English is considered the default language of the web. But is it the best choice for your blog?
English is considered the default language of the web. But is it the best choice for your blog?Tweet This
One of the most common questions I get from new bloggers is whether they should blog in their own language or try to do it in English, even though they don’t feel that confident.
And as blogging and high-speed Internet spreads from the usual places like the USA, UK and Australia to newer markets like China, India and many African countries, the issue of language becomes even more important and complicated.
In this post we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of English and how to determine what’s best for your blog.
Should I blog in English?
Just yesterday I received this question in my email from a new blogger called Ahmed. He phrased it really well so I’ve included it here with his permission. Have a quick read:
Ahmed’s concerns are all legitimate, and it’s great that he is thinking about them early on in his career. Let’s take a look at how we can try and figure this out.
When is English is good for blogging? It’s not clear.
I wanted to start this article by looking at the pros and cons of using English on a blog but, after doing research beyond my own experiences, I found that it was really difficult to isolate each aspect in that way.
For example, the statistics are all very different and it’s unsure what is relevant. This graph by W3 Techs says that about 50% of websites are in English, but then we can see here that only 26% of people online use English. While that is still the highest portion, it still hundreds of millions of other language speakers on the table.
In the end I came to the conclusion that it is all really about your goals. That is something we have talked about a few times on Blog Tyrant, and it is really important to think about before you start a blog and get too far down the road because it will influence many choices like this one.
For example, if your goal is to promote a local business and that business is in China then there is not much point doing a content marketing campaign in English. You want local people to notice the business and the vast majority of them are speaking and reading a Chinese dialect.
It gets a little bit more complicated, however, when your goal might be to sell a physical product that has worldwide appeal. While you might be based in a non-English speaking country like China, you might still have huge markets in the USA. Furthermore, you main marketing channels might be sites like Etsy or Pinterest which have a huge English-speaking bias.
Lastly, what if you have no product at all and are looking to either make money through other means, or not make money at all and just try to raise awareness for a cause or build up an email subscriber list for some future reason? Is there a good answer then?
How do I decide on my blog’s main language?
With all that in mind, how do we then go about deciding on what language to blog in? As with most decisions, it is all about weighing up the opportunity cost.
This means that you have to consider what benefit you are foregoing by choosing one course of action over another while trying to decide which option is better. Here’s an example scenario:
You live in Germany and want to start a vegetarian food blog that is not location specific. German is your first language, but you also can write and read in (not great) English. You decide to write you blog in English in order to tap in to a larger traffic base in America and around the world. You have some successes with content on social media and Google, but no one engages with your blog or subscribes because the slightly broken English makes the otherwise quality blog seem amateurish.
If this blogger had chosen to blog in German the traffic might have been slightly lower, but that traffic may have been more engaged and lead to opportunities in a local market like a book deal, speaking presentations, coaching, etc. In this scenario the opportunity for more traffic had an increased cost.
Keeping opportunity cost in mind, I would look at things like:
- What are your goals?
Think carefully about what direction you want your blog to go in and how it will be used in the future. If you want to try and make some money then think about whether it will be affiliate programs or something more location-specific.
- What is your best language?
Generally I think starting a blog in your best language is a good idea because it can give you more confidence to move forward. There is so much competition these days and something it can be a bit depressing when you struggle to get traction. A broken-English set back is not what you need at the beginning.
- Could you benefit from a multi-language site?
Would it be possible to make one site with multiple translations? You can do this yourself or hire a translator to help you create various versions. Neil Patel is someone who has started doing this recently.
- Are two blogs necessary?
Is it beneficial or perhaps even necessary to create two separate blogs in different languages and with slightly different goals and maybe slightly different content? This is something I’d only look at after having some success with one blog first.
- What is your competition doing?
As always, a little bit of competition analysis can be a very valuable thing and is something that we bloggers should try and do more often if we can. Look at a few different segments of your niche and see what those blogs are doing and how effective it has been.
