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Global Internet: Localisation and Multilingual Issues in Internet

“Despite continuing political and economic uncertainty, the Internet's extraordinary stability, resiliency, and ever increasing utility will push the global market for ecommerce spending past $10 trillion by 2010"

Carol M. Glasheen, IDC program vice president, Global Market Models and Demand-Side Research.

“Localization is the process of creating or adapting a product to a specific locale, i.e., to the language, cultural context, conventions and market requirements of a specific target market. With a properly localized product a user can interact with this product using his/her own language and cultural conventions. It also means that all user-visible text strings and all user documentation (printed and electronic) use the language and cultural conventions of the user. Finally, the properly localized product meets all regulatory and other requirements of the user's country/region.”

“Internationalization is a way of designing and producing products that can be easily adapted to different locales. This requires extracting all language, country/regional and culturally dependent elements from a product. In other words, the process of developing an application whose feature design and code design do not make assumptions based on a single locale, and whose source code simplifies the creation of different local editions of a program, is called internationalisation.”

1 Introduction: Internet Age

In today's Internet Age – in its various forms of websites, search engines, new media, email, and professional new advertising solutions and ads in emerging media formats – the global markets and enterprises are under enormous pressure to deliver more content, products and communication faster than their competitors. The new Internet and media landscape is fragmented and one of the most important issues to be considered right now are those dealing the language barriers that divide geographical borders.

The importance of the internet introduced new paradigms and renewed global confidence in the digital space. This new paradigm revolves around the below points:

Create, innovate, rate, network, participate, cooperate.

The new internet landscape influences purchase decisions online and offline & new information about it must be sent to the market immediately. It must then be rated in order to win new customers, clients or maintain existing customers' loyalty. However, with multiple content authors, customers and companies residing on different continents, language barriers are all the more important to break. It is more necessary than ever for web projects to proceed with strong localization processes in order to create and publish the best products and content adapted to the right locations, languages and markets.

87% of Internet users (2003 Forrester Survey), rely on search engines to locate information on the web. A company that wants to localize their product or web site into 25 languages has to optimize the sites individually for the best searches. This is similar to what a music company does when it releases a new record, making a concerted effort to promote it internationally. In traditional business, Yellow Pages and business directories are vital for many companies in attracting new customers. In the internet and in the e-business world, search engines and new web ads play a similar role, although they are more complex and more effective. People browse research and buy products and services online by conducting searches. In the same way that companies pay for advertising in the Yellow Pages, or in major business directories, a company that works in the internet has to allocate money, content and time for effective visibility within the search engine arena. In the last several years, an entire Search Marketing industry has emerged and is working with companies and brands to achieve the optimal paid search results and top rankings in the search engines results pages.

In order to operate in a global market, internationally focused sites and brands face added barriers. The internet is a complex medium with an organic mode of development & assessment that produces new problems for the advertiser to consider.  The global advertiser must grasp a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the medium & create a solid foundation for future digital activity.

“A search engine is an information retrieval system designed to help find information stored on a computer system. Search engines help to minimize the time required to find information and the amount of information which must be consulted, akin to other techniques for managing information overload.

The most popular form of portal is a Web search engine, which searches for information on the public World Wide Web. Other kinds of search engines include enterprise search engines, which search on intranets, desktop search engines and mobile search engines.”


The basic aim of search engine marketing is to make a product, service or brand visible to searchers, using content that is relevant to the visitor. Search Engine Marketing is divided in two different but complementary methodologies:

SEO involves a variety of techniques, such as link-building and site optimisation, which are used to improve the natural search engine rankings of a given website (i.e. the listings on search engine results pages which are not paid for).

Paid-search marketing is the process of using paid -for – or sponsored – listings to make your product, services or brand more visible on search engines. 

Search Marketing (SM) is a rapidly developing sector that is gradually shifting the emphasis away from traditional media. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), a vital part of the search medium, is the process of adapting web pages to maximise their effectiveness in ranking highly for desired keywords. Pay per Click, on the other hand, is the monetised model for search engine listings, based on a set charge for users clicking on advertiser messages. The concept revolves around the rule that advertisers only pay when their ad is clicked on & not simply for impressions.

