During the past years, I have been dealing with several WooCommerce installations that needed to be multilingual.
To cut things short, in my opinion, it’s a pain to make WooCommerce multilingual. Or should we say it’s a challenge? Well, that might be the better term for it. As a lot of comparisons of different plugins have been written. I am not going to write another post on “the best plugin to pick”. But I would like to give you some thoughts on the topic.
Multilingual WordPress websites
In my experience, creating multilingual WordPress websites is not very complicated. With most websites, you only need to be able to make the usual content elements available in different languages. That much, most plugins can handle easily.
Things get profoundly different as soon as we are talking, e.g. a WooCommerce shop. So, what’s so different about a shop?
In contrast to a regular website, with a couple of more or less static pages, blog posts, and a contact form, WooCommerce pages are extremely dynamic.
If you take a WooCommerce shop, you’ll find plenty of pages that have no “real” content: The store pages, like “shop”, “cart”, “checkout” and so on, need to be created dynamically, depending on your setup.
If you run a WooCommerce store located in Germany, for instance, you need to add information and some checkboxes to the checkout process. Sure, there are plugins for that. But this way, there is one more plugin to keep an eye on. You want to add some different payment methods? Well, yet another one. Or maybe two. You get the picture.
When taking a look at your checkout page, the content is put together from different sources: Tax information, shipping information, checkboxes to accept the terms and conditions, and so on. They are all delivered from different plugins.
What do I have to do if I want my WooCommerce shop to go multilingual?
First, you need to install a plugin that allows you to offer your content in different languages. Then you need to provide all of your content in these languages. All of your pages, your products, your blog… That’s the easy part.
You also need to make sure that all those little text strings that make up your WooCommerce pages get translated as well. AND that the correct translation shows up, depending on the language.
This is where it can get confusing and complicated. How well this works out depends on the plugin that takes care of making you website multilingual: It has to take care of providing options to translate all the little strings from all of your plugins.
But it also depends on all the plugins you use in your shop. They need to work together seamlessly, providing all the strings translation-ready. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and especially after running updates, you often need to double-check and revise your translations.
Two approaches to offer your shop in different languages
There are basically two different options:
- A plugin that allows you to add different languages to your website and provides all the necessary translation options (e.g. Polylang or WPML)
- A multisite-install containing a website for each language version. Using a plugin like MultilingualPress you are able to connect the content across the WordPress multisite.
What are the benefits or drawbacks of these options?
Here, you depend on how well your plugins work together. You need to be able to provide all the text snippets at the correct place and in the correct language. That’s sometimes tough, and there may be edge cases where it just does not work. Not in general, but it can happen.
If your website offers several languages or a lot of products, it can become pretty confusing.
On the pro side, it is an approach that’s really doable even if you don’t have a lot of coding experience. It is absolutely the right choice if your shop is rather small.
The WordPress multisite-install instantly takes away all the problems with your text snippets. Each website caters only to one language, so it is usually far easier to get all the content in the correct language.
Sounds perfect? Well, in a way, yes. But there are drawbacks as well:
First, the multisite-install. I would not recommend approaching this lightheartedly. A WordPress multisite has more, and in parts different, settings compared to a “regular” install, and there are far fewer people who can help you trouble-shooting questions concerning your multisite-install.
Second, you have several websites, which means several shops to take care of. All the changes you make, you need to make in all of them. Handling your orders, you need to handle them on the different websites as well. If you need to keep track of your inventory via WooCommerce, you need an additional plugin to manage your inventory across all the websites.
So while taking away problems and work load concerning the different language versions, it does add more work as to maintaining the shop.
Building a multilingual WooCommerce shop is always a bit tricky. Unfortunately, there is no general recommendation how to go about it. You need to think your project through carefully and ponder which pros and cons are crucial for your project.
I prefer the multisite-install for shops that need to deliver more than two languages or offer a lot of products and complex variations. Shops with only two languages, not too many products and a pretty straight-forward setup work well with option 1, a plugin that allows to add multiple languages to your website.