With a whole world of potential customers out there, it’s pretty natural to want to enable full multi-language e-commerce in your store. But before saying ‘Bienvenido’ to new business, there are a few things to bear in mind that will greatly benefit you later on, and which we’ll cover in this post.

Which languages?

The first and most important consideration is to check your site’s analytics data to see if you are getting traffic from certain non-native language territories already. Big in Japan without being in Japanese? That’s a good first language to earmark! By checking the data and seeing which languages are the low hanging fruit, you will greatly increase the chances of success, because going multi-language will take dollars-down investment.

Working out the cost of multi-Language e-commerce

Technical details aside (we’ll cover those later in the post), budgeting for your global expansion is essential. Just like in life, when one thing naturally tends to follow another, laying down the digital welcome mat is going to challenge your time, workflows and budgets. Here are a few potential extra costs we discovered when we took Always Riding worldwide:

  • Customer service – will you have to hire a new member of staff to cater to the new language(s)? If there is no budget for this, what’s your plan for supporting your customers if they take your global site as an open invitation to only communicate in their language?
  • Translations – There are some great companies offering quality service on the translation front these days. One of our favourites for quick and dirty work is gengo.com, although you will find undoubtedly find a whole host of translation firms in your local area. To calculate costs for translations, you need to add up all of the words on your service pages (support, terms, privacy etc.), then add up the words in your app strings (add to bag etc), order paperwork & transactional emails. Once done, look at your product & category page content – will you translate all of these pages in one go, or stagger them out over time as budget allows? Finally, multiply by the cost per word (like 0.30), and you will have your ‘raw’ translated price.
  • Time – managing a translation team will take time out of your week. Before you begin to reap the rewards of your investment, be prepared to spend at least a half day each week adding the new content to the site. While product page & category content is quick and easy to add in systems like Magento, app strings and emails can be a bit more time-consuming to get right. Like any system, a workflow is essential.
  • Product returns – If you subsidise customer product returns in your home country (the one in which your business is based), will you do the same for these new foreign territories? If so, and your languages prove a success, the costs could begin to climb.

Implementing multilingual e-commerce on Magento

Our experience catering to new languages on the Magento e-commerce system has been pretty extensive. I remember web-searching for days (yes, I got a bit obsessed…), soaking up all the advice I could get before deciding on the right path. What follows is a succinct overview of the challenges and solutions – for more in-depth Magento multi-language advice, look out for a future post, or contact us for a little Where Beagles Dare! consultancy action, and we’ll get you sorted out in short order.

Create and schedule a weekly analytics report of your popular paid product page visits from Google Shopping to send to your translator teams. By translating pages from visits with a clear intent to purchase, you not only ensure your translation efforts are highly targeted, but the return on investment is maximised too!

Handling URL structures

At Always Riding we benefited from significant Japanese traffic and sales without translating the site from the word go, so we had a ‘good’ problem. But before we moved to Magento we were on a platform called Zen-Cart. On this system, we used a subdirectory URL model.

For example: alwaysriding.com/jp

This model is called a subdirectory route because the international content is placed in a subfolder of the root domain. A quick path to internationalisation, it allowed us to add content and better serve international visitors without much fuss or cost. However, because it merely appended to the pre-existing top-level domain, it wasn’t the most substantial signal we could have provided to the search engines to announce that our digital doors were open to new traffic.

On moving to Magento, and after a web search of herculean proportions, we decided on using a top-level domain structure.

For example: alwaysriding.jp

The notable difference between this method and the subfolder route is the use of a ccTLD – a top-level domain – with a two-letter code to indicate to users and search engines which language our new site was targeting. The downside, of course, was that we had to secure and purchase domains for each new language, although I would argue that acquiring a sensible portfolio of top-level domains is part and parcel of protecting your brand and investment.

When you start to use top-level domains, head straight over to your Google Search Console to set your geographic preference – you can now precisely target a specific region in Search Console.

The results are in

So what was the result of our move to top-level domains? Super-massive-fantastic-special traffic! With our new top-level domains providing the strongest possible indication to the search engines to channel traffic to the most appropriate URLs, we experienced a considerable uptick in visitors and a healthy increase conversion from our key areas, notably Germany and Japan.

You can also expect a (potential) conversion boost if you use top-level domains: the extra confidence of your customers seeing a ‘big ticket’ domain may well translate to more sales. A word of warning though – new visitors may well think your store is based in their country! At Always Riding, we continuously got German customers assuming we were a German store – a great compliment and potentially an avenue for growth should we open logistical operations in the land of well-seasoned sausages.

After the URL, think hreflang

Under the skin of your site, the hreflang attribute is an essential enhancement on both site pages and sitemaps to correctly explain to search engines what the relationship is between web pages in alternate languages. Think of hreflang as a powerful ‘signal’ sounding out from your pages. For example, if your site is in Japanese, yet there is an English version, hreflang will tell the search engines and help them to direct traffic to the correct language version based upon the visitor’s query.

Here’s a snippet from our implementation of hreflang on Always Riding:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x-default” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.com/” /><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.fr/” /><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”de” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.de/” /><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.es/” /><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”ja-jp” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.jp/” /><link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-gb” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.co.uk/” />
<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.alwaysriding.co.uk/” />

But we don’t just want to stop there, do we? Your store’s sitemaps are a powerful and essential tool, and there’s every reason to upgrade them with hreflang markup too. Need help with that? That’s just the sort of thing we’re here for, and something that we’ll detail in a future post.

Author Pete

Founder of Where Beagles Dare!, co-creator of the Magento app Inventosaur, and co-founder of retailer store Always Riding, Pete is at his happiest writing, helping brands tell stories, and consulting on e-commerce.

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