- Ask people who might know
The last point that I wanted to mention is that it is a good idea to to what Ahmed did at the start of this post and shoot an email to people who might know, especially if they are in your own niche. Most of the time they will be happy to help a new blogger in their area and it can save a lot of guess work.
All of these factors and options can play a role in how you decide to proceed when it comes to the language of your blog. As much as I’d love to give a hard and fast answer about the best option, it really depends too much on your own skills, goals, location and so on.
A final word on languages and translations
Of course I know absolutely nothing about other languages, but I have been lucky enough to spend a good deal of time in non-English speaking countries and around people who specialize in translations.
One thing that has taught me is that language is a very important thing to a culture. I am very skeptical of translation bots and websites because, as soon as you use them, you notice that they miss a lot of the nuances and hidden meanings of the words.
If you do decide to translate your blog I recommend hiring someone to help you at least edit the work. And try to remember that translating your content might really help someone out there who might never have encountered you. That’s even better than finding a new source of traffic!
Have you thought about this before?
I’d love to know if anyone out there has thought about this for their own blog and how they came to decide. Did it work out as well as you’d hoped? Or perhaps you’ve found a good middle ground? Please leave a comment below and let us know. It might really help someone.
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That was a great post Ramsay! Personally, I tell people to add a multi-language plugin to their blog, just in case. Personally, where I am from, we have a very popular tourist destination which brings in nearly 900,000 people to this little town from April to October, and local bloggers could and should take advantage of such plugins as I have personally heard it has helped visitors from time to time.
Does the plugin work very well? Sometimes I find that a lot of weird language comes out the other end.
Yes, it works fine I believe, let me get the name of the one they use and I will post it here when they get it to me.
I am German, speak four languages and have never seen a good automatic translation. Some of my customers used such plugins and the results were horrible. Even if the sense of the content can be understood in the foreign language it still feels uncanny in almost all cases. It is a turn off for readers of that foreign language.
Also when hiring a translator I advise to always hire a native speaker of the target language.
I’m Blogger-in-Chief at IVANNOVATION.com, a translation company. I think machine translation (like Google translate) is an incredible tool for the user. But it’s not a useful tool for the marketer.
For the user its a way to “get by” or “make do.”
But if a marketer uses machine translation on his website or materials, its poor quality will reflect badly on the company just as if it would if Coke bottles had spelling errors on the label.
I would never recommend machine translation for a blog, but I might recommend it as a temporary stop-gap solution for an e-commerce site that gets a lot of international traffic but doesn’t yet have the cash for a professional translation. Also I’d recommend that the translate button makes it very clear that the users are getting a machine translation so that they don’t click on it expecting something professional.
Really good points. Thank you for sharing.
I have read a numerous number of your posts, including the 9000 word guide on how to blog. I can imagine you have a lot on your plate and you get a lot of queries. I have a few questions, sorry mate hehe. Is it imperative to blog about something you’re passionate about and also how much coding skills are required such as css,html etc?
I think you should be passionate about it, and have experience in it. But if you don’t have experience then at least take your readers on a journey as you learn – and that takes passion!
I agree–as one who has a lot of experience having no experience!
Readers that have more experience than I are a patient and helpful group. Over the years they have put up with poor site design on my part, as I have managed to bungle things at every turn.
Thanks to you, Ramsay! And thanks to all those experts who continue to sort through my errors as I continue to blunder my way along my journey!
I’m just blundering along with you!
This is a great explanation. I was wondering about it and this post helped me a lot. Thanks.
Glad you liked it!
My survey on this subject needs more input at https://goo.gl/7w40hG The small sample of respondents so far indicates a pronounced bias toward English, but the comments have been informative both at the address above and on another private address where the survey was posted.
Free translation services play a crucial role. I use Google and find that results are variable, depending on the language. I have not found any free service that is good at translating Arabic, and have sometimes even discovered that the translator did not correctly detect the language of origin!
Most of the comments I get are on my Google+ Collections. Very few are posted on my blog. The comments are about 70% English I would guess. Several are obviously from non-native English speakers.
