaaS ecommerce platform and has everything you need at a good or very high level.
While covering more ground than other platforms is a strength, Shopify simply cannot be best in class in every single aspect of ecommerce. CMS is one such aspect. Shopify’s is good, but it’s not the best. Multilingual translation functions and advanced CMS modeling are missing. As a result, Shopify doesn’t support multiple languages without making changes.
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Multiple stores and translation apps
Before Headless, Shopify users who needed a multilingual store were offered two “solutions”: creating multiple instances of their store or using translation apps.
Multiple languages and multiple businesses
By default, Shopify offers its users another instance of their store. From the Basic to Advanced plans, Shopify users can essentially duplicate their store back end to create a separate store. Shopify Plus users get up to twelve instances of their shop. This offers the possibility of several languages.
With each new instance, you can choose the language of the store. Non-plus users can effectively create two stores with two separate languages, each with its own back end. Plus users have the luxury of twelve expansion stores – what can’t you like? Quite a lot, in truth. However, we’ll get back to the pitfalls of this technique after briefly talking about translation apps.
Langify translation app
Shopify’s Shop Store has apps for pretty much everything. This includes translating a business into many different languages. Langify is a multilingual app. Weglot is different. Are they an answer to the problem? Depends on. Yes, they can translate a Shopify store into multiple languages. But at what cost? We bet there will be more than one you are willing to pay.
Here we will explain the reasons why none of the above “solutions” are tenable. There are some of them.
1. Increased workload for content management
Duplicating a Shopify backend means that each adjustment must be made separately in each case. Every product upload, every new image, every text. All must be completed separately within each instance. Not the end of the world when you only have two. But if you’re a plus user with an international brand (or hope someday) you’ll have to enter new information four, five, six, seven times.
2. Double storage, double subscriptions
Every app that you use to run your Shopify store must be installed for each back end. And if those apps have a monthly subscription fee, you’ll have to pay that for each instance.
3. Decentralized customer information and account management
Suppose you have business in Dutch and German. Two separate backends that support two separate languages. Customer information is also kept separate. An order from a customer in 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 check their account. A help desk cannot efficiently gather all the information it needs from one place. That is far from ideal.
4. Languages and currencies cannot be mixed
Due to the often ill-considered decline in duplicating backends to reach multiple languages, customers cannot choose combinations of language and currency. An English customer living in Germany cannot shop in English and pay in euros. Such an unoptimized user experience is guaranteed to have a negative impact on conversion and traffic.
5. Weak URL structure
Multilingual businesses are effectively multiple businesses. Google indexes each of them separately, each building its own domain authorization. That is not good. A strong focus on a domain is required to be considered an authority. This shotgun approach lacks that focus.
Also, your URLs are ugly – www.nl.yourbrand.com or www.de.yourband.com and not www.yourbrand.com/nl and www.yourbrand.com/de. The previous websites not only cause discomfort to your customers, endanger traffic and conversion, but also damage SEO rankings.
6. Translation apps slow down the website
The headless solution
So far everything has been a bit gloomy, hasn’t it? Hopefully, at least our own frustrations with Shopify’s lack of multilingual options have made themselves felt. However, we are happy to say that there is now a satisfactory solution to the problem. One that doesn’t affect the speed of the website, search engine optimization (on the contrary) and doesn’t leave the shopkeeper any more work. It’s headless architecture.
Without going into too much detail here, headless architecture is the decoupling of front and back end. This means that you can keep Shopify doing what it does best (SaaS ecommerce platform, back-end dashboard, etc.) while having a world-class CMS that takes care of all content. The bottom line is that there is always only one back end that keeps everything in one place and essentially negates handles 1-5 above. More information about headless can be found here.
In a mindless Shopify setup, we use Contentful CMS. This takes care of all the translations and keeps them on a separate front end instead of integrating them into the back end. Contentful can also handle the highest quality media content – images, videos, and animation – so it gives business owners much more leeway than just a multilingual business.
The user experience is improved, the website speed is kept fast, URLs are optimized and SEO is not affected. The headless architecture is a real game changer for multiple language functions in Shopify. Of course, there are drawbacks to choosing this option. To find out what that is, read more about mindless architecture and multilingual features in Shopify here.