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Which languages should you prioritise for website translation?

By Josian Phillips, 

In an earlier December blog, we gave pointers on how to “increase your revenue with translation for e-commerce”. We touched on which languages you should translate to help you make the most of the global business opportunities out there. In this blog, we’ll dive deeper into which languages you should prioritise for your website content, and look at the budget and technology implications behind your decision-making. We’ll also give you our thoughts on what research you should be doing to keep you on the right track.

The answer to life, the universe and everything is… 32

We may not be quite as far-reaching in the universe as they are in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That said, our metaphorical business worlds on Earth are expanding and colliding more than ever. Never before have companies been expected to support so much content across so many languages. According to Research and Market’s 2018 Globalization Report Card, the average number of languages supported by the 150 best global websites is now 32. So how do you decide which language translation services you’ll need for your business?

The cost implications behind your language translation choices

Clearly, cost will be a major factor. And the more languages you choose, the higher the cost. However, not all languages cost the same. The price will vary depending on the number of native translators. For example, a Hebrew translator will cost more than a (European) French translator.

The technology implications of your language translation choices

This is where it’s important to involve key stake-holders across your business when deciding on which languages to support. You don’t want to find yourself in the position, for example, where you’ve decided to support Chinese and Arabic without considering the technology implications. Arabic (and Hebrew) run from right to left, so you’ll need to make some changes to your page layouts, including which side of the page your graphics and illustrations are placed. Plus, you’ll need to find out if your content management system (CMS) supports these languages.

To help visitors find you quickly and easily (for SEO), we recommend that you set up new web domains for each translated language. Check out this blog: Translation and URLs. A guide to domain structure.

What research will support your decision-making?

Before you decide on the languages that are best for your business, you need to find out about your customers and competitors. Four key questions to ask are these:

  1. Which countries are already visiting your website? Do they speak a different language? An analytics tool (such as Google Analytics) will help you here.
  2. If visitors aren’t converting, why is that? For example, if a specific group of visitors that speak a particular language that your website doesn’t yet support are looking at your products in great detail but not enquiring or doing anything, then it’s worth looking at supporting that language.

NB, don’t assume that because you’ve had no visits from, say, Japan doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in buying for you. It may be because you don’t yet have a Japanese version of your website. Bit of a Catch 22.

  1. Are you interested in new markets?
  2. What are your competitors doing?

Size doesn’t matter / The countries with the most buying power

The UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that by the end of December 2018, more than half (51%) of the world’s population will have Internet access. However, just because a country has a large number of Internet users, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have the spending power.

As far as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) goes, the usual suspects dominate the top 10. They are the US, China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Brazil, Italy, India and Russia. Next in line come Canada, Australia, The Republic of Korea, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Turkey, Saudia Arabia and Switzerland.

However, things start looking at bit different when you work out what this means in terms of an individual person’s spending power.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – spending power per capita

Twice a year, the IMF ranks countries according to their spending power per person.  The PPP takes into account the relative cost of living and the inflation rates of countries compared to living standards amongst our different nationals. As you can see in the table below (which ranks countries that have a GDP per capita higher than $45,000), the countries that dominate the top 10 all have small populations.

  Country $
1 Qatar 128,702
2 Macau 122,489
3 Luxembourg 110,870
4 Singapore 98,014
5 Ireland 79,924
6 Brunei 79,726
7 Norway 74,065
8 UAE 68,622
9 Kuwait 66,673
10 Hong Kong 64,533
11 Switzerland 63,379
12 USA 62,152
13 San Marino 61,169
14 Netherlands 56,435
15 Saudi Arabia 55,859
16 Iceland 54,121
17 Sweden 53,077
18 Germany 52,801
19 Taiwan 52,304
20 Australia 52,190
21 Austria 51,936
22 Denmark 51,643
23 Bahrain 50,102
24 Canada 49,775
25 Belgium 48,258
26 Finland 46,342
27 Oman 45,723
28 UK 45,564
29 France 45,473

 

Clearly, though, Internet penetration is higher in some countries than others, which you may also want to factor in to your calculations. Here are the top 50 countries with the highest internet penetration rates.

Here’s a sample of the kind of statistics that can also help when choosing your languages:

  • Internet users in the US and India combined almost equal the number of users in China
  • French is spoken in five (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Canada, Belgium and France) of the top 29 countries
  • The Internet population in Brazil is almost the size of Japan’s even though their buying power is half.
  • Arabic speaking countries dominate the top countries for GDP PPP.

If you’d like some advice on language translation services for your website, please get in touch – we’d love to help.

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