Thanks for an interesting article! I’m pleased to see that others are concerned about communicating worldwide to a multi-language audience.
Great post Ramsey!
I am from French Canada (Quebec) and have decided to blog in my native language rather then english, even though I am bilingual.
On my blog topic (personnal finance) there is only a handful of blogs in french, compared to, litteraly, the thousands in english! Since my content need to take into account regional specifities (e.g. taxes) it just make sense.
I guess i might have less visitors that if I was doing it in English, but my content can be more targeted, my engagements are high and returning visitors. I even start to gain recognition by local media which I doubt I would have gotten if it were in English.
Please do let me know how you go with it.
I’m starting a new blog, and this was something I wanted to decide early. Just as a background: my first language is Spanish, but I decided to start it in both languages. This is my very first blog. I started writing a few months back but I just started to tell friends through social networks since last month, as I hadn’t had the chance to create enough content.
These are some of my learnings so far:
1) In this early stage, my readers are mainly friends, who see my posts through social networks (mainly FB). The majority of them speak Spanish.
2) I’ve had some engagement from other networks like Instagram, where I have a mix of followers between English and Spanish speakers. However, it seems the traffic from there isn’t very significative.
3) The effort I invest in translating is huge. I don’t find it that hard to translate, but you also need to think about SEO in two languages, making sure you translate tags, categories, image alt texts, etc. Of course, from time to time you’ll need Google’s help to translate a word. And, my posts are usually around 3,000 words long, so it takes time to write. I’m just starting so I’m trying not to invest money in these tasks, otherwise I’d ran out of money faster (I’m starting a travel blog so my main expense is traveling), and I don’t know yet if my blog will get to work as a business.
4) I’m just experimenting with SEO, so Google doesn’t represent significant traffic yet.
Based on MY experience, if I had to go back, I’d start the blog in my own language, and once my audience grows a little, I’d think about translation.
Another consideration is social media. If you decide to write in two languages, are you going to add both of them to your posts in FB? Are you going to keep two separate accounts?
Of course, each experience is going to be different, but for a complete amateur blogger (as I am), I’d recommend to start in your own language. If you have a proved way to grow your audience very quickly, your readership could be bigger in English, AND you have a way to ensure the quality of your posts in English, go for it 🙂
Awesome comment! Thanks so sharing those experiences. Really valuable.
Thanks Ramsay! Great post as usual! Actually you were the one that made me go public with my blog rather sooner than later 🙂
If I were you I would stick to Spanish until you can afford hiring a good translator (or team up with a native english speaking friend). Here’s why:
– huge potential audience worldwide (about 570 million speakers)
– spanish speakers engage more on social media than english speakers (french and german speakers are often at the lower end of engagement levels)
– Probably less travel blogs in spanish, hence less competition
– Less work for you
Thanks for the suggestion Dennis, I’ll consider it for sure as there’s a lot of work involved. You’d be surprised about the huge amount of travel blogs in Spanish, so I tried to reach both markets at the same time, but the English speaking audience will take more time to build.
Where did you get the data about social media from? That kind of data is really useful, so if there’s a source I’d love to check out what else is in there 🙂
I had read a comparative survey a few years ago which inluded at least USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Italy, Mexico and Brazil. Germany, Japan and France had the lowest engagement and interaction rates among their internet population, while the latin american countries had the highest rates. Unfortunately I can’t find it anymore and I think it was behind a paywall.
Here is a blog which highlights where at least Germany diverges from global social media trends: https://marketinghelfer.com/social-media-marketing-germany/
Maybe you can find similar studies for Spanish speaking countries (probably in Spanish).
Thanks for this!
This is a very interesting topic.
I have book review blog in english, but I’m from Paraguay, a country in the heart of South America and my native language is Spanish.
Recently my brother started teaching English and told me that he could use my book review blog for his students if I did it in two languages.
How? He could teld them to go check out my reviews in Spanish, to pic the book of their choise and read it in English to practice their reading skills.
