Blog / News

The gap between online language and content

in Retail and Ecommerce

In the past 20 years, the internet has grown from a fledgling technological advancement with seemingly limitless possibilities, into a global phenomenon that has captured the imagination of people in almost every country. But despite its appeal on such a wide spectrum, has content and ecommerce adapted to match demand? Evidence would suggest it has not, with a clear lack of effectively translated content online showing where the web has fallen short in providing for its users.

According to Internet Live Stats, the period between 1995 and 2015 saw the internet’s accessibility spiral, with user numbers climbing from one per cent of the world’s population to 40 per cent. As of 2016, there are more than 3.3 billion people across the globe using the internet.

Of course, such a widespread of users means a wealth of languages being spoken online. But figures suggest that in spite of this, there is a strong leaning towards just a few languages online.

For example, while English is spoken by just 25.9 per cent of the world’s online population, according to Internet World Stats’ report, a surprising 53 per cent of all content available on the internet is in English. This is true even though almost three-quarters of the internet’s users do not speak English as their first language.

Whether shopping or simply seeking out entertainment from the web, well-translated content is important to billions of people across the world, but it seems evident that there is a lack of localisation in websites worldwide, particularly in some areas.

Is the internet failing the eastern world? 

One area where the internet is lacking more than any other is across the eastern part of the world. Both China and the Middle East have large numbers of internet users supplied by very small amounts of content. Internet Live Stats shows, in fact, that even though nearly half of all internet users are situated in Asia (48 per cent), they are not particularly well served by content in their native languages.

As many as 20.9 per cent of users of the web primarily speak Chinese. However, in spite of this, and it coming a close second to English in terms of being most widely spoken online, only 2.1 per cent of all content is in Chinese, showing that there are some real gaps in translation, as well as strong opportunities for improving this.

In Japan, 90 per cent of the 126 million-strong population are connected to the web, but again just five per cent of content online is in Japanese, again showing that there is a real opportunity for translation to allow brands and their content to exploit a gap in the market throughout Asia.

It’s a similar story when we turn our attention to the Middle East. With more than 176 million users online, Arabic represents the fourth-widest-spoken language online. However, despite 4.9 per cent of users primarily speaking Arabic, the internet provides just 0.8 per cent of all its content in this language.

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The growth of ecommerce in the Middle East

One of the biggest opportunities that effective and accurate translation and localisation can present for brands is to give them the chance to move into new markets. For those looking to globalise, it is often best to move into previously untapped areas; those emerging markets where penetration of ecommerce is still far below the world average.

The biggest area of opportunity at the moment when it comes to targeted expansion is the Middle East. According to figures from Go-Gulf, the last three years have seen some serious growth in ecommerce in the region. It said that in 2012, sales figures for ecommerce sat at $9 billion. However, by 2015 this had grown significantly, reaching $15 billion.

The fact that ecommerce is such a new phenomenon in the region – 72 per cent of online shoppers made their first purchase in the last two years – shows just how big the opportunity is for companies.

And when this is paired with the fact there is such little content online in Arabic, companies are presented with a ready-made idea of just how they can expand into the Middle East. Mastercard figures show that as many as half of users prefer shopping on localised websites rather than those presented in a foreign language.

Well-translated content online will appeal to consumers who were previously not shopping online and who struggle to find something that not only appeals to them, but is presented in their native tongue, allowing globalising brands the chance to branch out to customers that were neither shopping online or accessible just a few years ago.

Translation is an important tool when it comes to reaching new markets and appealing to customers in general. It’s clear from research that despite a large majority of people not speaking English, the majority of content is still presented in this language, despite the fact people like to shop on sites that talk to them in their own language.

When we put these two factors side by side, we see the importance of a better translated internet on the whole, and how companies can use translation as a tool for expanding and reaching out to all new online audiences.


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