That was the warning from Michel Diab, CEO of Web solutions provider Arachnea, speaking at a recent eTailForum event in Reading, writes Karl Cushing.
Even companies that have a global reach often compromise their online presence by having regional offices maintaining country-specific Web sites instead of a single Web site in a multi-language format, says Diab.
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According to Diab, Arachnea helps break down the Web's language barrier, creating centralised multilingual Web sites that can accept content from multiple locations. "We like to centralise the structure and decentralise the content," explains Diab.
Of the 403 million people currently online, 192 million have English as their first language. By 2003, however, although the number of English speakers online is expected to reach 230 million, it is estimated there will be 270 million speakers of Asian languages and 290 million speakers of other European languages online. According to marketing communications consultancy Global Source, Japanese and Chinese are key growth areas.
About 70% of the world economy comes from non-English speaking countries, says Diab. In a recent Web survey by Georgia Institute of Technology, 71% of Europeans said they believed more people would use the Web if the content were provided in their own language and tailored to their culture.
"With UK companies, most of the Web sites are in English," says Diab. "The UK is very advanced in terms of online presence but it is far behind in terms of languages and multilingual sites."
As for justifying the costs incurred in the implementation of multilingual sites, Diab claims companies can offset this against increased sales and improved marketing. "If you go global you can attract more people. And the Internet is the cheapest way to enter international communication," he says.
However, setting up a multilingual, global Web site on in its own is not enough - the company must also be committed to a global strategy.
Arachnea has defined five key areas in the formulation of a client's global Web strategy: planning, site design, content production, publishing and maintenance, and updates.
One of the biggest considerations when creating a multilingual Web site is design. Although an Arabic Web site could be supported by a Microsoft Web browser, for example, the problems of designing, setting it up and adapting it remain - Arabic is written from right to left. And, according to Diab, there isn't any software available at the moment that can successfully translate content into multiple languages. There is a big problem with loss of meaning, he says.
"You have both static and live information on a Web site," he explains. "The main problem is synchronising this content." Managing unfamiliar foreign content and the use of double-byte characters create further problems.