I tend to read short romances so I can see how the simple language of my reviews and the books I read can help but they actual process of making the blog a bilingual one it’s not going to be easy.
I don’t know if it’s really going to be worth the extra work for me. I do like that it will help some people to learn about some authors and books that I like but…
It’s not an easy decision, and I’m still thinking about it.
That’s a really interesting one. Might be worth testing it for a short while and seeing what the results are?
Great post again, Ramsay!
It’s extremely easy when your native language is English, you can have a huge audience without any dilemmas.
But, as you said, it depends on one’s goals.
I started my blog about (interior) design psychology 3 years ago in my native language, Greek, because my goal was to attract clients to my design studio. And this was the right choice.
Now I have clients from all over the country.
Then I thought, it would be a great idea to have a much broader audience, since there are not many blogs worldwide specialized on this interesting topic.
I started writing guest posts for an American blog, which led to new opportunities and different goals.
Now I have plans for a new blog in English, on a totally different topic.
One thing is for sure, I love blogging!
Awesome! That’s the perfect way to do it!
Great Post Ramsay,
Decisions are always made after set Up your Goals And strategies, But it also depend on which nich are you standing For, plus which kind of Audience do you have.
Choosing the Perfect language of your nich is the Best way to grow your Online Business as your costumers will fully involve and interact on your site with no any kind of Language Collisions.
I don’t think whether English is the Best language for those sites which found in the Countries which speak English as second Language. For-exampe I normally use SWAHILI as the major Language in my site cause my Readers are Mainly Found in East Africa i.e Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda plus Rwanda and Burundi.
Using language which your readers do not Understand well will make you Fall every Day as they will not understand any thing and hence ignore your site. Its better to use the language which you are capable to speak, also language which your Readers will Fully understand but the only thing is to Focus on your Goals and Implementations of your strategies.
Thank You Ramsay and Welcome in Africa(Tanzania)
Thank you for sharing Mawere!
It is one of the most talked think among the new bloggers, but personally i also believe that one should start their blog in English only.
Although, It was a good post to read.
Thanks for sharing.
Why is that?
Thanks for raising this issue. It naturally arises in everyone’s head. Of course the wish to be understood by more people makes one English-ify his/her website or blog. Some of them may focus exclusively on English as if this would be their mother tongue. By doing so, we would kill all other languages. By doing so, we would fail to transmit the thoughts in the languages we understand best. Moreover that English is not a perfect language. I know several languages, being fluent in three, but I feel indeed most comfortable in expressing myself when I do it just in two languages, and none of them is English. Negative impact felt? I suppose so, because of less outreach. However, I suppose other would use automated translation tools when reading my blog/site, as I do when reading others. And yes, from time to time, as salt in food, a little bit of English will be present in all our blogs volens nolens. Good luck!
Great comment! Very clearly thought out.
I run a german written wine Blog, based in Switzerland. Firsthand I thought to do two Blogs, in english and german as my english isn’t too shabby. Anyhow, eventually I decided to stick to my (almost) native tongue where I can fine tune the meaning of the words I want to say and share. The really big plus in my field is, that there is no other equal wine Blog in Switzerland. Means I do get invitations for wine tastings as a Blogger, I do get requests to taste wines or other alcoholic beverages and write about it on my Blog. Benefit: I drink great stuff for free and enjoy to write the way I like it without restrictions.
If I would write in english I may have a bigger audience and the interaction may be cooler than with Swiss and Germans, they are a bit a tricky task to convince, but truly my Swiss and German friends/readers love it and that is enough for what I want.
So far your posting is a great input and my 2cents to Bloggers is: stick with the language you can play around with, fine tune and truly say what you mean.
I agree. I didn’t realize it, but now that you bring it up, Christina, “playing around,” and “fine tuning” the language of my posts is something I do all the time. It is especially important to be able to say the most with the fewest words. On the internet, it is rare to find anyone willing to stick around long enough to absorb more than a few lines of prose at a time.
