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Website Localization: Which Languages Should You Prioritize?

Planning to make your website multilingual? Here are six factors to consider when deciding which languages to prioritize in your localization efforts.


World globe - photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Localizing your website into another language could attract an entirely new customer base to your business. You might also discover that some of your existing customers breathe a sigh of relief once you offer your information in their language.

According to Ethnologue, while English is estimated to be spoken by approximately 1.12 billion people, only around 378 million (34%) of them regard English as their first language. This leaves around 744 million people who may prefer reading your website in their native language.

Before we discuss how to determine which languages you should prioritize for localizing your website, we should add a note for those unfamiliar with the differences between translation and localization.

  • Translation is the process of taking text content and rendering a “mirror copy” of it in another language. A high-quality translation checked by an experienced professional can work well for content that is relatively straightforward such as user documentation or legal contracts.

  • Localization goes much further. Once the localization process is complete, your website shouldn’t feel like a translation of a foreign website. It should feel like it was built from the ground up for the local market. For effective marketing, quality localization is crucial since so many small details can potentially derail the conveying of your brand’s message.

Let's take a close look at the various factors to take into account when trying to decide which languages to prioritize when localizing your website for foreign markets.

1. Analyze Your Website Visitors

If your website is currently only in English, you may be surprised to see that you are still attracting traffic from around the world. If its content is valuable enough, even people with limited English will be prepared to spend time struggling to read it. Some web browsers have built-in machine translation that can be set to automatically translate any web page that is not in the user’s primary language.

To learn more about who is visiting your website, it’s useful to look at the traffic statistics. The most popular tool for this is Google Analytics. If you haven’t installed it yet, you’ll need to do so and then wait a while for data to accumulate before you have anything to analyze. Alternatively, if your website was not built from scratch, but uses a particular platform or content management system (CMS), it may already have built-in analytics.

These tools can give you a broad spectrum of information including the countries from which people are accessing your site and what language their web browser is set to. If you find that you are getting a large amount of traffic from a particular country or from users that use a particular language, then take it into account for your decision-making process.

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2. Check Your Competitors

While you don’t want to be blindly copying everything your competitors do, it makes sense to keep an eye on them and check-in regularly to see how their online marketing strategy is evolving. This includes what languages if any, they have chosen to localize their websites into.

Keep in mind, however, that not all languages are necessarily selected for purely strategic reasons. It could be that the company happens to be based in a non-English speaking country, and so they took advantage of their staff’s expertise. They may have a major investor or business partner from a particular country, and so opted to invest in its language. Or, a highly influential public figure may recommend a company’s service and send an influx of users to it.

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3. Assess Market Potential

Let’s say you are an ecommerce country. In that case, you may wish to examine country rankings such as.

  • The largest national ecommerce markets

  • The fastest growing national ecommerce markets

  • The countries with the most purchasing power per capita

  • The countries with the highest internet penetration rates

  • The countries with the fastest growing internet penetration rates

Once you come down to a list of countries which seem promising, you’ll need to further refine them by filtering out countries where your products are unlikely to sell. For example, you’ll probably sell a limited amount of summer wear in countries which are cold for most of the year, and vice-versa.

As you get closer to a short-list of prospective countries, it might make sense to check if there aren’t any laws, regulations, tariffs, taxes, and other restrictions which might hinder customers purchasing and receiving goods from your site. One option is to hire a global law firm for this task. Alternatively, if you just want someone to gather the information, you can hire freelancers via our crowdsourcing service, Conyac, for this purpose.

Top 5 Internet markets worldwide

4. Top Languages Used Online

Another indicator of market potential is the number of users of each language online. If you were to go purely by these numbers, then English would be your top priority, followed by Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, and so on.

As mentioned above, full localization into a middle-eastern or Asian language may not be feasible for you immediately, so you may decide to focus on the top European languages for the time being since they will require less work.

Over the long-term, these numbers can be expected to shift as more of the world’s population comes online, but it should hold for some years.

Top Ten Languages in the Internet (Dec. 2017)

5. Research Feasibility

If your main website is in English, then translation into other European languages shouldn’t be too much of a stretch, and you won’t need to make drastic changes to the site. However, for some regions, languages, and cultures, significant changes will need to be made during the localization process to ensure success.

  • Middle Eastern Languages: Some languages, such as those from the middle east, are written from right to left.

  • Asian Languages: Some Asian languages require much less space to convey the same information. If you were only to replace the text, then there will be an abundance of open space.

  • Layout & Design: Different cultures have different expectations when it comes to what information should be shown on the homepage, how densely the information is presented, the size of the images versus the amount of text, and color choices. A well-known example is the contrast between Yahoo! Japan versus Yahoo! USA.

  • Sensitivity: You don’t want to turn off your audience by offending them. This may mean that you need to not only translate the text but rewrite it to be culturally appropriate. Similarly, for images, you want to choose photos that show local people in a flattering manner that is in line with their cultural values.

It is for these reasons that we often see companies headquartered in English-speaking nations rolling out European language versions of their site before attempting to localize for markets in the middle east or Asia.

Diverse team of young people wearing Conyac t-shirts.

6. Consider Cost Factors

Here are some of the factors that may influence the overall cost of localizing your website into another language.

  • Difficulty: If your content is highly specialized and technical, then you will need to pay a higher rate for a qualified translator. Once the translation is done, content which is for marketing purposes should be reviewed by a native-speaking copywriter so that they can massage any awkward parts to feel more natural to your target audience. This second person will also cost more than if the content was more general.

  • Languages: If you are translating from English into Chinese, then you are in luck because (i) machine translation from English to Chinese is surprisingly good, which will help expedite the work, and, (ii) there is a vast pool of qualified translators and copywriters. Conversely, if you are working with less common language pairs, then you’ll need to pay more.

  • Geography: Languages spoken primarily by people living in areas with a high cost of living tend to be correspondingly more expensive to get translated and edited by qualified native speakers.

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If you are considering making your company's website multilingual, there are various factors to take into consideration. First, you need to understand the difference between translation and localization.

Next, you need to decide which languages to prioritize. You can do this by analyzing your recent website traffic, checking out your competitors' localization efforts to date, assessing the commercial potential of different languages and their prominence online. Finally, you should look into the feasibility of implementing localization and take into consideration the cost factors.

Regardless of your needs, we invite you to sign up for our translation and localization services crowdsourcing platform, Conyac.


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Written by DLKR


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