Shopify SEO is essential for global eCommerce growth. It’s actually estimated that retail eCommerce sales will amount to nearly $5 trillion worldwide in 2021. With this in mind, it’s equally important that your international SEO strategy fits your business’ needs.
We’ve actively researched what’s available and even spoken to a Shopify rep on what the best options are. Combining this information with our international SEO specialist knowledge, We’ve come up with the most optimal solution for one particular store.
I’ll take you through exactly what I did and recommend the essential steps that you could take to quickly launch your Shopify store into international territory. Depending on factors such as budget, development resources, translation services, and time, you may choose a different option.
A more recent addition to Shopify is international domains which were launched in September 2020. The key advantage of using international domains or subdomains is enabling localised currencies within search results for all your target territories.
The standard for an ‘international domain’ is having yoursite.com as the main website. You’ll then be able to link other dedicated country domains. Unfortunately, a subfolder implementation just isn’t possible at this time so the next best thing is using a subdomain implementation for your English (en) speaker sites.
I didn't see any mention of subfolders, only subdomains which might not be an ideal option for many websites. Hopefully @Shopify can roll out subfolder internationalisation too in the future. Progress none the less https://t.co/XaUHdlMYep— Kevin Kapezi (@KEVKDigital) September 4, 2020
Now, if you’re a UK business, you’d want to decide if you want to use:
It’s important to note that targeting American customers is equally, if not, more important for Gymshark than having a local UK site and this has likely dictated their approach.
You can always redirect yoursite.co.uk to the UK subdomain if you go for the first option.
You may want a ccTLD as the UK site due to branding concerns or if you already have yoursite.co.uk as an active site. There may be other psychological benefits for using a ccTLD and it’s also arguably a stronger local SEO signal, however, a .com domain is now so commonplace for many online UK businesses.
You can then set-up the domain, once connected, by selecting “Don’t redirect to primary domain” within the Shopify domain panel.
Once selected you can target the local currency, GBP and language, English (en) in this case.
You can then set-up the following additional subdomains if you are selling a lot of products in these markets already:
The beauty of this set-up is that you’ll now have slightly more localised URLs for your target countries, showcasing the correct currencies. The hreflang and sitemaps for each site are handled automatically which will tell search engines that these international domains are duplicate versions of your website. Ideal for SEO.
An added bonus is that you will also be able to have paid media campaigns with unique URLs for each target market.
In the future, you may want to translate the site to other European languages e.g. Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, French, German and/or Spanish etc.
This can be done via a translation app. An example for France would be yoursite.com/fr which would then target French-speaking people.
Here’s how you can continue the internationalisation for other languages by following the below steps.
Provide users with currency options to help international customers order more easily.
First, you need to enable Shopify multi-currency within your payment options.
Use an app to provide a dropdown country selector.
According to Shopify, to sell in multiple languages, you need to have the following:
However, we recommend using Conversion Bear as the UI and design are more customisable for your store.
From your Shopify admin, go to Settings.
Here are a few questions to help you decide.
Organic traffic from native speakers in their primary country of residence, for example, German speakers in Germany is usually the answer.
When you visit their websites and Shopify app landing pages most of these apps claim to be the best solution for SEO. However, upon further analysis, this could be incorrect. As always, with SEO it depends on your business needs but there are some critical issues to take note of.
When expanding overseas the first question is usually should we place the new versions of the website on a Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), subdomain, or subdirectory. If your first priority is organic traffic and leveraging the power of a single domain, using a subdirectory is almost always advised as the best option. However, you could have reasons for using a subdomain or a new site on ccTLD.
This is critical and can only really be tested once you have tried the app for yourself. Our preferred tools to test the implementation are Screaming Frog and SEMrush. There are plenty of free tools available but they all have varying degrees of depth. You can’t go wrong with leading paid SEO tools that were built specifically for SEO professionals. SEMrush has a 7-day free trial so use that wisely along with trying out your translation apps.
This is another critical question. If the canonicals are done incorrectly and they reference a different URL than the page then the SEO falls apart.
Our experience with translation app providers is that they are willing to customise the set-up of the country/language selector to suit your theme. Make sure that the app you use has available support to help you with this.
It really depends on your implementation method. For a subdirectory store set-up, We would pick Hextom’s Translate My Store App. For a subdomain set-up, we would pick Weglot’s translation app.
Purchase a translation app: Hextom app + add languages to current domain e.g. website.com/de for Germany
I’d recommend getting a quote from a translator and weigh up the costs
Get the $9.99 per month plan for 20,000 AI translated words (Theme, collections, payment pages, emails, etc.) and use import/export feature and Google sheets + Google Translate for the remaining translations. You could also manually copy and paste using the AI translation preview.
This scores reasonably well for International SEO in SEMrush.
The demo site has minor issues as you would expect but nothing critical. Importantly, the canonical + hreflang markup works well without any conflicts in the page code which is reassuring.
