|9 Min. Read||Evan Kramer||April 04, 2023|
Language enhances human connections and shapes our day-to-day lives in powerful ways—both in the real world and online. In the global marketplace, customers invest far more trust in, and spend more on, websites that literally speak their preferred languages.
Yet many major companies are just now beginning to appreciate the vital role language and website translation play for online global customers. Not only does it govern our online conversations and behavior, but it also limits what information we access.
Customers invest far more trust in, and spend more on, sites that literally speak their preferred language.
Twenty years ago, researchers determined that about 80% of the Internet’s content was published in English—not surprising, given that the Internet was initially developed in the U.S. and UK, and was rapidly adopted in those countries.
These days, businesses need more than English-only websites if they hope to connect effectively with global customers. The Internet and the world have changed radically since the mid-90s. To remain competitive, companies must keep pace.
January 1, 1983 is considered the official birthday of the internet. Since then, a lot has changed. The Internet’s expansion into a global communication landscape was expeditious. In 1993, after 10 years of existence, it only communicated 1% of the information flowing through two-way telecommunications networks. That shot up to 51% by 2000, and more than 97% by 2007.
Here are some of the ways the internet was able to expand into a global communication tool:
Though everyone around the world started to use the internet to interact, buy and sell goods, and develop professionally, the issue of language and communication barriers became evident. But if the whole internet were to choose one language, what would it be?
By definition, a lingua franca is a language used to communicate between groups of people who all speak different languages. It is considered the most efficient way to get information across to multilingual audiences. In the case of the internet, it would be the “most common” language utilized by web creators and businesses.
The dramatic increase in Internet access over the past decade has greatly influenced online content. The number of Internet users worldwide is around 5 billion, up nearly ~126.24% from the 2.21 billion users reported in 2015. Much of this growth is happening in emerging markets, where English is spoken as a secondary or tertiary language, if at all.
Between the mid-90s and mid-2000s, English-language content dropped from 80% to about 45% of total online content, with some experts placing it at less than 40%. This trend was fueled by the global adoption of mobile and smartphone technology, and the emergence of social media. Chinese became the second-most common language used online, increasing by a staggering 2,227% since 2000.
Currently, English still holds the first place slot with 58.8% of Internet use. Russian is in second at 5.3%. Spanish represents a close third, with French trailing right behind in fourth.
China and India currently lead the world in Internet and social media usage. By 2023, nearly half of China’s population will be using social networks. China is not an English-first market, and in India, nearly 90% of residents don’t speak English.
Studies suggest that about half of all Twitter posts are written in languages other than English—with Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and Indonesian consumers being most active.
[insert YouTube video: https://youtu.be/bVeAN8h40Q4]
This ever-evolving linguistic landscape has a powerful impact on global online business. According to a 2006 survey by Common Sense Advisory, 73% of respondents were more likely to buy in their native language. Eight years later, the group conducted a larger-scale study. Consumer demand had increased to 75%.
The 2014 survey found that nearly 60% of respondents either “spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English—or boycott English-language URLs altogether.” In addition, global consumers expressed a willingness to pay more for items if descriptive information was provided in their preferred language.
By translating and localizing your business’ website to accommodate certain markets, you open yourself up to some great benefits:
The takeaway is clear: English hasn’t been the lingua franca of the Internet for many years—and as Internet adoption continues to grow worldwide, content in languages other than English will become increasingly vital for business.
To remain competitive on a global scale, companies in every industry must provide online experiences that are in-market, in-language, and accessible to local consumers on their devices of choice. Website translation is becoming a must for businesses who want to grow and remain relevant. Embracing these inclusive best practices is mission critical to achieving international business success.