Well, you landed on this page because you have decided to translate your company’s website.

Before tackling the question of whether you need to simply translate some content or localize it, we want to congratulate you. Statistics point to just 1 in every 4 people online being native English speakers, so you have taken your first step to opening up to the world, to internationalize your services.
You may have many reasons to translate your website. But now it’s time to make even more decisions. The first decision is to choose which languages are the most important for you. Let’s analyze different ways which can help you decide

  1.  how many translations you need and
  2.  which languages you should use to distribute your content from your website.

1. Into how many languages should you translate your website?

One of the first things you need to consider before beginning a website localization project is how many languages you want to support. Clearly, the more languages, the higher the cost implications. But not all languages cost the same, and translating into some languages is more expensive than translating into others. Furthermore, targeting some languages will also put some additional requirements on your website project (Arabic and Hebrew need to run from right to left, which HTML5 has made it easier to manage – but you’ll also need to change the layout of most pages and the side the illustrations and graphics appear).

Therefore, offering language support on a website depends greatly on budget considerations. There is no magic number of translations that can guarantee you a successful international strategy, but you should have some numbers ready. For example, analyze which countries are already visiting your website. Knowing where you are getting visitors from and if they speak a different language should make you think about offering translations of your content. But having zero visits from countries like Indonesia, Japan or China may be due to a lack of Indonesian translations, Japanese translations or Chinese translations.

Into how many languages should you translate a website

Into how many languages should you translate a website

Website globalization trends point to some interesting facts:

  • In the last decade, from 2005-2015, leading global brands have increased the average number of languages in which they make their content available from 12 to 30, according to The 2015 Web Globalization Report Card.
  • In 2013 and 2014, research by Common Sense Advisory talked about The Rise of Long-Tail Languages and how opportunities may rise not in the typical and historically popular languages one may think, but in minority languages and also in taking a long-term view for publishing in several languages. Number 16 seemed to be the magic number for a website to be really attractive on a worldwide basis.
  • However, 85% of the Internet population speaks 10 languages – so this number can also be taken as key figure.

Do not jump into conclusions and budget considerations, though. Before you decide a given number of languages, we recommend you to do some marketing research and whether it is valuable for you to translate into some languages. Research the financials behind the decision. Testing the waters with 3, 4 or 5 languages may be a good starting point.


2. Into which languages should you translate your website?

There are very powerful reasons to use English in a website as a first option if your website is not already in that language. However, English does not suffice and many US companies have realized the potential of using document translation for website content and website localization as a very powerful tool. Of course if your company is targeting Egypt of the United Arab Emirates you should have your website translated into Arabic. Indonesian translations of your content make sense if you want to reach a country which in 2015 has 93.4 million people accessing the internet. The figure is projected to grow to 123 million in 2018. Indonesia is one of the largest online markets in the world.

So if you are thinking that translating a website into French, Spanish, German and Italian will suffice, think again. Perhaps it will not make sense to translate into one or two of those languages and Chinese translations or Japanese translations will make more sense.

Internet Live Stats provides a very clear view of where internet users come from live, but if you want to have a clear idea of where the numbers are look at the table below.

In 2014, the top 20 countries with the highest number of internet users were

RankCountryInternet Users1 Yr % Growth1 Yr User GrowthTotal Country Population1 Yr Population Change (%)Penetration (% of population with Internet)Country’s share of World PopulationCountry’s share of World Internet Users
2United States279,834,2327%17,754,869322,583,0060.79%86.75%4.45%9.58%
9United Kingdom57,075,8263%1,574,65363,489,2340.56%89.90%0.88%1.95%
12South Korea45,314,2488%3,440,21349,512,0260.51%91.52%0.68%1.55%
15Viet Nam39,772,4249%3,180,00792,547,9590.95%42.97%1.28%1.36%

Almost half of the world’s internet users come from Asia, almost 22% from the Americas (North and South), Europe represents 19%, Africa 9,8% and Oceania is close to 1% now that the world’s online population has reached 3 billion. So translating into Asian languages seems to be a first good choice for website internationalization. Now let us look at data from the World Bank pointing to Gross Domestic Product weight. GDP relates to buying power, although not in relative terms.

Gross domestic product 2014
RankingEconomyUS dollars)
USA1United States17.419.000
GBR5United Kingdom2.941.886
RUS10Russian Federation1.860.598
KOR13Korea, Rep.1.410.383
SAU19Saudi Arabia746.249

We have added 2 more positions here in order to include two very different countries (Sweden and Nigeria) with similar GDP in global terms but with very different purchasing power.

Lessons learnt from statistics to choose which languages to translate a website

  • There are 2,3 Chinese Internet users for every American using the internet with a similar buying power, so Chinese would be a prerequisite for any serious international market that does not want to ignore such a huge market.
  • There are 6 English-speaking economies (US, UK, India, Canada, Australia, Nigeria) in the top 22 economies of the world.
  • Internet users in the US and India almost make up the number of users in China.
  • Internet population in Brazil is almost the size of Japan’s even though their buying power is half.
  • There are only 2 Spanish-speaking economies in the top 20 (Mexico and Spain), although Spanish is spoken by nearly 500 million people. (Plenty of Latin American countries make it to positions 22-35, though).
  • French is spoken in 3 countries with high buying power (France, Canada and Switzerland).

After these facts, the decision is pretty much up to your target audience as most economies and countries are monolingual or have a dominant language. It would make sense to translate into German, Russian and Indonesian if those markets fit in your strategy. Arabic is spoken in Egypt, a country which has a lot more Internet users than Italy, Spain, Turkey or Canada. However, the first Arabic-speaking economy in the world is Saudi Arabia. So despite a content-hungry population and the huge raise in Arabic-speaking internet users, translating into Arabic only makes sense as a medium to long-term strategy.

Our recommendation for a successful global website strategy is to target English, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish and French and focus on other national languages according to budget and needs.

8 thoughts on “Into how many languages should you translate your website?

  1. Pingback: ¿Para qué necesitamos traducir? | Blog pangeanic.es

  2. M. Colber

    Excellent information for marketeers and sales personnel to focus on language /regions and industries. I would like to complement it with CSA’s recommendations from 2013:
    “On their way back to Silicon Valley, they decided that their website had to be global. There was just too much international opportunity for them to ignore.

    I remember the meeting where they said that their ecommerce site had to be in dozens, maybe even a hundred languages within a year. One person disagreed—he said it should be in at least 150. His view was that it should be accessible to anyone on the planet responsible for municipal water systems and power plants. My first reaction was, “Yee-haw! Here’s somebody who really gets it.”

    I scoped out the journey from their one-language U.S. website to one supporting not just 100 languages, but transactions in each of the countries where those languages were spoken. The enthusiasm in the room began to cool.”

    Source: http://www.chiefmarketer.com/global-translation-what-languages-matter-for-marketing-success/

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