Search Engines that provide a list of useful links (SERP’s) in response to a text query have gradually evolved over the last ten years or so. Google & Yahoo! lead the way in the market & are surrounded by smaller satellite engines that try to emulate their success. The Search Engines relies on an algorithm that finds a list of web pages that contain the keywords and other attributes specified in the query. These algorithms have made keywords & ad copy the most important parts of the search marketing industry. The terms that users enter into the search engine when looking for information on the web are the most important roots for the SEM industry. These terms can be seen as being similar to the index terms that one finds in a book or manual. Ideally, the words one uses on any given site would exactly match the queries that customers use when they try to find related subject matter or products. Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that customers will base their searches on the words within the content of newly built sites – unless, of course, you have optimized your copy. The best strategy is to include on the site the words people use in their searches, even if those words are not as technically precise as the terminology used in the product documentation.

With this in mind, search methodologies are encouraging more competition between advertisers in organic and paid search. Both areas are also becoming more complex and are bolstering the mediums reputation as a results driven marketing channel. Rather than focusing purely on bid management or the technical intricacies of SEO, search engine marketers are being forced to gain expertise in a wide range of activities that can affect their campaigns. Usability, web analytics, brand immersion, conversion testing, online PR, social media and affiliate marketing are all part of the new SM spectrum.

In order to achieve global visibility, a company & its brands must appear in the results for searches conducted and in several different languages.  As a rule, people prefer search results to be presented in their native languages. However, web surfers in different countries have different preferences and large-scale enterprises are experiencing significant new branding issues:

The global brand needs to have a direction adapted to the market, the partners in that market, its language, culture and potential customers.

All the collateral information and documentation must be clear & should avoid confusing communication with customers & clients.

Support products & services cannot be shipped or sent simultaneously to global markets without a strong localization effort.

The local marketing team has to use up-date or correct terminology adapted to the respective market, its language and cultural approach

It is imperative to have focus on the right search networks, with the correct marketing strategy adapted in the correct language.

The rise of the internet was followed with the growth of commerce, new companies and audiences in emerging markets around the world. In order to highlight this growth, consider the fact that the USA passed from the 1st market for the internet in number of users to the 3d in 2007. With the spread of the internet as a mass medium, the modern organisation must have multi-lingual reach if they want to have key positioning in their markets. In this context, it is not only the volume of content to be written for global markets, but also the accessibility of that content. 

An international company or brand has to revolve it’s websites around the processes of internet localization. This process is of utmost importance & must assist organizations in writing and communicating information and content directly to its international audiences. Furthermore, this procedure has to be carried out with a strong understanding of search engine ranking algorithms & general technical factors.

The need to write & communicate through the internet with international audiences in mind has never been more important. If this is neglected, the cost and time involved in publishing information for global markets is constantly escalating. Within any organization, there are many briefing information and content "conveyor belts", driven by specific business rules and processes. Each of them delivers different types of data through multiple communication channels. When this information is also delivered in multiple languages, the global information assets of translation memory and terminology are often created in isolation for each delivery channel.

Corporate terminology defines the business, builds the brand and evokes a specific reaction in the target customer. The work of Internet Localization Management is to ensure these terms are delivered and shared across the organization to create a consistency in all languages & publications.  This has to be done with a consideration of the mechanisms of project management, the rules of the internet and the mechanisms that surround it.

2. Multi-lingual world

The World’s population is over 6.5 billion and growing. About 1.175 million people are using the internet at the moment. Only 500 million of those people speak English as their first language, so the importance of multilingual website development for markets, companies and brands is greater than ever. It is impossible to run an internet strategy without a consideration of the global statistics for internet usage by world region. The graph below shows the breakdown of internet usage for each region in 2007.