I had an english website when I run wine tasting tours in Tuscany/Italy. Because 95% of my clients where english speaking and those where my target clients I wanted to reach out to. I just got my old domain back because I will to try to sell it in the future. I will have to recreate the whole thing in english again. Possibly with some Blogposts in english, which is ok as I want to give a value to it and to make it at least a bit interesting for old and new visitors who come to my website.
I stick long enough on posts if they are interesting and share value. If they are boring or just blabla, I’m gone in a second. Which again means and proof: content is king or queen.
great to hear that you get invitations for wine tastings. That alone might be already a hard thing to achieve. I guess a native english speaker in, let’s say, California would probably get much more benefits from local wine producers (maybe several bottles of wine delivered for free, paid blogging and public speaking opportunities etc.) with the same effort. As you say, Germans and Swiss (and I add Austrians) – basically the whole German language sphere is much more stingy, sceptical, critical and engages less online than people in the Anglosphere and Spanish speaking world.
Great discussion guys! Lots of things I hadn’t thought about.
Hi Ramsay. I’ve faced this very dilemna. I am a native English-speaker who lives in Italy. I recently started my blog as a way of getting myself known and attracting customers to my business. Whilst I speak Italian well, it’s not the country I did my schooling in, and thus I have trouble writing and expressing myself as well as I can in my native tongue. Each article goes through a rigorous process of me writing in English, translating into Italian, having my Italian wife proof read, me re-proofing in case she misunderstood something and changed the meaning of what can often be technical information, etc. before publishing. What’s more, responding meaningfully to comments is challenging. People blogging in their native tongue don’t know how easy they have it.
As I write every article in English first, this has lead me to ponder the thought of also blogging in English. I recently helped someone in a closed group I am a member of on Facebook in a manner similar to my Italian blog, and he made the remark I should start a blog, as he had been looking on the internet for the kind of information I gave him and he couldn’t find it anywhere. I actually emailed you previously to ask if you knew of any bi-lingual hosting I could consider, but you never replied. Yeah, thanks for that (wink!). Anyway, glad you’ve now highlighted this issue for some of your followers and have provided some thoughts for consideration.
Hi Rick. I usually reply to every email I get so there is a chance it went into my naughty folder. Did you end up finding something suitable?
No, I never did. The whole blogging experience has been a steep learning curve, so I haven’t really had the time or inclination to do a dual-language blog yet. As you say in your article, determine what the goal is, and as mine is to make myself better known in Italy, I have decided to focus on that for now, particularly as it is so much work for me to produce Italian-language articles. In future, there may be reason to make it a multi-lingual blog, and I will have to readdress when the time comes. I must admit, Italians are crazy about anything Anglo-Saxon, and it would probably give my blog more “street cred” in Italy if it was a two-language blog.
Oh that’s interesting. Why do you think they like English stuff?
I think it’s a case of “the grass is always greener”. We like all things Italian, and they like what’s ours. I always cringe at Italian TV presenters bungling English phrases and words, thrown in to their discourses to sound urbane and cool to their audiences, when to English ears it’s just embarrassing.
I’m from Romania (Europe) and I choose to write in english because I want to experiment on this field too. I know it’s hard and it needs a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. I believe that it’s a challenge and a journey!
Another aspect that there are cultural and linguistic differences within the same language as well. Take English as an example: If your main target audience is in the UK you should better use British English rather than American English. I got to know some Brits who feel annoyed reading American English texts.
Also the writing style needs to be adapted. In the US you are used to overuse words like “great, awesome” etc., but I think in the UK it is a bit more toned down. In fact in many countries the writing style is more toned down than in the US. A rather humorous example I like to give:
How are you?
American answer: Great! And you?
British answer: Fine, and you?
German answer: As usual. My colleagues at work… (short monologue follows). What about you?
Polish answer: Meh. Don’t ask. My family… (long monologue). What about you?
Russian answer: Please kill me. (a super long monologue follows).
