Europeans surf in many languages, but buy in only one.
They are a multilingual bunch, those Continentals. More than half of Europeans surf the web in a second language, generally English. Among the 23 EU States, at least half of Internet users used a language other than their own to read and watch content on the Internet; this proportion ranged from 50% in Hungary to 90%-93% in Greece, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus.
Content is king in the Game of Languages, and that heavy crown is born by English on the web. So English is used at least “occasionally” by 46% of Europeans, while Spanish, German and French are used by 4% to 6% of users. Euros look to other languages online when local language content gives out, and surf in English and other big languages for content missing in their first language.
Nevertheless, 90% prefer to navigate the web in their native languages. Naturally, the fewer speakers in the surfer’s native language, the more likely they are to use the Web in English. “Ninety percent and 93% of Greeks, Slovenes, Luxembourgers, Maltese and Cypriots indicated they would use other languages when online, but only 9% of UK citizens, 11% of Irish, 23% of Czechs and 25% of Italians said they would do so.” according to User Language Preferences Online, a Eurobarometer survey published last year.
In Italy, the Czech Republic, Ireland and the UK, a majority of Internet users said that they only used their own language to read and watch content on the Internet (between 52% and 85%).
Forty-four percent of respondents feel that they miss interesting information because web pages are not in a language that they understand: this is the case for 60% of Greeks, 58% of Spaniards and 56% of Portuguese.”
So non-English readers must look to English-only on the WWW, which accounts for about 56% of all the pages on the Web. But the most critical page on any English-only web site remains seriously under visited by non-native speakers. I’m talking the order page.
Europeans prefer to buy in their own language. “Only 18% of EU internet users buy online in another language frequently or all the time, and 42% said they never buy online in a language other than their own.
Talk about a buzz-kill for English-language marketers. Build the content and they will come… If you translate it.
So leave the content in English and just translate order forms to double your business? Seems unlikely. The whole customer experience needs to be localized from search to receipt. Taking website visitors outside their language comfort zone wreaks traffic havoc and costs sales.
These survey results join the drumbeat of evidence on the easy money that can be earned from good localization. Keeping customers comfortable is the key to sales, and you’ve got to speak their language to do it. Doh!