Is your website losing the language race?

For the past 12 years, the Web Globalization Report Card has closely tracked the languages supported by the leading global websites, including companies such as Apple, IBM, 3M, GE, Microsoft, and Google.

This year, the average number of languages supported by these websites surpassed 30 languages, up from 14 languages in 2006.

language_growth_2016

If you want to reach 95% of the world’s 3.3 billion Internet users your website needs to support roughly 45 languages.

It’s no accident that Google Translate now supports more than 100 languages — reaching 99% of all Internet users.

The language race isn’t unique to tech companies.

Here are the language totals from a number of non-tech websites (US English excluded):

Website & Languages

  • VOA News: 47
  • Coca-Cola: 44
  • Honda: 44
  • Nissan: 44
  • DHL 43
  • NIVEA: 43
  • Avon: 42
  • American Express: 41
  • BMW: 41

Have you conducted a competitive language audit recently? You might be surprised by what you find.

What I’m finding is that regardless of industry sector, companies are adding languages. Growth might just be a language or two a year, but it is happening. And, unless you’re keeping a close eye on languages, you can overlook it.

Languages represent growth. If your goal is to succeed globally, you’re going to be investing in languages — lots of them!

 

About the Web Globalization Report Card
For 2016, Byte Level Research studied 150 global websites across 15 industry sectors, including more than 80% of the Interbrand Best Global Brands.
Websites were graded according to the number of languages supported, global navigation, global and mobile website architecture, and localization. The top 25 websites overall include companies such as Google, Starbucks, Hotels.com, and Facebook. Link

The top 25 global websites of 2016

Web Globalization Report Card 2016

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Web Globalization Report Card is now available.

I’m pleased to announce the publication of the 2016 Web Globalization Report Card and, with it, the top 25 websites:

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Hotels.com
  5. NIVEA
  6. Booking.com
  7. Nestlé
  8. Pampers
  9. Adobe
  10. Intel
  11. Twitter
  12. Microsoft
  13. American Express
  14. BMW
  15. 3M
  16. Hitachi
  17. Starbucks
  18. Nike
  19. Samsung
  20. Cisco Systems
  21. Nikon
  22. TNT
  23. Philips
  24. Autodesk
  25. ABB

It’s hard to believe that this is the twelfth edition of the Report Card. Over the past decade I’ve seen the average number of languages supported by global brands increase from just 10 languages to 30 languages today.

And, of course, the top 25 websites go well beyond 30 language. Google supports  90 languages via Google Translate and 75 languages on YouTube. And Facebook stands at 88 languages.

But it’s not just languages that make a website succeed globally. Companies need to support fast-loading mobile websites, locally relevant content, and user-friendly navigation.

Notable highlights among the top 25:

  • Wikipedia is far and away the language leader, with content in more than 270 languages. The company also now supports a mobile-friendly layout that is considerably lighter (in kilobytes) than most Fortune 100 mobile websites.
  • NIVEA provides an excellent example of a company that localizes its models for local websites — one of the few companies to do so.
  • Nike made this top 25 list for the first time, having added languages and improved global consistency and navigation.
  • As a group, the top 25 websites support an average of 52 languages.

For 2016, we studied 150 websites across 15 industry categories — and more than 80% of the Interbrand Best Global Brands. Websites were graded according to languages supported, global navigation, global and mobile website architecture, and localization.

Congratulations to the top 25 websites!

Wikipedia and the Internet language chasm

When talking about language diversity across the Internet, I like to include a visual that illustrates the language leaders of the Internet:

Language leaders of the Internet 2014

This chart is based on data from the 2014 Web Globalization Report Card. English (US) is not counted.

In it, you have Wikipedia at the top, supporting more than 280 languages.Wikipedia represents (for now) the high-water mark for linguistic diversity on a website. It’s a fascinating benchmark because people are not paid to create content; what you see reflects user initiative (as well as factors such as Internet and computer penetration).

I was interested to see this quote in Motherboard:

There are 533 proposals for Wikipedia languages in incubator stage, more than twice the number of actual Wikipedias, but Kornai estimates no more than a third of them will ever get the required minimum of at least five active users and get enough pages to make it onto Wikipedia proper.

So it’s feasible we could the see the number of languages on Wikipedia double in the years ahead — though the article stresses that languages are in fact dying as a result of the Internet (a topic for a future blog post).

To the left of Wikipedia we have Google Search with support for more than 140 languages. However, this number reflects only the Google Search interface; most Google services (such as YouTube and Gmail) support fewer than 60 languages.

Next you have global companies such as Toyota and DHL and Panasonic, which support roughly 41-42 languages on their websites.

For most companies, 40 languages is a goal they cannot even imagine reaching. The average number of languages supported by the websites in the Report Card is 28 — which reflects only the leading global companies and brands.

Average number of languages supported by leading global websites

Most companies are happy if they support five or more languages on their websites.

So what does this data mean? To me, it means that there is a profound gap between possible number of languages a website can support (Wikipedia) and the practical number of languages that most websites currently support. By practical, I’m referring to the limited budgets that companies commit to professional translation.

Now, to the far right of the chart is Google Translate — with support for roughly 80 languages. Now here is where things get interesting, because machine translation (warts and all) supports a vastly greater number of languages than the Fortune 500 (or 50 for that matter)

google_translate_2014

That’s not to say that companies shouldn’t continue to invest in professional translation — indeed they should.

But machine translation has a  disruptive role to play in helping to overcome the language chasm.