Going global with Sitecore internationalisation
Sitecore is a powerful enterprise digital experience platform. As you’d expect, it has full support for internationalisation – meaning you can serve websites in multiple languages from one Sitecore instance.
This is great news for businesses that operate in multiple markets, or businesses that have ambitions to do so. However, there are several things to consider before rolling out your digital properties internationally.
Some aspects of language are shared across regions with relatively little variation – for example, French is spoken in France and Canada (amongst other places). Sitecore has a concept of language versions and language fallbacks which is useful for these kinds of scenarios. Every content item within Sitecore can be language versioned – translated into another language. You can use this functionality to build up a hierarchy of languages to potentially reduce translation effort and simplify the experience for content editors.
For example, a common fallback pattern that we’ve used in the real world could be something like:
- French (Canadian) -> French (France) -> English (UK)
Sitecore will look for a French-Canadian language version of content first. If it can’t find it, it will fall back to French. If it can’t find that, it will fall back to English which is typically the default language.
These localisation capabilities extend across the wider Sitecore ecosystem, too. Content Hub, Order Cloud, and other Sitecore products all have first-class support for localisation. In the case of Order Cloud, this includes native support for locales and currency including currency switching.
Another interesting capability of Sitecore is the ability to integrate third-party translation services, including machine learning based translation, into your editing workflow. We’ve used this capability with clients such as Orange to give content editors a productivity boost. Automated translation of base English content into a range of languages means content editors have a head start on translation and can refine the output of automated translation instead of having to do the entire task manually.
The key takeaway from all of this is that you must ensure you have a localisation strategy across all the products in your ecosystem, and make sure that all the products have the localisation capabilities to support this.
There are many ways in which you can structure your content in Sitecore. Having an intelligent content architecture designed in from the beginning can make a real difference to content editor productivity and happiness – something that is often overlooked!
A common effective pattern is to have an area in the content tree for reusable, language versioned content that sits outside of the main content tree where site pages live. By having a reusable content library in one place, editors know where to go to create and use content for their pages. This makes editing more manageable and means discrete content items can be reused across channels by avoiding coupling the content to pages. For example, this content can be exposed to apps and billboards in addition to being used for website pages.
Another consideration for internationalisation is formatting differences outside of language itself. A good simple example is formatting. Certain cultures present information differently. For example, the UK date format is dd/mm/yyyy. In the US, the date format is mm/dd/yyyy. Some countries also use commas instead of decimal points when displaying prices. Some countries have the currency symbol after the price, some have it before. All these differences need to be reflected for customers to have an experience that makes sense for their cultural context.
A traditional Sitecore website is built on .NET, which has excellent support for internationalisation and cultural differences. A more modern headless website – where the front-end lives outside of Sitecore – may need additional thought to ensure the presentation is correct.
Another facet of cultural localisation will be the kind of imagery you display on your website or through other channels. Generic Western imagery may not be appropriate for certain territories – ensuring your DAM can have versioned alternatives for different markets is crucial. Sitecore Content Hub, for example, has built-in localisation features to make this straightforward.
There may also be local laws to content with. For example, there are certain laws in some states in the USA (such as California) – such as Proposition 65 – requiring you to warn consumers if your products contain certain chemicals. There are also laws around the world regarding tax, how pricing is displayed, privacy (e.g. GDPR) and more. Even if you don’t have a physical presence in these territories, you must be compliant. You will need both systems capable of dealing with these variations, and the local market expertise to ensure you don’t run into problems.
Design should be a huge consideration when rolling out new digital properties internationally.
Different countries have different expectations when it comes to design and overall user experience. China is a great example of a country where the overall user experience and presentation of digital services is vastly different to countries like the UK. Attempting to force a consistent design across all markets without considering local design norms and expectations is asking for potential conversion issues.
Another key thing to bear in mind with design is flexibility. Some countries have especially long words and sentences – Germany, for example. Your beautifully crafted navigation may completely break when confronted with German words. Your thoughtfully laid out grid may not function as expected when met with words like ‘Auftragsdatenverarbeitung’!
If you’re really going international, then you also need to ensure that your design is compatible with non-Latin alphabets. Do the fonts work? Are line breaks in a place that makes sense? Languages like Japanese must have carefully considered line breaks, or the meaning can be altered. And finally, some languages are right-to-left, such as Hebrew. This means the entire design needs to be mirrored otherwise it will not make sense to customers who speak that language.
Sitecore can support any design – it’s the design itself that must be flexible and adaptable.
There are several geographical considerations to bear in mind when rolling out sites across the world. The primary concern is distance from your content delivery servers.
Overall site speed and latency is a significant factor for search engine ranking and directly impacts customer satisfaction and conversion. The further (physically) your end users are from your servers, the longer it will take to load your website. Certain territories have specific constraints such as China.
There are two key mitigation strategies for this:
- Host your content delivery servers across several regions that are physically close to your customers
- Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to accelerate delivery of pages / content
Spinning up another region is another valid strategy but will increase your hosting costs and likely increase your Sitecore license costs too. Operational complexity will potentially increase, and we’ve only talked about content delivery – your content editing server is much harder to spread across regions. If content editing speed is a bottleneck, then that requires additional thinking to solve.
Internationalisation is a complex topic from a technical and a commercial point of view. There are many options, best practices and potential solutions – but rarely a one size fits all approach. Our team has experience rolling out Sitecore products across the world to meet your specific business requirements, including in China, so please reach out if you’d like to chat about how we might be able to help.