The majority of the world is online. That’s a fact. The International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations (U.N.), estimated that 53.6 percent of the global population – or about 4.1 billion people – would be online by the end of 2019. This number has seen a huge jump as the world was forced indoors by the ongoing pandemic. Current estimates as of July 2020 range from 4.5 to 4.8 billion people actively using the internet.
In an effort to mitigate the physical and mobility limitations caused by unexpected occurrences such as the COVID-19 pandemic, people are migrating more and more aspects of their everyday life to the digital sphere, such as communication, work and shopping.
Despite the continuously increasing volume of internet users from all over the world, language accessibility is still an issue, with the majority of web content still being written solely in English.
According to social media management and analytics platform Hootsuite’s Global State of Digital 2020 report, a whopping 56.8 percent of web content published by the world’s top 10 million websites is written in English. This is a great disproportion, given that there are more than 6,500 languages being spoken in the world today and that native English speakers only comprise 4.9 percent of the total population. Chinese, which is natively spoken by 16.5 percent of the world’s population, only accounts for 1.4 percent of web content volume.
This presents a wonderful opportunity for digital marketers to extend their reach with the help of website translation services to potentially millions of new audiences by appropriating and optimizing their content for different languages.
Yes, English is considered by many to be the universal language and is widely used in international trade, research and diplomacy. Having said that, the majority of the world still does not speak or understand English fluently and would prefer to communicate using their own native language. By translating content to multiple languages and building a multilingual presence, not only are you increasing visibility and traffic potential, but you are also helping make the internet a more accessible place for everyone.
Non-English content is the internet’s final frontier for marketers, promising millions in website traffic and, in turn, considerable growth for one’s business. The demand is certainly there, and so far, hardly anyone has capitalized on the opportunity besides already-established brands.
One of the main benefits of website translation is that multilingual websites tend to rank better in search engine optimization (SEO). Depending on your business strategy, your website will benefit from using either a multi-regional content strategy or a multilingual website strategy.
Google’s Help Center defines a multilingual website as one that offers content in one language but usually makes use of subdomains or subdirectories to specify which language is being displayed. A multi-regional website, on the other hand, is one that targets specific countries. This is usually done either by businesses that already have an international presence or businesses that are looking to expand theirs. For this purpose, it is better to use country-specific domains that will be optimized for the target audience’s geographic location.
Having a multilingual or a multi-regional website maximizes your visibility, allowing you to reach relevant people more efficiently. Since search engines will consider country-specific domains and subdomains as part of the same website, the traffic you receive from any of them would be attributed to your overall SEO ranking. In addition to this, if you look at Hootsuite’s statistics, you’ll see a huge discrepancy in terms of volume when it comes to non-English web content. This means that your multilingual content is more likely to appear in search results from regions outside English-speaking countries like the U.S. and the U.K.
By increasing your website’s overall visibility, making your website multilingual has the potential to boost your revenue as well.
In a 2014 survey conducted by CSA Research, out of 3,000 respondents from 10 non-Anglophone countries, 75 percent said they preferred to buy products in their native language while 60 percent said they rarely or never buy from English-only websites. And this reality is very much true to this day.
As previously mentioned, 56.8 percent of the top websites are written in English. Compare this to the 1.1 billion English speakers out of the 7.8 billion people in the world. And, out of the 1.1 billion, only 33 percent consider themselves native speakers: That’s only about 363 million people – a mere fraction of the total online population.
This means that hiring an online translation provider to translate your website makes as much sense as spending on marketing: It can directly influence conversions and increase your business’s revenue.
Your website translation strategy ultimately depends on your particular business and should take into consideration factors like:
It is also important that you already have a plan in place for your international expansion to ensure that, once your multilingual website is up, you are ready to offer your goods and services to the countries you plan to expand to.
By having a clear set of goals and operational limitations, you are able to choose between setting up country-specific domains, subdomains or subdirectories.
As previously discussed, a country-specific domain is a domain separate from your existing website that is set up specifically for a certain locale. This would have clear geotargeting (e.g. website.co.uk; website.de) and has a clear separation between other domains. The downside of this is that it is expensive – it requires building and hosting a standalone website.
Subdomains, on the other hand, would look like this: de.website.com. These are easier to set up since they still make use of the parent domain and cost less than building new websites for each of the locales you plan to expand to. Subdomains also appear in geo-specific searches.
Subdirectories (e.g website.com/en; website.com/de) are also easy to set up and inexpensive to maintain, but suffer from the limitations of a single server location and separating subdirectories. Linking your website’s country-specific pages to each would be much more difficult than creating subdomains or separate domains.
Aside from the cost and upkeep consideration, you should also think about how you plan to use your multilingual website and how your content will fit into your strategy. Would your business benefit from appropriating content so that it fits the country’s or region’s popular culture, aesthetic preferences and other considerations?
Brands that sell directly to consumers benefit from this strategy the most because it allows them to connect better with their target audience. From established brands like Adidas, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to disruptors like Netflix and Airbnb, many big businesses have incorporated country- and region-specific content strategies into their digital presence. Lifestyle and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands can also benefit from incorporating local keywords into their SEO strategy. These keywords can help businesses be at the forefront of fads and trending topics that are relevant to the brand.
However, if you’re a B2B company, a single content strategy translated into multiple languages might work more in your favor, as it makes your messaging consistent and professional. And, since technical terminologies and business language would be pretty much the same in every country, there’s hardly a benefit for changing the content.
To make your website translation strategy more impactful, it is advisable to support it with a holistic content marketing strategy across all your available channels, from social media to customer relationship management (CRM). By crafting an all-encompassing digital marketing strategy with strong messaging that’s consistent with your multilingual website’s content approach, you would be able to better resonate with your target market.
It should be understood that the translation agency you hire to translate your website should not work in a silo, separate from the other aspects of your business. Instead, your chosen agency work in tandem with and act as an extension of your business. Adopting a translation strategy must enable your business as a whole to be communicated effectively to your target markets. This is why it’s a good idea also to consider extending their services to other aspects of your content strategy, too.
With that being said, building a multilingual website is crucial for businesses that plan to expand internationally. These days, a business website serves as an omnipresent storefront and is usually the first thing people search for when they want to know more about a business and the products and services that it offers. Supporting multiple languages for your website is a vital factor, from the awareness stage all the way to the conversion stage of the funnel, and has the real possibility to inspire brand loyalty and advocacy and grow your business exponentially.