In this example, the Shopify store’s international SEO score is pretty high.
The issues it flagged were to do with pages that had parameters e.g. ?page=2 which aren’t really issues. We would use this report as a guide but it’s very useful to visually assess how the implementation went.
Purchase a translation app: Weglot app + add languages to subdomain e.g. de.website.com for Germany
There’s a full guide on how to connect Weglot to your subdomains on their support page.
This was the only issue we had with this translation app. We wanted to leverage the strength of a single domain and the hreflang just wasn’t implemented correctly for a subdirectory implementation.
A subdomain method is still a viable option for your new language. Google will understand that the German version of the site is a duplicate of the main domain with correctly applied hreflang tags. But (and this is a big BUT), it’s not guaranteed that all the SEO authority will pass to the subdomain as Search Engines could interpret the subdomain as a completely separate, new site which means you are starting from scratch in a new territory SEO-wise.
We tested this implementation and the hreflang failed on a real-life site.
The canonical tags on the /a/l/de pages pointed to a different language URL and did not self-reference.
SEMRush’s advice when using canonical tags along with hreflang attributes is you should make sure to specify a self-referential canonical tag. Furthermore, Yoast also says, “Don’t make the mistake of setting the canonical on the en-gb page to http://example.com/, as this breaks the implementation.”
Unfortunately, using the subdirectory method with Weglot resulted in too many critical errors.
Purchase additional Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) to launch sites in new territories e.g. website.de, website.fr, website.it etc.
This is actually Shopify’s recommended option. However, it requires the most work. It also means more revenue for Shopify so consider it carefully if it’s really what your business needs at the moment. Recurring fees can get quite expensive once you launch a few stores and also consider the marketing effort and cost required to make a return on your investment.
The additional store on website.de would come with additional fees + additional costs for domain registration, app fees, development, and marketing costs for the new website.
This option makes real sense if you already have the translations in place and you’d like to provide a completely localised experience for your customers.
If you have already secured translations in the native language, once the store is duplicated, translated page information, product details, meta titles, descriptions, etc can be manually copied across or you can use a translation app.
You will have to have two accounts in essence with the duplicated store so extra charges may apply if needed on the second site e.g. reviews app integration would mean a new account being set-up for the additional website.
Before you continue, I’d only use this option if you want a very quick and basic implementation. Moreover, the quality of the translations would be negatively affected.
The AI translation is better than standard Google Translate as it uses Google’s machine learning cloud translation.
Select File > Import > Import File > Upload
=GOOGLETRANSLATE(F2,"en","de") into the Cell G2, under “Translated Text” and then copy the formula down
Double-check the translations as Google Sheets is limited to 50000 characters in a single cell.
You would have to do certain translations using the Preview AI Translation feature within the Shopify Translate My Store app. We would also be careful of any body-text content types which are filled with scripts, HTML, and/or CSS codes.
Preview these translations instead using the Auto AI Translation feature and then manually import these. Alternatively, you can manually translate taking the code into consideration.
Upload Spreadsheet File > Choose File > Upload > Start Import Translation
10. Follow these steps for all the content types until complete
After you have successfully implemented your translated Shopify store and checked that it complies with international SEO, you’re ready to submit it to Google via Search Console for indexing.
If you used the subdirectory method, choose the URL prefix option and enter the full language subdirectory URL
If you make the mistake of changing your targeting for the wrong subdirectory or the entire domain property, ensure you reverse the changes. For instance, you wouldn’t want the entire .com domain targeting a single country as this would limit your website’s search appearance internationally.
The easiest way to submit your newly translated store to Google is by using an XML sitemap. However, in Shopify, there isn’t an option to create this within the platform. I’d recommend using a web crawler such as Screaming Frog for the XML sitemap creation.
There’s a more detailed guide on how to create an XML sitemap in Shopify here.
You’ll start to get updates from Search Console within a couple of days notifying you that search data will start to be collected. You can then see some data being populated in your reports.
Congratulations, you’ve now implemented an international Shopify store using some SEO best practice. However, this guide is just the initial set-up.
Here are some other considerations:
Partner up with a native speaker of the language who understands the customs of the country that you’re expanding into. They can help you with ensuring your translation makes sense. As good as the AI translations are, a native speaker would be able to tell the difference between human vs machine. They can help improve the translation with you and improve your chances of conversion.
The translation app can only translate the theme, pages, products, collections, emails, etc. within your Shopify store. However, anything within the payment gateway will remain in English if your store is primarily for the UK. This is where a multiple Shopify store set-up would be more appealing. Each store would then be set-up with its own separate language.
Most translation apps do not translate the URLs. In terms of best practice, it would be better for the user and search engines if the URL was in the native language as well. We haven’t found an app that does this successfully AND also implements the hreflang properly. Again, another case for using a multiple store approach if looking for a more bespoke solution.