I am not really serious with this, but I have noticed that there is a kind of positivity-negativity continuum from west to east. The further east you go, the more depressive the answer gets and at the same time the tendency for small talk decreases.
EXACTLY! Very well put. I was trying to get that across a bit at the end but you’ve done it really well.
Thanks Ramsay! your post is a great explanation. I was wondering about it for long time and now this post helped me a lot. So I personally thanks to you.
No worries! Glad it helped.
Thank you very much for the post. I am Anh Phan, I am also doing blogging in English while my mother tongue is Vietnamese. I’ve learn alot from you guys. I have made a personal blog only, and still have to learn more. I just love learning and keep on that.
How has it been going for you?
I am very glad you talked about this. This is more detailed and in depth thought about my question.
I decided to start my blog in my native language and see where it will take me to, then I may start another one in English.
One thing I would like to add, NEVER USE AUTO TRANSLATORS to translate your blog posts. It may be helpful to translate a word or a short sentence, but writing a beautiful long blog post then just ruining it with translators is a huge waste of efforts.
Thanks for this thoughtful article, Ramsay! My wife writes short stories in Bangla (Bengali), our native language, and I encouraged her to start a blog to build a readership with the ultimate goal of getting a book of her stories published. It was clear the blog had to be in Bangla, and Facebook has helped her (through ads) to gain some readers and interact with them. Some readers have suggested that the stories should be translated into English for wider reach. If she wants to pursue that idea, then we’ll need to get a professional translator to write the stories in English. There’s no way automatic translation tools, including Google Translate, can catch the nuances of the language and culture that goes with story-telling.
My challenge, as someone who’s helping her to market her blog, is improving the SEO. I guess the first question is: is the target audience using keywords in English or the native language to search for content in the native language? There are SEO techniques that are language-neutral, and I’ve been using them thanks to your “SEO for Idiots” article, for example, creating permalink for posts using keywords in both Bangla and English. But I haven’t figured out what the best strategy would be without the data on the search behaviour of Bangla language readers. Is there an SEO tool that addresses the needs of non-English language blogs/sites?
That’s a really good question and I don’t actually have the answer. Let me do some digging around.
Well, I started experiencing both sides: native & english. It’s a bit rough but eventually I’ll give up on one of them. So far, they are the same for me. We’ll see.
Btw, good article Ramsay.
Best of luck, Will.
I am also starting by blog. Its language will be English. I think English is the world’s best language.
i tried to blog with english..
but feel hard to explain every article i wrote..
so , i can to do it too long..
Yeah, stick to your first language. It’s fine! 🙂
If it was few years earlier, I would have said, english is the best language for publishing blogs. However with Google pushing regional languages via search results and more over via its apps and all. I would say its perfect time to have a regional blog. In recent times number of non english internet users and searchers aided with regional tools and sites have increased.
I hope it works well for them. We don’t want everything to be English!
Thanks Ramsay for the clarification.
I was in in the similar dilemma. I started blogging in a field of my work, but I see that there is a lot more potential in the area I am blogging if I blog in regional language. Many people in India has better internet connectivity and smartphone but does not understand English. You know India is the potential market for many of the business than China these days. Apart from that, I find this post very suitable for my understanding for my upcoming blog.
India is growing so fast, man. Huge for Internet business.
If you already have a site and you aren’t sure whether you should start providing content in another language, then an obvious step is to look at your analytics. If you are already seeing a lot of traffic from users that have a different language setting on their computer, that would be the obvious next language since you will already have a ready-made audience that is eager for your content and would love it even more in their own language.
So in Google Analytics keep an eye on the language settings of your website visitors.
For me, the decisions fall down on your target audience. When you are a Spanish and you want to target your fellowmen, then you should definitely blog in your own. Be Proud!
All the Best,
everyone have smart phone now, yeah india is growing also in my view english is the best language to blog and lot of audience
Great blog, I think it all comes down to who your target audience is, and what is the best language you can provide the most value in.
Thanks for the useful info.