An english-only website will lose you 70% of your traffic

I have recently come across an interesting article on Harvard Business Review. Not a recent one, but still very interesting. The concept per se was not so surprising, I must say. What was really stunning was the numbers that came with it.

Everyone knows that if your website offers your visitors content in their native languages all your metrics improve: lower bounce rate, increased stickiness (time spent on each page), better conversion rate. What was surprising is what happens if you don’t.

The article reports the following statistics:

  • 72.1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
  • 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
  • 56.2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.

In my opinion two elements are quite counter-intuitive and utterly impressive here:

First, the sheer amount of users you may be missing on if you don’t offer their native language. I would have expected a preference, I could understand losing some users, but for sure I was not expecting to lose over 70% of them. Does this reflect the actual language abilities of these users? Not really. In the EU, on average, 63% of the population speaks a foreign language. This average goes up to 74% for people aged 25 to 34 (bulk of internet users). In the US around 20% of the population is fully bilingual so it’s safe to assume that a larger percentage speaks additional languages beyond English. For other countries it’s hard to make an accurate estimate but it’s safe to assume that more than just 30% of the population speaks a foreign language.

Conclusion #1: internet users are somewhat lazy and prefer sticking to their native language.

Second, let’s look at incentives. Prices online are very competitive. We have price-comparison websites, collective purchasing, discount coupons, promotions etc. Based on this naive observation I would have guessed that customers would bend over backwards in order to save money on purchases. And if that requires using Google translate, opening a dictionary or asking a friend, so be it. Turns out reality is very different. Over 50% of internet users are ready to pay more money to have information in their native language. More than half of buyers are happy to pay a premium price for the privilege of an effortless purchasing experience. That’s pretty good to know, I must say.

Conclusion #2: often small businesses are much better off adding languages to their websites rather than fighting over prices and costly UX and funnel improvements.