Search Marketing & the Spanish Speaking Internet

Looking for the hottest market potential in search? Look to the culture of salsa dancing, volcanic chili peppers and red hot Latin music. That’s right, Spanish speaking Internet users. Search en Espanol.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2004 Conference, March 1-4, New York.

If hablar Espanol isn’t in your skill set yet, better brush up. “This is a market worth targeting,” said WebMama Barbara Coll. Exploding growth, huge potential and best of all, what you already know will serve just fine, gracias, to tap into this fast growing market. Or rather markets, as Spanish speaking users log on from North, Central and South America, and Europe.

Moderated by Pamela Parker, Managing Editor ClickZ, the panel also included Ignacio Hernandez Jr., Founder & Vice President,, Lucas Morea, founder, the popular online community serving Latin America, and Matthew Whiteley, International Sales & Business Development Director,, Inc. All have been using search to market to Spanish speaking web users for some time, and all enthused about growing potential particularly in Latin America and the US.

Red Hot Potential

There are 324 million people in Spanish-speaking Latin America alone. With only six percent of them online, Web penetration in Lain America is projected to grow this year nearly 40 percent, compared with only 14.3 percent in North American and 21.7 percent in Europe.

Spanish language advertising network TeRespondo, which serves Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, sees the Latin American search market growing from last year’s US$3 million to US$40 million in 2005 and a whopping US$168 million by 2006, according to Whiteley.

In the US, Hispanic buying power more than doubled from 1990 to 2002 to $580.5 billion, and is expected to top $926 billion by 2007, reported Coll. “The Hispanic population is the largest minority group in the USA, 36.8 million people and 13.5 percent of the population,” she said, adding US Census projections show this group tripling by 2060.

US Hispanics and Latinos use the Internet more than the general population, even though this they are only seven percent of all US users, far fewer than Caucasians or Asians. Citing an America Online/Roper report, Coll said that 48 percent have gone online from home in the past two years, compared to 21 percent of the general population. They spend more time online at home (9.5 hours per week) and at work (13.8 hours per week) than average for all US consumers (8.4 hours per week and 9.6 hours per week respectively).

And they are more likely to shop online for home-delivered groceries and electronics, reported’s Ignacio Hernandez, citing a ComScore MediaMetrix study. has filled a unique niche supplying 1,000 hard-to-find Mexican foods via a bilingual website. “The total Mexican food market in the US was valued at $18.3 billion in 2002,” he said, including US Hispanics and the “ever-increasing number of Anglo-Americans that crave Mexican food.”

Time Travel in Latin America

“Ever said, ‘If only I knew then what I know now?'” asked Lucas Morea. “Web use in Latin America is much as things were in 1995 in North America “You can travel back in time. “While there is less experience and therefore less trust in ecommerce, audiences are less jaded, and not as sick of advertising tactics like pop-ups, at least not yet.”

But before you hop on your time traveler, realize this is not as easy as it sounds.

To begin with, there is no single Spanish speaking market: consumers in the US, Spain and Latin America are all in different markets. Moreover, there are 18 Spanish speaking nations in Latin America alone, each with its own culture, politics and commerce. Brazil’s use of Portuguese complicates matters further. Yahoo, for example has separate portals for Spain (, Mexico ( and Argentina (, reported Coll, as well as another one in Spanish for Hispanic users (

Economic and political instability in the region can impede ecommerce. A native of Argentina, Morea highlighted his own home country as an example. “To shore up the currency, banks froze all accounts for two months, and followed up by devaluing the currency by 66 percent. Such disruptive events have spurred a number of old fashioned workarounds. “Argentineans have invested twice as much money, as is in the US Federal reserve is in dollars or euros,” Morea said, and many keep savings under the mattress.

Deep distrust of banks and ho-hum attitudes toward credit cards makes collecting online payments challenging. Generally unreliable postal systems make delivery next to impossible, a boon for private services such as FedEx and DHL.

Cultural, political and economic challenges are not necessarily insurmountable. “It’s just how people do business,” advised Morea. “If they go to the bank to pay bills, why not pay for their online purchases there, too?”

Creative tactics will generate revenue, according to Morea. A cruise ship line gained half a million dollars worth of bookings by following up on leads from their website. A membership dating site boasts two million visits per month and 50,000 registered users.

“People had to figure this out in Europe five years ago,” added Coll. “We can do it here.”

Is it for every company, Parker asked? It has been hard to convince large US companies, reported Coll. Hernandez replied, “Remember, Spanish speaking consumers bought US$26 billion in new cars last year.”

How SEM works en Espanol

Use the Spanish language, said Coll, citing a ComScore MediaMetrix finding that 49 percent of US Hispanic Internet users either prefer to speak Spanish only, or a mix of Spanish and English. While English-language content can and does reach more than half of them, to cover the market you need relevant Spanish-language content. “The rules are the same for organic results,” she said, as are the algorithms ranking results in Spanish and English.

Hernandez’ suggestions sounded familiar, too.


    • Focus on ROI, that’s what SEM is really all about.


    • Don’t let your competition get there before you.


    • Be aware of language differences. For example, Spanish keyword phrases are often reversed from English. Also, drop special characters such the “˜” found over the “n”, he advised, to ease searching.


Reversed words may divert traffic for your pay-per-click keyword buys, Coll cautioned. Buy in Spanish but watch out for Overture’s Match Driver and Google’s “Did You Mean?” spelling feature. For example, Overture’s Match Driver will place your bid for “camera digital” among those for “digital camera” in English, bypassing the Spanish speaking searchers. “Check your keyword reports to make sure you are actually sending traffic to Spanish-language sites,” Coll cautioned.

Spanish speaking buyers will search in Spanish, and want to see ads in Spanish, even though they may often buy in English because its their only option. “It is kind of insulting” to direct Spanish speaking searchers to landing pages in English, Coll observed.

Hernandez suggested building alliances with top ranking traffic sites, and leveraging high conversions and ROI of shopping sites, saying these authority sites boost link popularity

Terra Lycos is the number one Spanish language site among Hispanic Americans, Coll reported, followed by,, and Whitely named the following for Latin America: UOL, BOL, Cidade, Globo, MSN, Terra, Yahoo, Google, AOL, with top search advertising providers Google, Yahoo, and Terespondo.

Anne Kennedy is managing partner of search engine marketing agency Beyond Ink, based in Portland, Maine.

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