Which languages should you localize your website into?
Some people believe that having a website in English is enough when going global. The truth is more than half of all websites in the world are in English while only 25% of the population speak this language. Therefore, localizing your website into a foreign target language is an indispensable step for your globalization process. A well-translated and localized website erases language and culture barriers, bringing you closer to your target audiences.
The tricky question is which languages should you localize your website into to make a splash in your expansion plan. To answer it, you should consider numerous related factors, including 5 important suggestions below.
Table of Contents
1. Target Markets
Your company’s target markets are one of the most important factors for your decision on which language(s) should you translate your content into. Choosing the right foreign target markets is no easy task though. Your company should make a list of current and potential countries that have the highest demands for your types of products or services. You can find such information from conducting your own research and surveys, asking your sales reps, or looking at your current audience base to understand better the buyer personas.
You can also gain more insights by analyzing your competitors to see which markets they are targeting. Factors such as purchasing power, e-commerce markets, government restrictions, taxes, etc. shouldn’t be ignored.
The use of languages and social norms in different parts of a country might differ. Thus, your choice of target markets should be as specific as possible. You shouldn’t stop at choosing the right countries only. Specifying the locale is highly recommended.
This is best illustrated by the example of China which uses two types of Chinese – Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. While Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and Guangdong province, Simplified Chinese is mostly used in Mainland China. In fact, there are only a small number of old people in Mainland China that understand Traditional Chinese. As a result, if you use Traditional Chinese in Mainland China, it will be a big localization fail. Likewise, if you target at Hong Kong or Macau markets, your right choice is Traditional Chinese.
2. Website Traffic
Your website traffic can tell you a lot about your current audiences which help you build a target audience profile or adjust your business strategy accordingly. The information such as where your audiences are from, what their native languages are, or which languages they use to browse in your website will you a clue about the language you should localize your website into next. For example, if 20% of your current audiences are from China while only 5% of them are from Japan, then Chinese might be put in a higher priority compared to Japanese in your localization plan.
Numerous plugins are available to provide you with accurate real-time information about your website traffic and alleviate this time-consuming process. You can have a go at Yoast SEO, WP Statistics, W3Counter, and Content Performance to name a few. If you need more performance metrics, a third-party tool such as Google Analytics is a great choice.
The cost to localize a website depends on a variety of factors, from the complexity of the website’s technical elements or functions and content to the number of words and especially, the rarity of the language pairs. Some languages are more costly to translate than others due to their popularity and difficulties.
For example, when working with Korean-Albanian – a rare language pair, it is far from easy to find a qualified translator. The common solution is to use English as an intermediate between two less common languages. In such a case, it will take two steps to complete the task. First, the source text in Korean is translated into English, then the English translation is converted into Albanian. This results in higher costs and sometimes a less accurate target translation.
Another factor that affects the translation cost is the translators’ cost of living. The country or city where the translators live has a huge impact on how much they charge for a translation project. As the living standards and salary demands of Japanese or Northern Europe people are comparatively high, it comes as no surprise that translators living in these countries will charge twice or even more than those who live in Southeast Asia.
For example, the rate for the Translating and Editing service of an English to Japanese project is around 0.14USD/word while that of an English to Indonesian or English to Thai project is significantly lower, at about 0.08USD/word. It is understandable because, in the end, the time and efforts the translators spend for a project must earn them enough money to cover their living costs and other activities.
To check the price for the language pair(s) you are planning to choose, contact some freelance translators or translation agencies to estimate the costs.
4. Design of the website
Sometimes the whole design of your website has to change due to the nature of the target language. While the majority of languages in the world are written from the left to the right side of the page, some languages like Arabic and Hebrew are read and written in the opposite direction – from right to left. As a result, the entire layout and design of the original website no longer work for the target language.
Below is an example from McDonald’s website in Arabic and English. The logo, menu bar, and images are placed in the opposite direction to fit each language.
What’s more, the word length of the source and target languages is no one-to-one correspondence. When translating from alphabetic writing languages to non-alphabetic writing (or character-based languages) such as Chinese, Korean or Japanese, the length of words is shrunk significantly, leaving too much white space in your website layout.
More time and money are also put in the localization process to adjust and perfect the layout and design, giving you an eye-catching final product. Therefore, the priorities for such languages should be reconsidered if your resources are not abundant at the moment.
5. The popularity of languages used on the Internet
According to Statista, English is the most commonly used language on the Internet, accounting for 25.9% of Internet users. Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and Indonesian/Malaysian are on the top 5 most popular languages people use on the Internet. Having your website translated into such languages can give your website a chance to reach a larger number of audiences and increase the traffic volume while promoting your brand globally.
However, deciding the languages you should localize your website into solely bases on this statistic might not be a wise choice. Firstly, people living in these markets might not have a great demand for your types of products or services while those who speak less popular languages do. Secondly, potential huge markets equal to more competitors and fewer profits. Thus, this is a good reference but possibly not the determinative factor for your decision.