Speaking the right language online to grow sales


Which languages are growing online and what does that mean for companies looking to target a worldwide audience? The need to communicate in multiple languages online has never been more important. This is particularly relevant to exporters, where using just one language online is no longer enough to make the most of opportunities overseas.

Fact re-cap: changes in languages online

  • 50%+ of all Google searches are made in a language other than English
  • Websites in English will only reach ¼ of the world’s online population
  • Chinese and Russian online frequency increased by 1000%* from 2000 to 2010
  • The use of Arabic online grew by a staggering 2500%* from 2000 to 2010
  • By 2015 Arabic is predicted to be fourth largest language group with 150 million speakers online
  • Chinese has overtaken English with 513 million* online Chinese speakers
  • There are 489 million* English speakers online
  • Spanish is the third most popular language online

*Research from the Common Sense Advisory, (Common Sense Advisory, ROI Lifts the Long Tail of Languages in 2012 by Benjamin B. Sargent, 2012).

It takes at least 12 languages to reach 80% of the global online audience.

That’s a lot of languages, and with an understanding of which markets you want to target you can start to drive extra traffic and sales through your website by picking the right languages for your business. Here are the top languages to watch out for:

  • Chinese
  • Russian
  • Arabic
  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • German

Which languages are spending the most?

The Common Sense Advisory has also looked at the relative spending power of online populations as a percentage of the world’s total e-GDP, referred to as the World Online Wallet (WOW). In the top spot is English, followed by Japanese, German and Spanish. But look out for opportunities in markets that are rapidly growing, namely Russian and Arabic, up 61% from their 2010 figures above.

Do your homework before translating; one size does not fit all

Despite online growth set to continue globally with technology fast reaching developing nations, it does not mean every business should embark on translating its website in all these languages! However it does give you an understanding of where business opportunities lie to target a worldwide audience. With the tremendous increase in business-to-consumer e-commerce (20% increase in one year) – this is even more important.

How to do effective translation

Communication in other languages can feel like a huge task, but with a carefully considered plan in place, translation and localisation of both web and print material provides the necessary tools to effectively expanding into a new market and support rapid growth. Research shows that customers are four times more likely to buy from a website in their own language

What’s the future of online languages?

Since the first Arabic characters domain name in 2010, a widening of which characters can be used on the Internet will continue to grow. Alongside this there are also programmes such as The Noun Project, which seeks to create a new global language using icons. Some languages are likely to disappear too, including those such as Polish and Greek, as native speakers migrate to using more widespread dialects.

But we can be sure of one thing about the future of online language; it is simply not enough for businesses to rely on English to communicate with a worldwide online audience.

To learn more about languages online and how this affects your export business, why not read our free guides. Click here to find out more and download our guides.

If you have any questions regarding translation services, or would like support in developing an effective communications plan to break into new markets, please contact a member of our team on + 44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email

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