Website internationalisation: How many languages do I need?

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In times of globalisation and a network-based world, international positioning plays a decisive role for companies. One important factor here is your own website. 

Does it make sense to have a multilingual website? And if it does, how many languages should it support?

The role of websites today

Over the years, having an online presence has become increasingly important. While a website used to present basic information about a company, these days it acts as a direct sales point for goods and services.

At any time of the day or night, a company can be found around the globe via their website. Unlike direct personal contact (which is only possible during opening hours), or a phone call (which is only answered at certain times), a website is always available.

Is an English translation enough?

Adapting your website to reach a global audience is a time-consuming and costly undertaking that requires careful consideration. The question will soon arise: Is it enough to present your website in your company's national language, or should it be translated into other languages?

English is actively spoken by a large number of people around the world and is understood by many more, at least on a passive level. This raises the next question:
Is it enough to have your website content translated into English or should you consider the language of every potential target country?

Once you’ve decided how many languages you want, the next question will be:
Should the entire website be translated for your international audience or just the most important pages?

When making decisions like these, your best option is to contact a professional translation agency that is well-versed in your potential target languages and understands the cultural aspects of the countries in question.

You may discover that even though English is understood by a large percentage of your target country's population, your customers still prefer to hear about offers in their own native language, which will then lead to more purchases.

Business to consumer (B2C) vs. Business to business (B2B)

If you operate as a B2C business, it's important to know that customers generally feel more confident in their own language and are in a better position to evaluate suppliers, providers and vendors. By communicating with customers in their own language, they will consider your company to be more reputable. This in turn will make them more likely to pay for more expensive items or services online.

This is due to each individual's need for security and is something that varies between cultures. In those where it's not as strong, people are more willing to take risks, such as buying an item online in a foreign language, with the chance that it might not meet their expectations.

It's easier to gain ground in the B2B sector, even if your website is only available in English, because lots of companies operate internationally and communicate in English. Be that as it may, a wider choice of languages shows respect and appreciation towards your potential customers. It also says that your company is open-minded, confident and ready to do business with customers from other countries.

Your main focus group

When considering how many languages your website should offer, your main target audience is a crucial factor, be it other businesses or end users.

Do you want to specifically address customers abroad, possibly even customers from particular countries? Or is your main business located in one country, making customers from other countries an added bonus? Along with these questions, the size of your company will also influence your decision.

  • No translation necessary

    If you’ve just launched your company based on an innovative idea, or are working as a freelancer, then having your website in the local language is enough for now. If your company continues to grow and develop, you can always consider translating it into other languages at a later stage.

  • An English translation is very useful

    For companies that have been operating longer, a translation into at least one other language – usually English – is a profitable move. Particularly so if you already generate sales abroad or there is a high probability of future turnover in foreign markets. Sales in other countries should account for about one quarter of your total sales revenue. It's also a good idea to offer your website in English if you're planning to expand abroad, or if you already have a retail shop and now want to sell your products and/or services online.

  • Translations for your key target countries is recommended

    For large companies that generate about half their turnover in other countries, we recommend getting your website translated into the languages spoken by your main target markets. This also applies if you are planning to open – or have already opened – offices or subsidiaries abroad. 

It’s not always easy to define your company's translation needs. We can help. With our many years of worldwide experience, our translation agency will be happy to offer you advice about making your website more international.