How the developer of a translation app globalised Shopify
- Jo Silverwood
- Read time: 17 minutes
Langify is our preferred translation app for Shopify merchants and we are proud to be their only UK partner. We have translated an interview given to Shopify by the German developer, Johannes Hodde which offers some interesting insight into how Langify was born, and how it can help merchants to sell to a global market on a modest budget.
How the developer of a translation app globalised Shopify
Original interview by Inara Muradowa, Shopify partner, September 2020
A little thought experiment: Linguists estimate that there are about 7,000 different languages worldwide.
Some, like Spanish or Mandarin, are spoken by hundreds of thousands of people. Others, like Pemón or Chukchi, are spoken by only a few dozen. If you add up the one million Shopify stores that are active globally, the result is an average of about 143 stores per language.
Of course, we have to assume that not every single dialect is actually covered. But should you come up with the idea of creating a store in Ainu - a northern Japanese language that has barely ten native speakers left - that wouldn't be much of a challenge either.
But what if you want to offer your visitors a store in multiple languages? English and German, for example. This was exactly the question that freelancer and developer Johannes Hodde asked himself in 2013. Because in those grey days, support for multilingualism in Shopify stores was still poor.
Without further ado, he developed a Shopify app that would revolutionise the globalisation of Shopify merchants and become one of the most successful extensions from our wide range of applications: Langify.
In this interview, Johannes talks about how he and his app made the breakthrough and how a lonely freelancer became a company with ten employees. Furthermore, the developer explains which advantages merchants have with Langify and what the app can do - but also what it cannot do. Last but not least, he reveals tips and tricks on how other developers can take off with their idea and perhaps become 'The Next Big Thing' at Shopify.
Translation app Langify - a brief brand history.
The numbers speak for themselves: 4.7 stars with 972 ratings, thousands of downloads - Langify is one of the most requested apps in the Shopify App Store. But who is behind the project?
Johannes: "Our team now consists of ten members. In addition to myself, this includes two other developers, while the rest exclusively take care of our customer support.
I myself am mainly responsible for our backend area, but I am also regularly available to answer our customers' questions. I'm also responsible for strategic planning: what features do we implement next? Where is the journey going with Langify?
As with any other company, Langify's beginnings were rather humble. That a small idea would one day become a globally successful app - I didn't expect that myself when I published the application seven years ago.
At the beginning of 2013, I was on the road as a freelancer and, among other things, was supporting a customer who ran a Shopify store in Germany and wanted to expand to the USA. It was clear that we had to translate his site for this. At the time, however, the app store offered very little in the way of translations. There was only one application, and its implementation required not only solid programming skills, but also constant maintenance and support of the store by a specialist.
This was out of the question for me. After all, I wanted to complete the project at some point and not have to constantly help my customer when he simply wanted to expand his product range. So I dabbled a bit with Shopify's template language Liquid, wrote an application myself and made it available in the app store. What happened next surprised even me.
Shortly after Langify was released, one of the Shopify employees contacted me personally.
The guys and gals from Shopify were totally thrilled with my work. They never thought that an app like Langify would be possible with Liquid. I could have set up something really big there. Contacts were made, conversations were held, and my little app became better known and more popular - internally at Shopify and, of course, with many merchants. I was really excited by this support, especially since I never had any contact with Shopify before."
The rest, as they say, is history.
A short digression: multilingualism - why at all?
You, dear reader, are probably now asking yourself why a translation app like Langify is so successful. Do so many stores really expand abroad? What are the reasons for offering your store in different languages? There are three main reasons:
- Breaking into new markets: Reason number one is the most obvious. As a store grows, it wants to reach new customers. At some point, it reaches its limits in its own country, and the path to new business partners leads across state lines. It goes without saying that goods and services should be offered to foreign customers in their own language.
- Other countries, other customs: The fact that a store in Germany is operated in German is a very German perspective. The view changes just a few meters beyond our borders. Switzerland, for example, has four official languages, while Belgium still has three. In many countries, it is common to communicate in many different tongues.
- The world is globalising: When you enter a restaurant in Berlin, you may find that the waiter speaks to you in English; in any case, the menu will be multilingual. Why? Because, despite all the prophecies of doom, the world is growing ever closer together. 11% of all people currently living in Germany come from abroad, are here for weeks, months or years to live and work - and of course to shop. Not all of them will speak our language. Offering your own store in English at least opens it up to millions of new shoppers.
A multilingual store is therefore not only a good idea when expanding abroad, but also to significantly increase the local customer base. At the same time, it is an expression of cosmopolitanism, internationality and a welcoming culture. Multilingualism - and thus an app like Langify - thus fulfills an important need for numerous retailers and explains the app's significance and success.
Working with Langify: What can the app do, what can it not?
Now, if a merchant has decided to globalise his store and offer it in multiple languages, he probably chooses Langify. He installs the app, logs in... And then?
Johannes answers the most important questions about his application:
How does the workflow work with Langify?
Johannes: "After an online merchant logs into our app and decides on a language, he finds himself in a familiar environment. Everything is set up exactly as he already knows it from Shopify. There is the product catalogue, the template, the collections... Except that the view is split in two.
On the left, you'll find the original content in the native language. On the right, on the other hand, a form opens for each component, where the user can enter his translation. If he is satisfied with his text, he confirms his entry. The rest happens automatically."
Can Langify also translate texts automatically?*
Johannes: "Automatic translations are not possible with our app at the moment. Currently, we offer our customers a workframe with which they or a translation agency can manually transfer the store into a new language without much effort.
However, it is THE feature we are working on at full speed. Artificial intelligence has made huge strides in terms of translation work in the last few months."
