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Thinking Beyond a Monolingual Audience

Christian Arno
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The second you launch your website online, you're accessible by an estimated audience of 1.8 billion people around the world. The thing is, even though English is traditionally the mother tongue of the Internet, 78 percent of web surfers don't speak English as their first language (in fact, China will soon be the dominant language in terms of users, if not pages, with 407.7 million online Chinese speakers fast closing the gap on 495.8 million English speakers, according to Internet World Stats).

If you're only targeting a limited demographic with your website -- for instance, gig reviews for live music fans in Seattle -- then you won't really be bothered one way or the other if your site is inaccessible to non-English speakers. But if you're in the business of selling products or services online, then you're essentially cutting out more than three quarters of your potential customers.

Research from Common Sense Advisory has shown that 85 percent of consumers -- even multilingual ones -- won't make important purchases from a website if they can't read about the product in their own language, and who could blame them?

More Reasons to Target Multiple Languages

There are other reasons to think about targeting multiple languages in your online marketing than purely the numbers, though.

One good point to consider is broadening your international customer base to protect against currency fluctuations. If your purchasers are buying from you in only one currency and that currency takes a dive, then so do your profits. But if you have a range of currencies coming in, then you're relatively safe.

Another good point to consider is that search engine competition in non-English markets is generally far less than among English language websites, simply because there are less websites overall, and therefore less keyword saturation. By creating localized and optimized websites for Germany, or China, or India, you've got a much better chance of climbing to the top of the local Google (or equivalent) rankings than you do with an English language site.

I saw that there was less competition in the European translation market, particularly in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, so I decided to test the waters with five translated and localized pages for my company's website. The results were so encouraging we went ahead and built fully localized sites for France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland (in French, German, and Italian), Belgium (in French and Flemish), the Netherlands, Luxembourg (in French and German), Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

Tips for Localizing Websites

When it comes to localizing websites, make sure to only use translators who are experts in the industry, and who live in the countries they will be translating for. Previous experience has taught me even if a translator is fluent in a language, their translations will often sound foreign to local ears if they aren't living in the country and absorbing the culture and the constant changes in the local idiom.

This is especially important for marketing collateral where branding is involved, as creating effective marketing requires a fine blend of nuance, cultural knowledge, and language use to subtly imprint your message in the reader's mind.

Simply creating these websites isn't the only step, though. To keep customers coming back, and to maintain your place in the search engine rankings, you have to keep your websites regularly updated with fresh original content that is of genuine use to the reader, and not just crammed with keywords to the point of incomprehension.

Join us for SES Toronto June 9-11, 2010 at the Hyatt Regency Toronto. The event will be packed with sessions covering topics such as PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more while offering high-level strategy, big picture, keynotes, an exhibit floor with companies that can help you grow your business, networking events, parties and more.


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