How international are German Websites?

John Yunker, the host of “Global by Design”, has invited me to publish some of my articles on this blog. I feel honoured to be here and will try my best to give you some insights into Web internationalization in Germany.

I thought a good place to start was with a few simple statistics to see how German companies stacked up on internationalization.

How international are German Websites?

So I decided to count the number of languages used on the Web sites of Germany’s top companies. I chose to explore the Web sites of the companies in the DAX30 index, which lists the top 30 German publicly traded companies (a sort of little brother of the U.S. Dow Jones index). At this stage I decided not to analyze the quality of localized sites.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But during my analysis I encountered several issues:

  • Because of usability or design problems I had a hard time on some Websites to find the international or localized Websites. Being German I had several advantages and finally discovered the other Websites. But it was much harder than it should have been.
  • If a company has a Website for the USA and Canada, does this count as one or two localized Websites? In my opinion they are actually two Websites, because localizing a Website for a country or market is much better than translating the content.
  • Holdings or groups are just an umbrella for their subsidiary companies, so usually their Websites do not provide much information. But the subsidiary companies might own popular consumer brands, as is the case with the Adidas Group which owns Adidas and Reebok. For any such company I included the most prominent subsidiary in my analysis.

So this simple task turned out to be more work than anticipated. It included a lot of surfing and counting the localized Websites, the intended target markets as well as picking up some financial data from the annual reports for 2006.

Results

The diagram below shows the number of languages used on German Websites. The results showed some clustering for some values, so I decided to group the data roughly by these clusters.

DAX 30 Language Statistics

All companies used at least 2 languages, mostly German and English. 9 out of the DAX 30 companies (or almost a third) used only 2 languages. Most companies in this group belonged to regulated industries where state legislation and laws restrict business operations to the German market, e.g. banking, insurance or utilities. However, most of them do expand internationally, but they cannot reuse their company name or Website.

The other groups used 2-10, 10-20 and more than 20 languages or localized Websites respectively. This means that 50% of all companies in my analysis used 10 or more languages. In most cases the languages addressed strong or emerging markets, e.g. Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and several Eastern European languages.

Altogether, I think German company Websites are in a good shape. I am looking forward to see the numbers for other countries.

Business Reasons

If you are wondering about the number of languages used on German Websites, there are some business reasons to ponder:

  • German companies depend heavily on foreign trade: the financial reports showed that most companies (in non regulated industries) made 50% of the revenues in foreign markets. Some reports even claimed as much as 80% of revenues to result from foreign trade.
  • Although Germany had a recession a few years ago, foreign trade allowed most companies to prosper and become independent of the German market.
  • After analyzing the government’s report on foreign trade, it became clear that company size and foreign trade correlate. Although the DAX30 companies account for less than 20% of the German economy, they get the lion’s share of foreign trade. Smaller companies depend much more on the German economy: they prosper and struggle with the German market.
  • Until recently German companies preferred export marketing which meant little risk and investment in foreign markets, but also lower margins and little control. In the last 2 years German companies pushed hard for global operations (e.g. offshoring, outsourcing, local subsidiaries) which means more risk and investment but also larger profit margins and more control.

Well, so much for me proving that I can count to 30 … I am looking forward to meeting you here again soon!

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