All signs point toward an increasingly multilingual future for the web. It’s estimated that over a billion people will be using PCs in the so-called BRIC countries alone by 2015, and the opportunity is even greater when you factor more people accessing the web using mobile devices than computers in many emerging markets. It’s time businesses of all sizes embraced the foreign language Internet().
Foreign Languages on the Web
A truly global web must represent the languages of its users. And with growth in usage of the web in foreign languages outstripping English, businesses are playing catch-up with their potential customers. They’re rapidly trying to get as multi-lingual and diverse as their current and prospective client base.
In the last ten years, the use of Arabic online has increased by over 2500%, while Chinese and Spanish rose twelve and seven-fold respectively. And English? It didn’t even triple.
Today, 42% of all Internet users are in Asia, while almost a quarter are in Europe and just over 10% are in Latin America. These stats shouldn’t sway businesses towards targeting one region over another, though — Latin American countries account for over 200 million people on the web.
However, the vast majority of all online searches are in a language other than English. English is losing its online market share rapidly, which is no bad thing for businesses that recognize and embrace the opportunities on the foreign language Internet.
Optimizing the Non-English Web
The rise of the foreign language Internet doesn’t change the fact English leads the world in terms of volume and depth of content. Whether your industry is car insurance, web design or musical instruments, achieving top rankings for your English-language website for lucrative search terms is getting ever more difficult. The English-language web is saturated and competition for key search terms is tough, which makes increasing your online visibility tough too.
Conversely, the saturation of key search terms on non-English language websites hasn’t reached anywhere near the level of the English-language web. This means that businesses can attain high — and lucrative — positions on search engines far easier on the foreign language Internet.
This also means that it costs less for businesses to achieve prominence on the foreign language web. So the return on your internet marketing investment in Brazil, Russia, India, China — whatever your target market — should be greater than in English-speaking markets.
And the successful web marketer’s advantage when tackling the foreign language Internet is that you already know the essentials to achieve prominence online. You’ve proved this in the web’s toughest language market: English.
Chitika Research found that the difference between first and second place on Google() is significant. In fact, a number one spot on Google attracts nearly double the traffic as the number two spot, and about the same amount of traffic as the second through fifth spots combined. For marketers, you’re several times more likely to hit top spot if you escape English-language levels of competition and target almost any other language market.
Doesn’t everyone speak English? Although many non-natives of English do, studies have shown consumers are up to five times more likely to buy from a website with content in their native language.
It stands to reason that consumers would rather search for products and services in their own language. Even if a consumer does speak English as a second language, a report by Common Sense Advisory found that 85% of online shoppers required information in their own language before parting with their hard-earned cash.
So to really make the most of the foreign language Internet, you need search engine optimized localization — a hybrid somewhere between what an Internet marketing company and a translation service provider might offer.
Localization involves addressing the cultural and linguistic needs of each of your target countries. When it comes to search, this includes addressing different local search habits. It’s more complicated than simply translating the search terms that work for you in English. In Italy, for example, one of the top terms for low cost airlines is actually half English, half Italian (“voli low cost”). As British and Irish airlines pioneered low cost travel in Europe, it seems their language infiltrated the Italian psyche and made this hybrid term lucrative. Brands really need local knowledge if they’re to take advantage of commercial opportunities like this.
A 2007 paper by the Localization Industry Standards Association (LISA) reported that $25 dollars was returned for every $1 invested in localization. And with e-commerce set to grow by over 10% (CAGR) in Western Europe alone over the next five years, and much faster in so-called emerging markets, businesses should be gearing up for the surge in Internet spending.
Search and Social
Google’s search algorithm uses many aspects of online activity to determine how highly a website is ranked for a given term. Social media is becoming an increasingly important factor. What does this mean for the multi-lingual digital marketer?
The number of tweets a piece of your content receives and the reputation of those tweeters is important. The same goes for “Likes” on Facebook() or “Diggs” on Digg(). From a foreign language perspective, increased use of social media around the world creates another opportunity to communicate with customers and a way to improve search rankings at the same time.
According to comScore, Latin American tweets are up over 300% between June 2009 and June 2010, followed by 243% in the Asia Pacific region, 142% in the Middle East and Africa, and 106% in Europe. By comparison, North America only increased by 22%.
So the “rest of the world” is actually leading the Twitter() revolution. Big, global companies have already taken action. Sony supports twenty international Twitter feeds, while Microsoft, Cisco and PricewaterhouseCoopers all offer Twitter feeds in ten or more languages.
Of course, to succeed locally with social media depends on the prominence of your local websites. A consumer is far more likely to follow your Twitter feed in French if they find it on your French language website. Developing global social media strategies and fully SEO’d localized websites should all form part of the same grand globalization plan.
This plan should also factor what social media platforms are popular locally. According to Comscore, Russia is the biggest country for engaging with social media overall, with Yandex the number one platform. Facebook isn’t even in the top ten most popular websites in Russia. And while Brazil is big on Twitter (alongside Indonesia), Orkut() rules the roost there as the mainstream go-to social network.
Similar patterns emerge across the world. Just because one social network leads your home market, this may not be the case in your target market.
Putting the “World” in “World Wide Web”
Why Your Business Must Embrace the Foreign Language Internet
May 2010 saw a major development for the foreign language Internet — something that will make the web itself more localized. ICANN, the Internet regulator, enabled full URLs in non-Latin scripts. This includes the country code, which means that Arabic and Chinese characters can be used in web addresses.
This is another clear sign that the web is becoming less English-centric. Businesses that have thus far tackled only English-speaking markets online — with perhaps German, French or Spanish thrown in to help support their single biggest international markets — must cater to a more diverse user base.
The foreign language Internet is the low-cost gateway to global success. With online populations growing at a frenetic pace in the non-English speaking world, businesses need to plan how they’ll keep up. Consumers and businesses in the fastest growing markets of the world -– online and offline -– want to talk to you in their languages. And their languages are usually anything but English.