World Regions Population (2007 Est.) Population % of World Internet Usage, Latest Data % Population (Penetration) Usage % of World Usage Growth 2000-2007
Africa 933,448,292 14.2 % 43,995,700 4.7 % 3.5 % 874.6 %
Asia 3,712,527,624 56.5 % 459,476,825 12.4 % 36.9 % 302.0 %
Europe 809,624,686 12.3 % 337,878,613 41.7 % 27.2% 221.5 %
Middle East 193,452,727 2.9 % 33,510,500 17.3 % 2.7 % 920.2 %
North America 334,538,018 5.1 % 234,788,864 70.2 % 18.9 % 117.2 %
Latin America/Caribbean 556,606,627 8.5 % 115,759,709 20.8 % 9.3 % 540.7 %
Oceania/Australia 34,468,443 0.5 % 19,039,390 55.2 % 1.5 % 149.9 %
WORLD TOTAL 6,574,666,417 100.0 % 1,244,449,601 18.9 % 100.0 % 244.7 %

NOTES: (1) Internet Usage and World Population Statistics are for September 30, 2007. (2) CLICK on each world region for detailed regional information. (3) Demographic (Population) numbers are based on data contained in the world-gazetteer website. (4) Internet usage information comes from data published by Nielsen//NetRatings, by the International Telecommunications Union, by local NICs, and other reliable sources. (5) For definitions, disclaimer, and navigation help, sees the Site Surfing Guide. (6) Information from this site may be cited, giving due credit and establishing an active link back to www.internetworldstats.com. Copyright © 2007, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved worldwide.

Internet User Statistics & Population for 52 European countries and regions

Internet Usage in Europe
EUROPE Population (2007 Est.) Population % of World Internet Usage, Latest Data % Population (Penetration) Usage % of World Usage Growth 2000-2007
Europe 809,624,686 12.3 % 321,853,477 39.8 % 27.4 % 206.2 %
Rest of World 5,765,041,731 87.7 % 851,256,448 14.8 % 72.6 % 232.7 %
WORLD TOTAL 6,574,666,417 100.0 % 1,173,109,925 17.8 % 100.0 % 225.0 %

NOTES: (1) European Internet Statistics were updated for June 30, 2007. (2) Population is based on data from world-gazetteer.com. (3) The usage numbers come from various qualified sources, mainly from data published by Nielsen//NetRatings , ITU , and other trustworthy sources. (4) Data may be cited, giving due credit and establishing an active link back to Internet World Stats . Copyright © 2007, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved worldwide.

3. Multi-lingual web

“61 Billion Searches Conducted Worldwide in August (2007). Google Ranks as Top Global Search Property”


The development of a multi-lingual website is vital for any organisation wishing to compete for global business. It is a key component of an organisation's overall marketing and brand strategy. A company or a brand will want to ensure that customers from around the world get the same online experience as those accessing their website from a given home market. In order to do this, it is important to first learn as much as possible about the products and contents that are purchased & searched for in each region.

According to the graphics below, about 68 percent of Internet users have a native language other than English – but 86 percent of web pages on the net are currently delivered in English. Online English speakers are actually now a minority group. Of the 1172 million Internet users across the globe, 28% speak a European language and another significant percentage has an Asian dialect.

Top Ten Languages Used in the Web (Number of Internet Users by Language)
TOP TEN LANGUAGES IN THE INTERNET % of all Internet Users Internet Users by Language Internet Penetration by Language Language Growth in Internet (2000-2007) 2007 Estimated World Population for the Language
English 31.2 % 365,893,996 17.9 % 157.7 % 2,042,963,129
Chinese 15.7 % 184,001,513 13.6 % 469.6 % 1,351,737,925
Spanish 8.7 % 101,539,204 22.9 % 311.4 % 442,525,601
Japanese 7.4 % 86,300,000 67.1 % 83.3 % 128,646,345
French 5.0 % 59,207,849 15.3 % 385.4 % 387,820,873
German 5.0 % 58,981,592 61.1 % 112.9 % 96,488,326
Portuguese 4.0 % 47,326,760 20.2 % 524.7 % 234,099,347
Korean 2.9 % 34,120,000 45.6 % 79.2 % 74,811,368
Italian 2.7 % 31,481,928 52.9 % 138.5 % 59,546,696
Arabic 2.5 % 28,782,300 8.5 % 940.5 % 340,548,157
TOP TEN LANGUAGES 85.0 % 997,635,142 19.3 % 203.7 % 5,159,187,766
Rest of World Languages 15.0 % 175,474,783 12.4 % 440.3 % 1,415,478,651
WORLD TOTAL 100.0 % 1,173,109,925 17.8 % 225.0 % 6,574,666,417

