Nona Blog

The Tower of Babel or ‘How Language Converts users into Customers’

One of the lesser discussed, often neglected and highly effective techniques for converting users into customers is speaking to them in their language. 

As Nelson Mandela famously said: 

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela: His Written Legacy - HISTORY
Photo credit:

And, according to Harvard professor, Gerald Zaltman, and just about everyone else who has studied the matter in depth.

“95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious” and the reason why consumers aren’t truthful about their purchasing thoughts and feelings is that they are driven by their unconscious urges, the biggest of which is emotion…

Let’s get into it.

What are we going to cover in this article?

Why and how localisation converts.

  1. Looking at some more studies.
    1. Emotional Users
    2. Mobile Ad Conversions
    3. Can’t read, won’t buy
  2. If you build it they will come

What you can do about this.

  1. Building your own tower of babel.

Some challenges to consider.

  1. Trousers and Pants.
  2. The cost of support.
  3. The passage of time.
  4. Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit

Why and how localisation converts.

There are countless studies relating the use of local languages to improve conversion rates so for the sake of illustrating my point I’ll highlight a few of these briefly here.

Firstly – Zaltman on users behaving emotionally

“Studies completed by neuroscientists have found that people whose brains are damaged in the area that generates emotions are incapable of making decisions. “

We humans, it turns out, are not as rational or logical as we may have once assumed. Nobel prize winning behavioural economist, Daniel Kahneman, covers the same topics at length in his book “Thinking fast and slow”.

So, given that – is what Mandela said above true? Are humans more emotionally receptive to their own language than another?

In short, yes, people interpret and express their emotions better in their native languages than in languages learned later in life, or ones in which they can only express themselves more poorly.

Here are two studies that illustrate this point:

  1. The Relationship between Bilingualism and Identity in Expressing Emotions and Thoughts
  2. Perceptions of Emotions by Simultaneous Bilinguals Across Various Relationship Contexts 

Secondly – Mobile Ad Conversions

In this article on Mobile Marketing Watch a study shows that:

“Language localisation is a key performance differentiator for mobile marketers that has proven to drive increased click-through rates and conversions.”

For the series of mobile adverts used in this study, it was shown that while adverts in the original English only had an average CTR (click through ratio) of 2.35% with a conversion rate of 7.47%, the native language versions of the same adds had a CTR of 3.34% (a 42% improvement), and a 9.08% conversion rate (22% better than the original).

The increases were shown to correlate directly with the use of users’ first language in the mobile ads.

People were more inclined to click and then convert and buy when spoken to in their own language.

Thirdly – Can’t Read: Won’t Buy

‘Can’t read: won’t buy’ was the title chosen by the CSA or ‘Common Sense Advisory‘ when they first announced the results of some research they conducted to try and understand the linguistic preferences and purchasing decisions of customers on certain websites in 2006. 

Elderly woman reading textbook against tea and cookies in house
Photo credit:

Their research (repeated again most recently in 2020) clearly showed that customers have a strong preference for their native language when they buy things online. 

While English may be the most commonly used language in ecommerce, around 75% of surveyed users ended up preferring content written in their first language, and would not make important purchasing decisions unless they could read product information in their own language.

I could go on and list many other studies, and anecdotal evidence that speaking to users in their first language converts them better… but really, I think deep down, you already know that it’s true. 

So let’s move on.

If you build it (in their language) they will come.

Having your content available in many languages will attract more users to your site. Users who search in French will be given more French search results. You’ll have a better chance of ranking for these users.

French users, finding French content will convert better. 

More users, converting better, will lead to more profitability for your web property.

It’s really that simple.

What you can do about this.

You can build your own tower of babel and confuse the languages of all the earth!

Given that we’re all now thoroughly convinced of the fact that speaking in someone’s mother tongue, or their first language or localising your website content converts better – how do we go about this?

I’ll keep this section brief because it’s the least interesting of the three and is also heavily use case dependent. 

If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to ensure that you’re structuring your code in such a way that it will be easy to translate later, whether you’re going to do this now or not. 

Let’s say you’re embarking on a new build today or soon. You might want to localise in time, but you’re not sure yet. There is almost zero time cost to writing you language in what is called “translatable strings”.

If you try to retrofit translations on your website it can be quite an arduous process. If you’re using a standard CMS like WordPress, a lot of this is made easier for you through plugins like WPML or the like but in a custom environment, it’s best to always make this choice up front, just in case, whether translation becomes a requirement down the line or not.

Some challenges to consider

Firstly – Trousers and pants

It is important to note that even within English, not all words are created equal. If you are a British clothing retailer trying to appeal to both American and British customers then you’ll lose American customers searching for ‘pants’ if you only call them trousers. Whether Google corrects for this automatically or not, whether that loss occurs at the search stage or on site… you’re not really speaking their language.

Photo credit:

Secondly – The cost of support

Translating text on the web might not be that expensive but it is a small cost to consider. Supporting customers over the phone or email in many languages can often mean many additional hires so there is absolutely a cost of doing business here that needs to be carefully considered.

Thirdly – The passage of time

Having multiple languages on your site will cost you time. Each change will need to be completed in many languages, reviewed by multiple people. Sometimes translations will be delayed, sometimes mistakes will be made that need correcting. 

Finally – Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit

Languages can affect layout. In German “Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit” means “food intolerance”. If you had a key category on your website, or a button with that title, you’d need to lay it out differently in German and English add Japanese to that mix and things might change again.

There you have it, I hoped this helped you appreciate the importance and potential in localising your website and using many languages to attract and convert a diverse audience while simultaneously grounding you somewhat with the challenges this presents in reality.

Thanks for reading!

If you found this interesting and want to discuss the nature of translation or multilinguilism for your upcoming project then Click here to book a consultation with us.

Ed O'Reilly

Co-Founder and COO at Nona.