Cultural Divergence In Website Interaction: Spanish Vs. English A Deeper Dive

by Nick Iuliucci
Our clients ask us some challenging research questions. As the global marketplace continues to mature one of the main questions asked is

Can we adjust the language on our current website to Spanish?

Will the site still have the same level of usability?

bestbuyChallenge accepted! In an effort to better understand the impact of language and culture on multi-lingual businesses initiatives, we designed the first in a series of studies that use eye-tracking methodologies to measure the impact of the anthropological layer of subjective culture how it relates to web design elements, by deconstructing variations in gaze patterns.
We recruited 30 respondents (all from the US) and asked them to view two versions of the Best Buy site. One site in English and the other site in Spanish. Best Buy is a 1-to-1 site where language is the only difference in site design. The eye-tracking data showed that respondents who self-report as Hispanic and identify with the Spanish culture and language did demonstrate differences in gaze patterns versus those that identified with the English culture and language.
The chart below represents how cultural orientation manifests as a change in circular eye scanning on the English site.
nick3This difference can be interpreted in two ways:
1)     Respondents who are familiar with US cultural and language (English) are able to processes the information on the page rapidly allowing them time to shift around the page to items they prefer.
2)     From a cognitive processing point of view, the US culture promotes a rapid short term attention approach instead of a deeper individual understanding of a site.
The second chart represents the eye scanning pattern difference on the Spanish site. Those with high U.S. cultural orientation scan the Spanish site but this time with a lack of the circular pattern. While our study is preliminary, it does support the idea that Spanish culturally-orientated individuals also show a shift in circular scan vs scan-only gaze patterns between the two sites.
Regardless of the complex anthropological or psychological foundations, the result represent directional data that seems to indicate that just translating the language of the site to match a new market, is not optimal if you are trying to maximize usability and maintain the desire experience for consumers.
While this difference requires further exploration, the impact on marketing approach and usability design are substantial.  The Hispanic population in the US in 2013 was almost 53 million (17% of total), and will only continue to grow. To ignore that visual consumption of websites differs based on cultural background may alienate a growing customer base. Furthermore, all the respondents in this study currently live in the US, half in New York State and the rest in Florida.  This is a clear demonstration that our cultural orientation identification method coupled with eye-tracking methodology provides a unique way to differentiate sub populations within a region.
Follow-up studies will further explore the potential of eye tracking tools to help us understand the cultural divergence between American and Hispanic-orientated individuals. If you would like a copy of the presentation, please contact us at sales@keylimeinteractive.com
Learn more about the growth of the Hispanic market:
censusUS Census: Profile America Facts for Features “Hispanic Heritage Month”
Huffington Post: Hispanic Population Facts: A Look At Latinos By The Numbers 
Pew Research Center: The U.S. Hispanic population has increased sixfold since 1970
Latino Populations Are Growing Fastest Where We Aren’t Looking