*Note - The good news is that since this interview, Langify have now released V2 of their app, which does include functionality to translate content for you at the touch of a button with the purchase of their translation bundle packages and the first 500 words are free. Find out more.
Are there any languages that Langify can't handle?
Johannes: "No, because the characters used in a language are irrelevant for our application. Similarly, the direction in which it is written - for example, from right to left, as in Arabic, or from top to bottom, as is common in Japan. Langify neatly matches the new content to the store."
Is all the work done in the app or do I have other options?
Johannes: "The complete content of a store can be easily exported and re-imported. Store operators thus have the option of saving their complete content in a csv file, for example, and sending it to a translation agency of their choice. They can then add the texts in the new language to their site with a few clicks."
What about the themes? Do I have the option to translate them completely as well?
Johannes: "In the beginning we had a few problems with the themes. However, our new version Langify V2 is now able to access every building block of a theme and enable a direct translation. Starting from the shopping cart, to the check-out, to notifications like order confirmations via email.
Is Langify able to regionally customise other content on a page, such as images?
Johannes: "Customising content other than the text of a page is not currently possible with Langify. So if a retailer wants to change the images in their collection due to cultural customs, unfortunately their only option at the moment is to open a second store.
While we have already started thinking about offering this feature to our customers in the future, concrete plans do not exist yet."
How is the language of the store implemented for visitors?
Johannes: "Basically, there are two ways to select the language of the store: automatically or manually.
If the automatic function is activated, Langify follows the language of the browser and displays the store accordingly. Always provided, of course, that an appropriate translation is available.
We also offer our customers a tool with which they can create a widget and integrate it into their store. This allows visitors to change the displayed language with a single mouse click.
Finally, it is also possible to adjust the language via the geolocation. We don't maintain this function natively, but we do provide interfaces to corresponding apps."
What about the search engines? Do they recognise the multilingualism of a page?
Johannes: "Yes, Google can see that a page exists in multiple languages. However, you have to point this out to the crawlers by using the tag 'hreflang'. Langify does this automatically. If this appears in the header or sitemap of a page, the search engine knows which languages are offered.
Basically, every store owner should use this option if he already does the work and translates his store. Because Google naturally lists multilingual pages higher in the search results when users search in English, for example."
Does the translation affect the URL of my store?
Johannes: "Again, our customers have two options: Either the translation has no effect at all on their store address. Both the English and the German store are then accessible under 'store.com', for example.
Or they actually opt for alternative URLs. Until now, this looked like one store then operating under 'store.de', the other under 'store.en'. Changes in the Shopify API and thus also in the latest version of Langify leave this option but only as a subfolder. This means that the German store then has the default address 'store.com' and the translated English one is accessed under 'store.com/en'."
Langify up to date - now as version 2.0
Langify has become available in the last few weeks in the completely new edition V2. Johannes reveals the following about the most important changes:
New User Interface
"Our old UI was already a bit dusty. The new interface is clearer and even easier to use. Yet it's still based on Shopify's design, so even inexperienced users can find their way around right away."
Translatable themes and notifications
"Translating all parts of a theme used to pose problems for our customers more often. With V2, this is now a thing of the past. All components can be adapted to any language. In addition, all notifications that a store sends out can now be translated. No matter if it's a newsletter, shipping confirmation or a thank you letter."
Customizations in the URL
"As mentioned earlier, the new Shopify API no longer allows different first-level domains for the same store. We work around this problem with the help of subdomains. Those who want to point out different language options to their visitors already in the address bar will now use 'store.com/en'."
"Translations using artificial intelligence are probably the feature of the future. Advances in the field of neural networks now allow for amazing results. The first customers have therefore already started a corresponding test run with us: a click on the 'Translate automatically' button ensures that the complete content of a page is transferred into a new language. The feedback so far has been extremely positive and we hope to make this function available to all our customers shortly."
Langify V2 is now available to all users in the Shopify App Store. Owners of an older version will be upgraded automatically in the future. When asked about any disadvantages, Johannes only remembers that Shopify's new API only allows the implementation of five additional languages.
At this point, we would like to point out that if six languages are not enough for you, Shopify Plus offers you the option of operating your store in 21 languages.
What really matters - the key learnings from Johannes Langify's experience.
So that's the history, functionality and future of one of the most trend-setting apps in the Shopify Store. The question remains, how you can be similarly successful yourself, if your head is now rumbling and ideas for your own application are shooting through your brain. Johannes has the following tips:
Keep your eye on the ball: "Along the way, there were always people who told me that nothing would come of my idea anyway and that I would never make money with my app. In the end, they were all wrong. So banish such doubters from your environment and continue on your way to your goal."
Take advantage of the offer: "Shopify makes it as easy as possible for developers and partners. On developers.shopify.com, detailed documentation and numerous tools are already available to you. And if you still have questions, just contact the support team. They're top-notch and happy to help you out."
Speaking of support, "Shopify places great emphasis on customer service. So once you've taken the first successful steps with your idea, never neglect support. It's not without reason that three quarters of our employees work in customer service. Willingness to help and a sympathetic ear are not only rewarded by your customers, but more importantly by Shopify."
Think BIG!: "Shopify may be a Canadian company, but it cultivates that quintessentially U.S. mindset - and that's exactly the words the head of the app store chose to use in a conversation with me. So think big and don't be too modest. Who knows what else can come out of your idea."
That's all from the founder and inventor of Langify - an app that has managed to make the world of online stores even more global and at the same time has proven to be an indispensable helper for thousands of store operators.
Read the original interview in German on Shopify Germany's blog.
Find out more about Langify version 2 and how Shopify merchants can sell their product in other languages with ease on a global scale.