If you could turn back the Internet clock 15 years, armed with the information you have in 2010, how would you use this knowledge to get ahead online?
Would you register Google.com and hire a bunch of brain-boxes from Stanford University? Would you launch a social network that takes all the best bits from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr?
Or perhaps you would launch a million dollar home page, where you sell blocks of pixels to advertisers for a dollar a pop?
Until time travel becomes a reality, such discussion is mere fantasy. The Internet got to where it is today because of innovation -- people who saw opportunities and proactively acted on instinct.
Foreign Language Internet: Act Now
It's fair to say that many of these innovators were simply in the right place at the right time. And in many cases, it was a case of being first to stake a claim on untapped territory -- after all, if you aren't fast, you're last. But it's getting harder to get ahead online, simply because there's so much competition.
The Internet has typically been very English-centric. But with online populations growing at breakneck speed, this is changing. From 2000-2010, the number of Arabic speakers online increased by 2,500 percent, and Chinese rose 12-fold. Even Spanish managed a 700 percent increase.
By way of comparison, English-speakers on the Web increased by less than 300 percent. It's not that English is becoming less popular, it's just that it had a big head start on other languages -- and they are now catching up.
This presents a rather lucrative opportunity for businesses. The English-language web has reached saturation point -- Internet specialists and search engine optimizers have used every trick in the book to gain traction online.
But the foreign language Internet still offers rich-pickings, and now's the time to succeed with website localization. The reason being, competition for keywords in foreign languages is nowhere near what it is in English, hence it's easier for you to rank highly on foreign-language search engines.
Success hinges on businesses being proactive. Rather than waiting for sales to start arriving from far-flung places, you need to create the opportunities for yourself.
How do you know which markets to be proactive in? You don't want to localize your website for German only to then discover that the Germanic markets are already saturated with similar businesses. Or worse still, there's no demand.
And it's all very well launching straight into the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- assuming you'll strike it rich. You need to be proactive, but you also need to be prudent.
So before you start thinking in rupees, rubles, reals or any other currency, the markets you target will depend on whatever your service/product offering is. Concentrate on one or two countries you know have a need for whatever you're selling online.
Where do you start? Well, see if similar companies are already operating and find out when they were established, what their sales are like, and what countries they do business with. Better still, if there are any glaring gaps in what they offer, you can turn up and exploit.
The Business Benefits of Website Localization
As mentioned, your choice of markets should reflect your offering. But as a general guide, consider that China has the world's biggest export economy in the world, amounting to almost $2 trillion (U.S.) each year.
China is also one of the world's biggest importers, after the U.S. and Germany, with around $1 trillion of goods and services moving into China last year. China imports almost $2 billion of electrical machinery each year, with petroleum and related products and scientific instruments also ranking highly on China's import repertoire.
China is a hive of manufacturing activity too, so for businesses looking to take a product to market, China might be where it's at. The top 10 importers in the world are as follows: U.S., Germany, China, France, Japan, U.K., Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, and South Korea.
Notice only two of these countries speak English as a native language? That tells its own story. And with The Common Sense Advisory reporting that 85 percent of consumers require information in their native tongue before parting with any cash online, now really is the time to be tapping into foreign markets.
Much in the same way as the good people of Google, Facebook, and even the million dollar home page seized the opportunities of their day, the foreign language Internet is still there for the taking. But the key to success lies in how proactive you are.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!