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Translation, globalisation and internet restrictions around the world

Translation, globalisation and internet restrictions around the world [Photo: Danil Melekhin via iStock]
in Retail and Ecommerce

In an increasingly global marketplace, where the internet has made it easier than ever to connect with customers in all four corners of the world, more companies are now expanding online and translating their websites to reach out to larger and more spread out target audiences.

As we discussed previously, choosing the right languages for this sort of expansion can throw up issues that firms need to be aware of. For example, the most widely spoken languages in the world are not necessarily the most widely spoken online, so breaking down traditions in the thought process is key to selecting the right target language for translation.

However, this is not the only consideration businesses need to make when translating. In some countries, the internet is severely restricted and censored, which can present issues with the use of content to promote products, and even ecommerce sites themselves, which can be blocked on the whim of government officials.


One of the most widely spoken languages online, Internet World Stats data shows that nearly 21 per cent of all internet users are Chinese, yet only 2.1 per cent of the content online is presented in their native language.

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While this can represent an opportunity to move into something of an untapped niche for companies which are looking to make global expansion part of their business plan, it can also present problems with regards to blocking of sites and specific content. China may have more internet users than any other single nation in the world, but it’s also the most restricted, with USA Today reporting that the government have been known to censor content they see as “inconvenient”.

This is probably the best example of where companies simply need to be aware when choosing a target translation language. China offers a fantastic opportunity for growth for ecommerce brands thanks to the dearth of Chinese-language sites, but any company looking to do so needs to be aware of the restrictions that come with working online in China. There’s little use in translating your website and content if no one in your target audience will be able to see it.

Middle East

The Middle East has become one of the most prominent targets for ecommerce growth in recent years, largely because of the increasing appetite in the region for shopping online. Go-Gulf reports that in the Middle East, the last three years have seen ecommerce revenue figures grow by as much as two-thirds, climbing from $9 billion in 2012, to $15 billion in 2015. For this reason, more large companies have been moving towards the Middle East in recent times, and smaller businesses might be looking to follow suit in the future.

However, similar to China, while the Middle East presents an opportunity for growth, especially with Internet World Stats reporting that less than a single per cent of online content is presented in Arabic at present, there are considerations that need to be made surrounding restrictions and blocks on websites.

For example, VPN Accounts reports that Saudi Arabia is one of the most restricted nations in the world online. The internet only came to Saudi Arabia in 1999, and within 18 months as many as 200,000 websites had been blocked for being unsuitable, according to the government. By the year 2004, just five years after the internet had been introduced, this number had climbed to 400,000, and it’s a trend that’s continued since.

Even in the more liberal areas of the Middle East, such as Dubai, it’s reported that certain content types can see a website blocked outright. For example, even if brands are operating in ecommerce, any online content that alludes to gambling or other socially unacceptable activities could see the site blocked in Dubai.


Of course, the simple fact that countries are strict with what they allow their online users to access doesn’t mean they should be ignored outright by ecommerce brands with global intentions. China and the Middle East, as mentioned previously, are some of the most untapped markets in the world, and represent a great chance for companies to expand into with effectively translated websites.

What such restrictions can mean, however, is that businesses need to tread more carefully when moving towards these countries. Translating the site effectively is key, of course, but it also pays to look into types of content and topics discussed on the site to ensure that no offence could be caused when operating in nations with strict internet policies.

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