What Is a Multilingual Website and Why Your Business Needs One

by Florian Auckenthaler
17th May, 2018

If you want to reach a broader audience, target more locations, or take your business global - a multilingual website is a solution. Find out what languages you should add to your website, the key features of a multilingual website, and how it can increase your conversion rates.

Have you ever analyzed the visitor metrics on your website? If you haven't, then you should take a moment to open a new tab and take a look at your website metrics. What you find might surprise you. For example, are your visitors primarily based in the United States or do they reside in an Asian, Latin American, or European country? Knowing where your future customers live can help you weigh the importance of having a multilingual website. After all, as a sales associate or marketer will tell you, the first step towards connecting with your audience is to display content in their native languages.

What Is A Multilingual Website?

As its name suggests, a multilingual website is a site that is available in multiple languages. This isn't to say that you have simply installed a translator feature, such as Google Translate, but that you have separate localized sites for different languages. A great example of a multilingual site is Ikea, where a user is directed to their native country and subsequently Ikea pages that are displayed in their country's national language. Unlike translators, which often muddle colloquialisms and other common phrases or sayings, a multilingual site is designed so that your audience feels as if they are reading content written by a local. In other words, it is designed to seamlessly improve communication, while simultaneously placing your brand in a positive light.

Multilingual Does Not Always Mean International

Though these words are very often used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between an international website and a multilingual website.

International websites address an international audience, while multilingual sites address the audience in different languages. Also, a multilingual website may display information differently taking into account cultural and regional distinctions (for example, date format).

Common examples of multilingual websites that are not international might be a business in the US that has a Spanish and English version of their website, or a business in Quebec, Canada that has a French and English version.

International and multilingual sites could have different requirements regarding website file structure, content structure, and different software and hardware requirements.

Additional benefits of a multilingual site include:

  • Increasing client satisfaction.
  • Improving the user experience.

56% of users either spend more time on sites in their own language than they do in English or boycott English-language URLs altogether.

  • Higher ranking, therefore, higher conversion rate.

Neil Patel, the owner of Quick Sprout has translated his blog into several different languages and saw 47% increase in the search traffic.

Net Media Planet had a 20% increase in conversions after they’ve localized their content and paid ads. After they’ve localized the whole site the percentage went up to 70%.

  • Greater opportunities for business growth in different countries.

Whether you choose to create an English and Spanish website or have determined that your company would be best suited by English, Spanish, Russian, and French sites, one thing is certain - a multilingual site will improve your business communications on a global scale. After all, 75 percent of non-English speakers prefer to shop for products in their native tongue, while 60 percent of non-English speakers will rarely visit a website that is written only in English.

What Are The Top Languages Online?

Creating a multilingual site will require you to first understand a) what languages are most commonly used online, b) what languages the majority of your online audiences speak, and c) what countries you want to reach. With this in mind, there are a few key statistics and findings that will aid your understanding.

  1. The most common languages used on the Internet are English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Indonesian / Malaysian, followed by French, Japanese, Russian, and German. 
  2. By communicating in the 10 most popular online languages you can reach approximately 77% of all global Internet users.
  3. Spanish is the third most widely spoken global language. It is also one of the fastest growing languages and by 2050 is expected to have grown by 30 percent.
  4. Currently, English reaches approximately 25 percent of global Internet users; however, 52 percent of websites are written in English.

The moral of the story is simple, English continues to dominate the Internet. However, knowing what second or third languages to use on your site, will require you to analyze your visitor metrics, while simultaneously recognizing your business expansion goals.

How Do You Know What Languages Are Right For Your Website?

We said it at the beginning of this post, but we'll say it again ... in order to know what written languages are right for your website, you must first analyze your site visitor metrics. To help you do this, here are a few key questions that you should ask and ideally answer.

  1. Where are your site visitors from (i.e. what country does their IP address show)?
  2. What percentage of visitors are foreign vs domestic?
  3. What is the conversion rate for foreign vs domestic site visitors?
  4. What is the purchasing rate for foreign vs domestic site visitors?
  5. Does one country or geographic area have a higher conversion and/or purchasing rate?

As you begin to ask these questions, you can use helpful tools, such as Google Analytics or SimilarWeb, to receive the answers that you need to understand the economic impact of expanding to a multilingual website. You can as well check your competitors’ stats and make a decision taking this information into account. For example, let's say that your site is only in English but 25 percent of your site visitors are from Spanish speaking countries. If you want to increase communication, create an optimized site experience, encourage purchases, and beat the competition, then you should consider creating a localized Spanish site that is tailored to the 1/4 of your site visitors.

Here is an example of data you can get from SimilarWeb: 

How Can A Multilingual Website Improve Your Conversion Rates?

The key to creating a multilingual website that will improve conversion rates (and inevitably sales), is research. In other words, it would take over 7,000 languages to reach the entire global population. However, chances are that your business expansion goals aren't geared towards reaching every single person in the world. The key to successfully growing your business is to carefully select what languages you want to use before localizing.

By using research to narrow your focus, you can best determine where product demand is likely to be higher. For example, if your research shows that you have a high product demand in Europe, then your next step should be to see if there is a specific country demand. In this example, you would also need to keep in mind that 90 percent of EU Internet users believe that websites should be in their native language(s). While you can't please everyone, you can and should try to please the majority, especially if you are interested in expanding the reach of your business.

The Bottom Line: Create A Multilingual Strategy That Is Right For Your Customers And Business

If you want to reach a wider audience, create an optimized user experience, improve your communication efforts, and encourage higher conversion rates, then you will need to move beyond an English-only website. By localizing your website you can successfully translate your business offerings into a multilingual site that reaches your global target audience. To learn more about how a multilingual website can benefit your business and to leverage best practice multilingual site techniques, we invite you to download our helpful PDF. With our help, you can and will reach your global audience as you begin to expand your business to new worldwide destinations.

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