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World’s Most Prominent Websites Add Long-Tail Languages
Posted by Benjamin B. Sargent on January 27, 2014  in the following blogs: Best Practices, Business Globalization, Global Marketing, Supplier Business Issues, Web Globalization
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In our 2013 study of 2,787 websites, we found 290 languages supported, 59 of which appeared 10 times or more, 140 at least twice, and 150 just once. The languages appearing once were mostly from Wikipedia, which has become the seed bed for emerging online languages. English appeared on 2,480 of these web properties, or 89%. You can find the complete data in “Assessing the World’s Most Prominent Websites” (Dec13). 

The websites we visit aren’t just a random collection. They are the world’s most prominent – a list comprised of the Alexa Top Sites, The Interbrand Best Global Brands, The Forbes Global 2000, and the Fortune 500. Forty percent of these important sites are still monolingual. Eleven percent did not include English as a language, compared to only eight percent last year. Universally, English gets added as the second language (if not the first), with very few exceptions. 

The rise in non-English sites is due to the increasing number of monolingual properties in non-English speaking regions. They were propelled onto the lists – particularly Alexa – by the surge of online populations in Asia and Oceania. We’ve written about the long tail effect in online languages from an economic perspective, most recently in “The 116 Most Economically Active Languages Online” (Oct13). The newest research shows how these languages are now changing the composition of the lists of the most prominent websites (see “The Rise of Long-Tail Languages,” Dec13). 

Here is why these previously “minor” online languages are now crashing the party:
  • Large populations join the online world. Filipino-, Indonesian-, Malaysian-, and Vietnamese-language sites serve very large populations that are increasingly getting connected to the web. Websites already catering to these populations are breaking into the Alexa list as these online populations swell. Also, global companies, by adding these languages, may outrun other companies on the margins of the Forbes Global 2000 list, through better financial performance.
  • Regional languages give way to locals. Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, Kazakh, and Mongolian all represent national-level languages in countries where the dominant regional language, Russian, no longer suffices for online communication. In these countries, internet penetration has exceeded the limits of the Russian-educated elites. Accordingly, Russian fell as a component on our lists, while languages of central and western Asia grew as their large offline populations adopted the internet. 
  • Minority languages overcoming majority dominance. For similar reasons, we see Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu growing in India, with Hindi dropping. In Spain, we see Spanish falling off while Basque, Catalan, and Galician are all rising. 

What do all of these changes in minority and majority languages mean? For global brands – and the LSPs that serve them – the trend is clear. Colonial languages such as English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish dominated the internet in its first two decades. While the early adopters in emerging markets tended to be educated, tech-savvy, and accepting of majority and regional languages – and of English as the lingua franca of the digital age – mass adoption requires local languages. Add to that megatrend the advent of social networking sites, where friends and family can interact in their own hyper-local patois, and the hegemony of colonial languages is swiftly giving way to broad distribution of increasingly local languages and dialects. 

LSPs that educate and advise global brands will help them manage this proliferation of tongues by adding new languages and by adapting the nuances of how standard languages, like English and Spanish, to account for hyper-local usage. These LSPs not only help build brands, they also add top-line revenue for their own businesses. LSPs also reading our Global Leaders research should be helping customers articulate ROI in this broader context of the proliferation of long-tail languages.


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Related Research
ROI Lifts the Long Tail of Languages in 2012
Return on Investment for Global Websites
The 116 Most Economically Active Languages Online
Assessing the World’s Most Prominent Websites
The Rise of Long-Tail Languages
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Keywords: B2B and B2C global marketing, Country and regional market studies, Global branding, Global websites, Language and market selection, Market sizing, Web globalization

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