Skip to main content

Which Language Should I Translate First?


So, you’ve decided to start translating your website. Awesome. For most businesses, once they are profitable and firmly entrenched in the market in their base country, it’s an easy decision to decide to expand internationally. It’s what comes next that’s the hard part.

Many businesses will try to go international without doing any translation. And that’s a totally valid approach, depending on the product or service. It’s a way to test the market abroad to see if committing to another country is worth it. Many big companies have taken this path.

But if you take this approach, make sure you consider this: if you aren’t translating your content, how can you be sure that you are truly testing the market and giving it your best shot? As we’ve mentioned, 72% of consumers prefer to browse and buy online in their native language. That is a number so astounding that ignoring it can handicap your business. This is why we recommend to get going on translating your content as soon as possible.

Unless you have a ton of money, it’s best to start with one language and branch out from there. But what language? If you don’t have an obvious contender for the first language to tackle, it can quickly become overwhelming. There are a few things we advise people to take into consideration when making this choice.

Look at existing traffic and customers

The most obvious contender. Dig into your data and see where your visitors are coming from. If there is one country that has a significant share, that’s a great place to start. This isn’t usually the case, though. Generally, websites have a majority of traffic from their home country and other countries share the scraps. Because localizing your content is a pretty big commitment, you don’t want to just choose the country that’s the highest. It should be significantly higher.

If you have a local product that’s only offered in certain locations, there’s another, more fun way to see who wants your product. We’ve seen companies identify the visitor’s location through their IP address and show a pop-up saying something like, “We aren’t in your area yet. Enter your email and we’ll let you know.” Not only are you collecting emails (marketing!), but you have a list of the people who want your product the most.

Making this choice based on existing traffic works best when you’re getting a lot of visitors — if you’re a small company with low visibility, you won’t get enough data to make a definitive decision.

For products that have user and customer data, look at your users’ locations in addition to your traffic. You’ll want to identify where your ideal (read: paying) customers are coming from. If there is one specific country that’s over-represented without being targeted at all, you may have hit the jackpot. Leveraging an existing user base is much easier than creating a new one.

Determine demand

If your business is successful, you likely (hopefully) have a very clear and specific idea of who your target customer is and what problem you are solving. Think about how this translates (pun not intended) to other countries. Who else has this problem? Where are they? Is there enough demand to justify expanding there?

Cultural differences span vast distances, and often what resonates in one culture is completely lost on people in another culture. If you know your target market well, you’ll be able to identify when your product will resonate in another country. You can find them no matter where they are. Seek them out. Talk to them. They will give you much more insight than any data and market research will.

An interesting way to measure demand is to run ads in the countries you’re looking into. Direct the ads to a custom landing page where users can sign up or buy your product (or sign up for your newsletter, or to be notified when they expand — the call to action depends on your business). Facebook is great for this as they have very detailed demographic data.

Another interesting way we’ve seen to measure demand is to look for businesses similar to yours. It’s kind of counterintuitive, but the more competition, the better. Competition means demand. Don’t be afraid of it. If you have a great product and forward momentum, you can distinguish yourself from the competition once you arrive.

However, if a large company has a monopoly, it might be a tricky endeavor to take them on. It can also be tricky to come in as a foreign company and compete with local businesses. You have to convince customers that you offer a better product or service, hands down, and also that you speak their language, metaphorically and literally — this is where content localization can make or break your global expansion efforts.

Making this decision can be intimidating, but it comes down to looking at the data and talking to customers, plus a bit of experimentation and creativity. If you’re worried you’ll get it wrong and waste a bunch of money, start small by doing some inexpensive, initial translation to test your hypothesis.

Expanding globally is a big venture, but it can have a massive impact on your business. Just take it one step at a time. If you’d like to chat about your next move, send us an email and we’ll help you figure it out!

To learn more about Unbabel, visit us at To become an editor with Unbabel, sign up at our Editors page.

The post Which Language Should I Translate First? appeared first on Unbabel.