Hexidecimally Lingual: Websites Must Speak 16 Languages to Go Global

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New data from research firm Common Sense Advisory suggests that if your brand is to achieve truly global reach in our online world, your website must "speak" more than 16 languages. 

Common Sense Advisory publishes reports that are designed to help its clients reach a more global audience, so you could be forgiven for thinking it's obvious the firm would stress a statistic that promotes its own services--but actually, if you read through the company's thinking it all makes good sense. As part of its most recent report dubbed "The Top Scoring Global Websites," CSA looked at a long list of global brand's websites and rated them for a wide range of accessibility scores, including poly-lingual skills.

The fact that 16 languages is recommended to have the most influential global web presence will come as quite a shock for many global brands who just tackle the top few of the world's most spoken languages (in order of number of speakers it goes Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi-Urdu, Arabic, Bengali, Portuguese, and Russian) and rely on English being the lingua franca of the Web; the figure will keep growing, too, as Internet penetration reaches more countries around the world. CSA's math suggests that sites that use 11 languages can only reach 80% of the world, and monolingual sites typically capture just 25% of the world's Net users.

Using the 20 different metrics in its analysis (including user experience, meta-navigation, and more) CSA scored Google the highest, with a total score of 9.56 out of 10. Facebook came second with 9.53 and YouTube third with 9.51. Wikipedia scored 9.43, and Samsung and Blackberry weren't far behind, with scores of 9.11 and 9.10.

In this calculation, the number of languages a site "speaks" is just one element, but it's incredibly key because we can understand why the top-scoring sites are in this list. Google (and thus, YouTube) and Facebook are self-explaining, as both have truly global dominance as a company mission and have built some of their own very useful tools to help translate content--Google with its ubiquitous "translate" tool which keeps getting cleverer and which some companies no doubt use to help with their own global web presence, and Facebook with its crowdsourcing translation for Connect efforts. Samsung is an interesting member here--its products are aimed at consumers all over the world, and the firm is obviously aware that appealing to local markets is a a must for success. RIM's BlackBerry phones are a joy to businesspeople all around the world (although RIM's been having some censorship issues, too), and it seems RIM is sensitive to the world's linguistic needs--coming from a bi-lingual Canada may help with that.

If a company really wants to push its message out across the entire world, and hence achieve global sales of products and services, it may have to work a lot harder than merely supplying a website in just the local language and English. This probably goes for brand-pushing over social media tools too, which explains why Twitter's just launched its own crowdsourced translation tool.

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