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SEO Your Website For Foreign Languages in Your Domestic Market

Christian Arno
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foreign-languagesLast week here at Search Engine Watch, Dave Davies raised some key points about strategies for optimizing your website for English-speaking foreign markets, such as (for U.S. companies) Canada or the UK.

But there are also huge – and largely untapped – possibilities represented by marketing to native speakers of languages other than English in majority English-speaking countries, such as Spanish speakers in the U.S., or Polish speakers in the UK.

It’s established wisdom that people prefer to shop online in their own native language. The 2006 Common Sense Advisory ‘Can’t Read, Won’t Buy’ found 85 percent of online shoppers needed access to information in their native language before making a purchase, while a 2011 EU survey found that 90 percent of Europeans prefer browsing the web in their first language.

It’s also established wisdom that if you’re looking at localizing sites for a country with more than one official language, then you’ll need sites for every language (e.g., Swiss French, Swiss German and Swiss Italian).

However, there’s a huge opportunity within domestic markets to target native speakers of foreign languages. Twenty percent of the U.S. population (some 60 million people) speak a language other than English at home – the majority being native Spanish speakers. Indeed, 89 percent of Hispanic Americans speak Spanish at home, not English, and they have a combined purchasing power of over $1.2 trillion, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth.

Similarly, in the UK you’d do well to consider a Polish-language site to cater to the 500,000 native-speakers with an estimated spending power of £4 billion (a sensible £8,000 of annual disposable income per person).

Less Competition

Same as with translated websites for the foreign language Internet, the key benefit in SEO terms of translating a website for the domestic market is the relative lack of competition for keywords, so you can climb those search rankings much more quickly. It also means that you may be the only company in your sector that is making itself available to a niche market of e-consumers, ensuring you a veritable monopoly!

Tricks of the Trade

Let’s take the example of a Spanish-language website for the U.S. market. The first step is to make sure that you employ a local Hispanic native-speaking translator for the translation of your website content, and especially for your keyword research. Could be that the top keywords you should be targeting are ‘Spanglish’ or similar colloquialisms – words that an English or native-Spanish speaking keyword researcher would miss.

Location-based marketing is also very important – getting recommendations on Google Places for your business can be a powerful tool, as most people conduct location-based searches when seeking a specific product or service (e.g., "legal services Los Angeles"). Establishing an on-the-ground presence in areas where there’s a large Hispanic population and getting recommendations for that location will help your click-throughs.

Link building may prove to be a bit trickier than normal, as you’ll want to be linking for your top Spanish-language keywords from locally hosted U.S. websites. This will require a multilingual approach, to identify Spanish-language websites hosted in the U.S. and to pitch effectively to them to secure links. However, you should need less links to see results, due to the relative lack of competition.

Proven Success

A few notable companies have had success with translated websites for their domestic market. In the U.S., notably, MySpace saw some great success with MySpace Latino before Facebook came along and blitzed the social networking scene.

Meanwhile, Best Buy launched a duplicate website in Spanish for the U.S. market and found that users of the Spanish language site spent twice as long browsing and, more importantly, spent twice as much as English-speaking customers, per visit.

Other companies to have tapped into the Hispanic American ecommerce market include Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and American Family Insurance – why not you?


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