Technical do’s and don’ts for global ecommerce

Content management is simple in your home country. Your ecommerce website typically does everything for you except write the content itself. But when expanding into foreign markets, you’ll be confronted with technical decisions you’ve never faced before. All of a sudden, content management goes from simple to complicated.

Before you decide to sell overseas, make sure you familiarize yourself with the technical do’s and don’ts of global ecommerce.

✓ Do: Make it simple

Reducing complexity is a key challenge when offering multi-language and -region products. Along with product information in multiple languages, you have numerous advertising campaigns, several shipping taxes and different users. So wherever you can, focus, reduce and avoid complexity.

✓ Do: Understand structured data vs. translation memory

Structured data is extra information that can be added to the HTML markup of a page that helps search engines understand what’s on it. Structured data can also be used to tag content that requires translation, making it simple for your translation service to identify and translate content more quickly. Providers like Across and Acrolinx offer tools that let you create content at scale, which reduces translation time.

Translation memory (TM) accumulates all previous translations phrases and sentences and can be used to automatically translate new content, so you never have to translate the same sentence twice. The more you build up your TM, the faster you can complete new translations—but it’s not foolproof. This auto-translated content still requires a human editor.

✓ Do: Own your own content

Some companies, when they go international, choose the proxy approach. Hosted proxy services for translations can be convenient for smaller ecommerce sites because they offer a simple “plug and play” solution. However, proxy servers don’t let you own your own content, which can be problematic for larger ecommerce sites with hundreds or thousands of products. If your service provider fails or you move to another system, you may face a significant problem.

✓ Do: Design your website with the potential for multiple languages

Let your web designers know that going global is a goal from the beginning. This lets them know to make sure buttons, navigation and menus can accept longer “strings.” For instance, German and Russian strings are usually considerably longer than English, meaning your navigation may take up to 25% more space. In contrast, Japanese and Chinese strings may be significantly shorter. Always design with dynamic text where possible—translating and updating text within images is a more complex process.

✗ Don’t: Use manual file handling

With an API solution, translation of your product content is something you can do within your normal workflow. A translation API can be fully integrated into the administration area of your ecommerce site, giving you the control to order and manage translations of product descriptions. That way, you can minimize file handling between you and your translation service. This reduces error and manual effort, and allows you to efficiently manage content at much larger scales.

✗ Don’t: Build your own translation tools

Because the initial problems that need to be solved look easy, many internal development teams try to make simple translation/localization tools instead of relying on external services. Normally this just delays problems for the future. As your translation needs grow, self-made tools either don’t scale, or require more and more attention from the development team. Instead, use trusted third-party tools and APIs.

✗ Don’t: Become a translation company

Smaller ecommerce sites can often manage translation into one or two languages by using freelancers or local country managers to translate much of their content. However, once they approach more than three languages, the overhead of managing these processes can turn the company into what looks like a translation agency. For most companies, this is not their core competency or their company vision. Similarly, larger ecommerce retailers may be able to achieve some cost reductions by handling translations internally. In the process, they may lose flexibility, scale, and the best practices that translation companies own.

Do’s and don’ts are a good place to start, but to avoid spending all of your time managing content, you’ll also need to put some labor-saving systems in place.

Is your ecommerce company ready to make the tough technical decisions that come with internationalization? Learn more about how to structure your international website and more with our free download, Going Global: Ecommerce Best Practices.

CATEGORIES /

Lauren Van Mullem

The author

Lauren Van Mullem

Lauren assists in content production for Gengo's marketing team. As a former food and travel writer, she has experience communicating with all kinds of people from around the world and believes in celebrating different cultures through understanding them.


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