It is widely assumed that English is the lingua franca of the internet and that there is therefore no need to use any other language in the various forms of online advertising. However, although the majority of websites are written in English, over half of all Google searches are in languages other than English. Research has further shown that customers are four times more likely to buy from a website written in their own language. Such figures demonstrate the significance of localization in online marketing.
Whilst it may seem like an unnecessary expense to produce foreign language versions of your website, it’s actually relatively simple and cost-effective to do so. And it can give you instant access to a target audience consisting of many millions of people across the globe. As far as return on investment (ROI) goes, website translation is certainly among the most cost-effective methods of online marketing.
Having all your promotional material – including banner ads, display ads and e-brochures – available in the native language of the market you are targeting immediately makes your business favorable to local customers, giving you an advantage over companies that insist in working in English only.
The logic behind this is quite simple. Contrary to the notion of English as a global language, some three quarters of the world’s population have no working knowledge of English; 49% of EU citizens likewise do not speak English. This means there is a huge market to tap into, which only requires the small expense of advertising your services in the appropriate languages.
Which languages you work in naturally depends on which markets you intend to target, a decision based on the nature of your business and where you feel there is a gap in the market which your business can exploit. But consider that if your business were targeting a sector of the South American market, having your website available in Spanish opens your business up to a potential 350 million native speakers around the world; expanding further into the burgeoning Brazilian economy and a Portuguese website opens up an extra 200 million speakers. Of course, many of these speakers may have no interest in your business, but it indicates just how large foreign markets are beyond the limitations of working only in English.
Of course, it also pays to be wary of the linguistic differences that exist between, say, the Spanish in Spain and the Spanish in many Latin American countries. For example, the word carro in Spain is a cart that you push or pull to transport things, whereas in Latin America it is an actual car that you can drive around in. A car in Spain is a coche, whereas a coche in Latin America is a baby stroller.
Similarly, dejeuner is ‘lunch’ in France, but ‘breakfast’ in French-speaking Switzerland and Belgium. And whilst France often import Anglicisms directly into their language, French-speaking Canada tend to translate the English terms directly: e.g. ‘Weekend’ is le weekend in France, but fin de semaine in Canada (literally: ‘end of the week).
There are many dialectal differences within languages that help to highlight the importance of adopting a fully localized marketing strategy.
The use of language therefore becomes a major part of any marketing strategy. It makes markets much more accessible, and the appeal of your advertising much more immediate; it may even direct you into markets you had not previously considered. Most importantly, working in a country’s language helps you understand its market, making you able to direct your marketing strategy appropriately.
The world’s most spoken languages are used in the world’s biggest developing economies: Brazil (and other South American countries if they are able to follow Brazil’s lead), India, and China. A company cannot expect to break into these markets using English alone. The most straightforward route into these markets in the twenty-first century is through the internet: doing so in the country’s native language(s) will bring financial benefits that the use of English only, may prevent.
About the author
Christian Arno is founder and Managing Director of Lingo24, a global translation services provider that specializes in website localization.