(*) NOTES: (1) Internet Top Ten Languages Usage Stats were updated for June 30, 2007. (2) Internet Penetration is the ratio between the sum of Internet users speaking a language and the total population estimate that speaks that specific language. (3) The most recent Internet usage information comes from data published by Nielsen//NetRatings, International Telecommunications Union, Computer Industry Almanac, and other reliable sources. (4) World population information comes from the world gazetteer web site. (5) For definitions and navigation help, see the Site Surfing Guide. (6) Stats may be cited, stating the source and establishing an active link back to Internet World Stats. Copyright © 2007, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved.

Examples for data interpretation and some related information:

There are 101,539,204 Spanish speaking people using the Internet. This represents 8.7 % of all the Internet users in the world. Out of the estimated 442,525,601 world population that speaks Spanish, only 22.9 % use the Internet.

The number of Spanish Speaking Internet Users has grown 311.4 % in the last seven years (2000-2007).

Asia represents 36.9 % of the global internet usage and had and Usage Growth between
2000-2007 of 302.0 %

From the European estimated population (2007) of 809,624,686 people, the global net usage is 27.2%

In the UK, as in the USA, internet is one of the premiere means of learning and getting information about new products, followed by word of mouth…

In Germany, for example, the recommendations of friends are paramount, followed by sales people, web ads and category experts.

Tallying the number of speakers of the world's languages is an increasingly complex task, particularly with the push in many countries to teach English in their public schools. How many people can actually use the global language? David Graddol estimated that there are a total of 750 million people who use English as a 1st or 2nd language in his ‘Future of English’ report for the British Council. There are also publications that claim that India and China combined have over half a billion "users" of English.

In this global multi-lingual landscape, web locale is the combination of language and culture that makes an area unique. For example:

Switzerland has three main locales: French, German, and Italian.

A search for pages in German may bring up results from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

A search for pages in French may bring up results from: France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Canada…

A search for pages in Spanish may bring up results from Mexico, Argentina and Spain…

Many people are bilingual or multilingual, but it is necessary to assign only one language per person in order to have all the language totals add up to the total world population (zero-sum approach). No adjustments have been made for infants or illiteracy in the Internet penetration rate calculations. Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Norway are seven examples of early adopters in internet usage with 100% literacy.

Below are some further interesting facts regarding the internet & multi-lingual internet trends (source DoubleClick Touchpoints IV Europe – How French, British and German consumers see the role of digital media in their purchase decisions 5/5/2007 and www.multilingual-search.com) :

The British, culturally allied with the Americans, cited web sites far and away as their top source for additional research (35% of the British, 38% of Americans), followed by 15% citing search engines, word of mouth and offline stores.

There are more mobile Internet users in Japan than PC users.

37% of daily blog entries in the world is in Japan

84% of Japanese trust information on blogs and Social Networks

The advent of video on the internet with sites like You Tube and My Space (that recently teamed up with Skype) will open new directions in Search and localization.

The mix of different media platforms (internet, TV, mobile), according to a study conducted by the Solutions Research Group, says that  roughly 37% of the U.S. population over the age of 12 use their computers while watching television at home.

More than half of Europeans agreed that they pay more attention to ads when they are shopping for relevant products.

