Why the meteoric rise of the importance of web translation? Because the majority of the world’s population does not speak English. In fact, less than a third of the current Internet user base speaks English as a global language. If English is your language, as it is mine, you’re out of luck if trying to make, as Byte Level Research co-founder John Yunker puts it, “a good first impression” on the vast majority of international people. Globalizing your Web site offers an enormous revenue opportunity for your business.
Web globalization, a strategy that conveys cultural, linguistic, and business information to meet the needs of a target audience in an increasingly multicultural and multilingual world is the next imperative for businesses, allowing them to gain traction and relevancy as a means to foster social engagement and enable online purchases. As more and more people access the Internet, English will become less prominent as the language of choice. What’s holding companies back from translating to non-English speaking languages? CEOs typically say it’s because most of their audience only speaks English and they quietly mention budgetary constraints.
That sort of thinking offers a perfect lead into Theodore Leavitt’s concept of “marketing myopia.” Theodore Leavitt, a late marketing professor at the Harvard Business School, says, “Businesses will do better in the end if they concentrate on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products.”(1) Marketing myopia is shortsightedness or the inability to see the future. Could that be you when it comes to web globalization? Are you giving customers what they want in the language they want?
Make no mistake. As a CSA Research report puts it, “Companies that are in favor of technology grow nearly three times as fast as companies that have mixed feelings about it or are against it.”(2)
A Web site—or any online social platform, apps included—is a door to the world. “The Internet connects computers, but it is language that connects people,”(3) as Yunker says. Without content customized for different regions, languages, and cultures, a digital presence can seem lacking. Translating your message makes a radical difference in how you get discovered on the web. Whether you think your target audience only speaks English, you lack the resources to translate a Web site, or you believe your products and services are inappropriate for the global marketplace, you are missing out on a huge chunk of business and are most likely leaving a lot of money on the table that will go to competitors who are willing to translate. To conduct business with most of the world, you must speak the language of several of your customers and ensure your Web site appears in the places where they are searching. It can’t be said enough: globalizing your Web site (read more about web globalization) offers an enormous revenue opportunity for your business.
In chapter 15 of my book, Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably, I discuss why you should design your Web site with the world in mind, the growth of Web globalization, the biggest challenges to Web site globalization, why Web globalization is essential to your Web marketing efforts, and what you can do now to get started. This information applies to translating marketing materials and campaigns on an as-needed basis as well.
Take it a step at a time, budget accordingly, and spend when and where you can. Perspective and a long-term horizon are what you need most, although you’ll probably end up making the same mistakes that the rest of us make when first getting started. That’s OK. We’re in this together.
Caution: A site translated into another language will not compensate for a poorly built English-language Web site. For example, if your English site is lacking in clarity and content, or the e-commerce bells and whistles are broken for your English-speaking visitors, don’t expect a translated version to work any better. So, fix the English site first to get the highest level of awareness and traffic that is possible before putting funds into developing a translated version. Then, when you can afford it, develop a foreign-language version featuring customized content unique to a specific market.
In closing, here are ten things Web site globalization will allow you to do to Increase visitors to your Web site
- Increase your international sales and profits
- Improve your global web performance
- Broaden your reach and support
- Gain global market share
- Improve visitors’ engagement and interactions
- Become a more worldly brand
- Outperform competitors
- Deliver greater impact via an integrated strategy
- Give customers the world over what they need and want
1 – “Marketing Myopia,” Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business Review, accessed May 2019, http://hbr.org/2004/07/marketing-myopia.
2 – “Language Service Provider Growth Factors,” Common Sense Advisory, accessed May 2019,
3 – “Frequently Asked Questions About Byte Level Research and Web Globalization, John Yunker, accessed May 2019,
This article has been adapted from Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably by Laurel Delaney, published by Apress, 2016. ©Laurel J. Delaney. All rights reserved.