A World of Customers Is Waiting to Read Your Website in Their Language

Most web users are not native English speakers. Unsurprisingly, they are reluctant to purchase from sites written in a language they don't speak.

learn more about Ian Henderson

By Ian Henderson • Sep 9, 2014 Originally published Sep 9, 2014

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many companies take it for granted that the majority of web content today is in English. Consequently, businesses reason that there isn't a big demand for a localized version of their website or products. At this point, though, the cost of translation is far surpassed by the cost of not translating.

Research shows that 70 percent of Internet users aren't native English speakers, and according to Common Sense Advisory, 75 percent of Internet users do not make important purchasing decisions unless the product description is in a language they can speak.

Related: Is Your Website Lost in Translation?

Given the evidence that customers prefer to engage with websites that are in their native languages, it's surprising that almost half of Fortune 500 companies haven't translated web content into more than one language.

Part of the issue may be that companies don't know where to start or what a localization project will cost. If the website is 10,000 pages or you're translating collateral like videos, brochures and email newsletters, building a business case for translation can be a little overwhelming. But if you can illuminate the solid ROI benefits of localization, it may be easier to visualize the benefits for the bran and communicate those benefits to all the stakeholders involved.

A Little Investment for a Lot of Return

Common Sense Advisory has done a lot of research into just how much localization costs – and benefits – companies. The organization found that companies aren't willing to spend very much on translation in the first place. A typical investment in localization generally represents less than 1 percent of total investment in marketing or R&D, even including staffing and technology costs. This seems like a good deal, considering Fortune 500 businesses that expanded translation budgets were 1.5 times more likely than their Fortune 500 peers to report an increase in total revenue.

Consider this disconnect:

  • 66 percent of Fortune 500 retail company websites haven't translated their websites
  • 70 percent of Internet users aren't native English speakers
  • Less than 1 percent of investment in marketing or R&D is spent on localization

If you don't translate the company website, there are a lot of potential customers who won't even know your brand exists. The companies that are localizing content for new markets are reaping substantial benefits. Internet Retailer reports that when Israeli e-retailer Under.me created a German-language version of the website, the conversion rate for customers in Germany went up from 1 percent to 2 percent. In France, Under.me translated site content into French and conversions rose from 0.67 percent to 1 percent.

Related: How to Create a Multilingual Website

Many large corporations already know that localization can pay big dividends. Microsoft has translated products into more than 90 foreign languages and language variants, and now makes a large chunk of revenue from non-US territories. Toshiba has invested heavily in localization, too, having translated in 30 languages. Apple has translated in 40 languages.

Sometimes, risk has its own rewards. For example, even though Microsoft has been engaged in endless combat with pirated versions of Windows XP, that doesn't mean that entering the Chinese market was a mistake. It means that Microsoft learned about the market and had a chance to refine the local strategy and build brand awareness while competitors were still two steps behind.

Mobile advertising, too, shouldn't be forgotten – one study found that localized mobile ads outperform 86 percent of English campaigns in both click-throughs and conversions.

Researching before you leap. Given the expansion of the Internet to nearly every corner of the globe – and every audience's preference for content in their native language - there's definitive proof that there's an audience for localized websites and collateral. There are case studies that show how translating can significantly increase sales in target markets. There's even proof that the investment in translation is a tiny fraction of department budgets.

The real question that companies should ask, then, is not a "why" but a "where."

Where are your target customers? What channels will best connect the business to them? What's needed to make a significant push across those channels?

Before embarking on a localization project, businesses should take a careful look at annual planning, budgeting and opportunities abroad. For ecommerce companies, that may be as simple as looking at where are products being shipped and there a noticeable and growing demand from customers.

For other companies, it might be more of a hard push into a new market. That could involve aligning a brand message and localizing a website, technical documentation and customer support for an overseas launch. Analytics tools can help define which market could be most interested in your products, but it's up to the company to devise a market entry strategy.

Once that strategy is in place, it's time to get moving. The opportunity is there. It's just up to companies to find the brand's next big market and start talking that audience's language.

Related: Connect Internationally With Your e-Business

Ian Henderson

Chairman and CTO of Rubric

Ian Henderson is the chairman and CTO of language service provider Rubric. He has a deep knowledge of globalization issues, technology and distributed team management. Prior to co-founding Rubric, Henderson worked in various management and engineering positions at Siemens (Germany), Expert Software and Phoenix Software (New Zealand) and Berlitz (England).

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