4. Localization Project Management

Top 10 Search Properties Worldwide* August 2007
Total World Age 15+, Home and Work Locations**
Source: comScore qSearch 2.0
Search Property Searches (MM)
Worldwide 61,036
Google Sites 37,094
Yahoo! Sites 8,549
Baidu.com Inc. 3,253
Microsoft Sites 2,166
NHN Corporation 2,044
eBay 1,319
Time Warner Network 1,212
Ask Network 743
Fox Interactive Media 683
Lycos, Inc. 441

* Search properties based on top 50 properties worldwide where search activity is observed.

** Excludes traffic from public computers such as Internet cafes or access from mobile phones or PDAs.

“… on a typical day, 19 million people go online to research a product, and that for 2006, online retail purchases will exceed $100 billion. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Other business models will increase the money flow in the consumer internet space even more. It is apparent that a confluence of demand, technologies, customers, and (…) changes in how people live their lives is creating a thriving digital marketplace. “ IDC research study

“Web users are four times more likely to purchase from a site that communicates in the customer's language.” (www.idc.com).

“Visitors stay for twice as long (Site stickiness is doubled), if a website is in their own language (Forrester Research).”

Whether it is a full replica site or a micro-site (comprising only key pages), or a project involving different countries and languages, the localization project management team will work to ensure the multi-lingual side of the offering is as effective as possible. Consumers see the internet as an engaging and important part of the advertising mix, so the point of Internet localisation is to understand the consumers & then to use this understanding to correctly deliver content to each varying locality.

This process comprises the following key services:

Globalisation consulting: Understanding the mechanics of internationalizing products, the cultural issues involved, and training a staff to enter foreign markets;

Technology internationalization: Reviewing technology to assure it can be localized; streamlining the maintenance of future issues;

Localisation Services: Translating products to meet the language, cultural and content needs of specific target markets;

Defining strategies involving relations with the main Search Engines,:

Defining multilingual Search campaigns, Product placement, web developing solutions using different languages

Software localization: Testing products for multinational use;

Language translation management: Streamlining localizations through multilingual content management of core language elements to automate/standardize translations;

Language quality: Reviewing, rating, and correcting translations performed by staff or by other firms;

Multimedia production: Localizing and translating multimedia content ;

Publishing: Localising content in popular publishing applications;

In-house localization management: In sourcing Rubric to manage globalization with on-site staff;

Define strategies to work with social network and social communities

In order to implement these services these are phases of the purchase methodology to bear in mind:

Initial Awareness: how did the customer, web user first learn about the product?

What are the language, geographical space and market in which the customer is based?

Information gathering: how did the web user learn and navigate…?

Purchase decision: what most influenced on the journey to purchase …?

A localization project management team uses an internet and linguistic approach at the same time. Linguistics requires attention and preparation, as every language has its own nuances. Common phrases in one language can mean something completely different if translated incorrectly. Technical terminology often requires special awareness of the local linguistics. It is therefore of supreme importance that companies marketing products and services are able to fully grasp the local traditions and languages.

It is imperative to have a strong & accurate presence in the global, cultural & multi language online marketplace & that is no simple task!  Almost every territory has its own search engine preferences. In spite of the fact that Google has about 55% of the world search traffic, each market has its idiosyncratic issues. A good localization team has to do the right project research and development in order to make sure the process is up to date & sensitive to all changes in the global market. Each campaign prepared for a given company or brand has to be designed & disseminated very specifically with a tight focus on the targeted territory.

Wherever location or language a website is based in, it needs international profile and exposure. To communicate and sell in foreign audiences and markets you need to speak in their language. So, although your customers can find your website, they have to understand your offer, otherwise they will turn to a locally based competitor.

Before working with internet localization and Multi-lingual teams, there is a list of issues to be aware of:

Schedule the project and assign resources in the project management stage, planning all the tasks involved from the very beginning with all the teams

Do as much as possible to aid project management in online collaboration

Make a strong initial analysis with project history and information about the company culture and brand language.

Calculate profit & loss per project and customer. Bare in mind the average markets translation cost per word and language is $20.

Consider all the right search engine mechanisms, making full use & correctly mixing SEO and PPC.

Use a translation team prepared with the knowledge of the intricacies of SEM and an awareness of the digital marketing industry.

