Languages that matter on the web

Online businesses of all sizes — from multibillion-dollar companies such as Google and Facebook to small enterprises — are using multilingual websites to go global. Choosing what languages to translate into requires thorough analysis of the different markets and their potential. In which languages is it more beneficial to translate a website to reach potentially new customers? Which languages offer the best sales potential on the web? To address these questions, we developed a statistical index called the T-Index that provides a ranking of the languages that offer the highest purchasing power on the web.

The T-Index identifies the languages used by the people who will most likely buy from a website or from its advertisers. It is a percentage value that indicates the potential market share of each language on the internet, combining the internet population and its estimated gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. However, it is not based on GDP per capita of a country’s population, but on GDP per capita of the internet population.

According to the ranking (Figure 1), translating a website into ten languages (English, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic and Korean) can unlock 80% of global purchasing power on the internet, but only three (English, Simplified Chinese and Japanese) are needed to unlock 50%.

English comes first with a T-Index of 35%. Unsurprisingly, as the most powerful language on the internet, it covers more than 450 million internet users with a mean GDP per capita of $39,072. The English language market is composed of such economically and technologically powerful nations as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. In many African countries, English is also the official language or a unifying language, as indigenous languages are not universally understood throughout the different countries. As a consequence, English is not just the most often used language in government, public administration and education, but is also widespread in business and online.

Simplified Chinese comes a surprise second with 10.7% of the web’s global purchasing power. This is an excellent result for those who, as the study suggests, are able to overcome internet censorship in China. According to the nature of the product or the website content, some sites may be blocked.

It is also interesting that both the Japanese language and the Spanish language markets have a T-Index value of 7%. The major difference, though, is that the Spanish market comprises 21 countries (Figure 2), whereas Japanese is only used in Japan.