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03Apr

Language Selection Roulette: How Data Builds Better Strategies

When people think of changing their lives, they might put up a map of their country or the world and throw darts at it, trusting that chance – or their favorite deity – will guide them to a better life. Unfortunately, they usually discover that this approach plants their new home firmly in the middle of the ocean or an undeveloped forest rather than a desirable neighborhood or vacation destination. However, when it comes to selecting the next language to add to a website, many enterprises do essentially just that. While some may get lucky, most miss out on favorable opportunities if they build a chance-based language strategy.

CSA Research has been tracking the languages that appear on large brand websites since 2008. During this time, the bar for the number of languages at the top end has risen continually. Starting with this year’s edition, we have added more depth to the analysis through the use of natural language processing technologies. This change allowed us to analyze millions of individual pages and thus identify which languages appear on what percentage of pages. It also detected the source and target languages for sites. 

The results give us an unprecedented view into the language flows for major brands in 37 industry segments, supplemented by reports covering the roles of headquarters location and source language in locale selection. Without this knowledge, developing language strategies can feel like a game of roulette, one where lack of information can lead planners to miss opportunities.

When we advise companies on language selection, we recommend basing it on specific data about opportunities and requirements rather than guesswork. However, it seldom is. In our engagement with our clients to help them build an ROI case for adding languages we have discovered the following:

  • Few enterprises have data on which languages they should cover. As a result, they end up making decisions based on gut feel, overall GDP, customer requests, or even more unreliable factors, such as those mentioned in the first paragraph. Even those that try to adopt a data-driven approach find too many unknowns. Building a business case and convincing executives to invest in language services requires detailed comparative data from within industries and about competitors. CSA Research’s data in this area allows them to benchmark their investment against their peers in their own vertical segment.
     
  • Industries adopt divergent patterns of investment. The languages that heavy industries choose have little to do with what software companies or business services invest in. For some sectors, the results have little to do with overall macroeconomic opportunity as reported in “Digital Opportunity: 2019,” even though the overall sequence of languages across industries closely tracks the language tiers we find year after year.
     
  • Localization is often in the shallow end (or even in the “kiddie pool”). Just because a company chooses to localize for a given market does not mean that it will translate everything. Few sites translate more than 20% of their content for any language, although sites with fewer pages tend to provide a higher percentage of their content. What they translate depends heavily on their market goals and the size of their customer base.

But what about language service providers, who usually just follow their clients’ lead and provide services? As LSPs transition to the higher-value role of global content service providers (GCSPs), we hear more of their clients asking them for advice on language strategy. Even those LSPs that choose a more traditional route can still help their enlightened clients – or those that realize just how much they don’t know – decide how to allocate scarce localization budgets more effectively. Using CSA Research’s analysis of the various factors thats go into choosing locales helps them speak authoritatively on what factors their clients should address to stand out from the crowd.

CSA Research’s recent coverage of language selection strategy and the factors that influence it help you reduce the effort you need to develop an effective approach to developing global content that meets the needs of customers and enterprises alike. When you have concrete data, you can significantly reduce risk and transform a game of roulette into a routine business exercise with predictable outcomes.

About the Author

Arle  Lommel

Arle Lommel

Senior Analyst

Focuses on language technology, artificial intelligence, translation quality, and overall economic factors impacting globalization

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