A typical translation workflow involves translation, revision and proofreading. First, translators should review their own work and run a spell-check on their documents. This review is a linguistic one, which can be performed on-screen in the translation memory tool and is part of the translation process.

Have a strong qualified freelance database available (with native speakers and experts) and always have a partner with local contacts.

Work with partners that are aware of the best cultural & communication strategies.

Have in consideration HTML translation (Text, Meta Tags, Alt Tags)

Have in consideration Flash files

Have in consideration CGI/Java/Perl translation

Have in consideration single Byte/Double Byte conversion

Have in consideration Database translation

5. Conclusion

“Going global is not an act of good will — it is a smart and necessary business strategy.” Huiping Iler

“With a total of 42 language versions, Google is accessible by 99% of Internet users in their native language”.

In going in the direction of a conclusion, I want to mention Richard Ishida, from W3C, a world-renowned expert on language issues and on building world-ready websites. Ishida gives precious advice about some internationalization quick-tips card that contains the following pointers for developing localization web content:

Encoding. Use Unicode wherever possible for content, databases, etc. Always declare the encoding of content in your documents.

Escapes. Use characters rather than escapes whenever you can. For example, instead of using á, á, or á, just use the character á. It makes non-English code much slimmer and easy to manage.

Language. Declare the language of content in your documents and indicate any internal language changes.

Presentation vs. content. Use style sheets for presentational information. Restrict markup to semantics.

Images, animations, and examples. Check for translatability and inappropriate cultural bias.

Forms. Use an appropriate encoding on both form and server. Support local formats of names/addresses, times/dates, etc.

Text authoring. Use simple, concise text. Use care when composing sentences from multiple strings.

Navigation. On each page, include clearly visible navigation to localized pages or sites, using the target language.

Right-to-left text. For XHTML, add dir="rtl" to the html tag. Only re-use it to change directionality.

Check your work. Validate! Use techniques, tutorials…

With all the mutations and rapid transformations going in the internet and the growing importance of new markets, new processes are required from the advertiser and in international campaigns from the localisation manager. Having the best content and design on a site and not optimizing for searches and for localization is like having the best quality music that no one is able to listen to. In the same way that the music industry and its producers know the importance of promoting their artists and records to ensure a record sells, and ROI an internet company must invest in its website for the best & most relevant searches. In the same example, just as a record must be promoted and localised for international markets, multilingual web sites must provide ways for search engines in the target languages to access the site.

Optimizing international web sites for the internet and for search engines requires the strong preparation of a managed localization. It needs research in all the markets a company or brand is trying to reach, as well as comprehensive training for the web of the translation team to ensure that they understand how internet search methodologies and marketing approaches work. The most effective search optimization effort uses terms that the customers use and builds links among other relevant sites on the web. By implementing best practices in search optimization in English (or other particular language) and by carrying those best practices through all the language variants for a particular site, one can ensure that the website reaches all the target customers worldwide.

Thanks to Stuart Johnstone 

Dinis Guarda,

Head of Web Contents

Internet Search Marketing Project Manager

Multi-Lingual Analyst and Consultant

Localisation Manager


Huiping Iler, Maximizing Visibility for Multilingual Web Sites, in http://www.sempo.org


Huiping Iler, Interview Richard Ishida, (a world renowned expert on building world-ready websites), Published on April 16, 2007 in Digital Web Magazine


Whose English is it? Asian Englishes: Beyond the Canon by Braj B Kachru. Future of English Report for the British Council in 1997. Martin Schell, has reviewed Prof. Braj Kachru's new book Asian Englishes


iProspect. Search Engine User Attitudes Survey, 2004, www.iprospect.com

DoubleClick Touchpoints IV Europe – How French, British and German consumers see the role of digital media in their purchase decisions 5/5/2007, http://emea.doubleclick.com/UK/downloads/pdfs/Touchpoints_IV_uk.pdf

Education in a multilingual world, Unesco Education Position Paper, Published in 2003 by the Unieted Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, www.unesco.org/education




















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