SES Latino — Interview with Conference Chair Nacho Hernandez

Nacho Hernandez, founder and CEO of iHispanic, a consulting firm for search marketing and Internet strategy for the worldwide Hispanic markets, shares with Search Engine Watch correspondent Grant Crowell about his chairing of Search Engine Strategies Latino for the second year, on the rapid growth of the Hispanic and Latin American market, and the wide-open opportunities coupled with special challenges for search marketers.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies Latino conference, June 18-19, 2007, in Miami, Florida.

SEW: What are the special coverage areas with SES Latino that people wouldn’t normally have at other search conferences?

Search Engine Strategies Latino is part of the brand of Search Engine Strategies. It’s a conference dedicated primarily for people who want to seek out the U.S. and Latin American Market. We have this on a two-day and two track-basis: one of them is the Fundamentals Track, for those who want to get familiar with search engine marketing and other tactics related to search engine marketing. Then we have a Landscapes and Tactics track, which is more focused on those [US Hispanic and Latin American” markets.

It really depends on what level the attendee is at. If they are at a beginner level, and want to get introduced to the entire concept, then we provide them great sessions in the Fundamentals Track for introduction. In that track there’s successful site architecture, [keyword” search terms, research and targeting, buying search engine advertising. On the second day we moved on to competitive research, link building, converting visitors into buyers, and web analytics and measuring success. These are all search fundamentals, but complimented with a Latino focus. What we did was ask our speakers that, even though these are fundamentals, to include in all the examples how they could US these tactics with the U.S. Hispanic and Latino Market. Attendees really get to see on the case study side where they were able to see more of the U.S. Hispanic and Latino market.

On the Landscape and Tactics track, that’s where complete focus is on U.S. Hispanics and Latin America. When I say U.S. Hispanic, I am talking about all the different cultures that are in the United States. There are lot of different types of users and potential clients on the Web [that are considered U.S. Hispanics”. That could include Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Chileans, Argentineans – pretty much any U.S. Hispanic from Latin American descent born either in the U.S., or born in Latin America and brought into the U.S.. That is pretty much what the U.S. Hispanic market is. [According to the U.S. Census Bureau”, there are 44 million Hispanics that make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population, and this population is growing about 5 times faster than the rest of the U.S. population. That increase has been seen in the last 10 years. The U.S. Hispanic consumer controls as much as a trillion dollars in spending power. According to comScore, there are about 16.5 million US Hispanic internet users – that’s about a 40 percent penetration rate. That’s about the same penetration level as Spain, France, Mexico, Brazil or Argentina. So the U.S. Hispanic is a really popular market.

The Latin American Market is primarily Mexico, Central America and Latin America, including Brazil. So usually, when the search engines and core companies divide up the market as Hispanic, or Spanish speaking Latin Americas, or Latin Americas, the difference is that they usually separate out Brazil.

SEW: We also hear the term “Latino,” which is used for the name of this conference. Does that refer to a combination of the US Hispanic market and Latin America?

There’s a debate between using the terms Hispanic, Latino, and “Latina” (we like to use gender in words in Spanish) We really wanted to use the term SES Latino so that we could have one word to describe all that market, and I think that was the best word for it, and it has gotten a really good response from everyone. If we had used the word Hispanic, that would have referred to only the Spanish speaking people, which would have excluded Brazil. So that would not have been a good word to use. Brazil is actually a huge market; it is the number one market in Latin America in terms of search, and in terms of advertisers as well. It’s very important to include them in this conference. Brazil is a great market, and there are a lot of people in the industry trying to grow it as well. So that is why we chose “Latino” for our brand.

SEW: Countries in Europe, such as Portugal and Spain… would they not be considered part of the Latino market, even though they have a share language and some shared cultural aspects as the Latin Americas?

It was interesting to see that we got a lot of attendees from Spain. I was really pleased to see them, they are all wonderful people, and I got to meet most of them. It is a great market; there is a lot of growth in Spain. When we say Latinos, the focus of this conference was thought to be the Americas. That doesn’t really include the European Market. I would advise that one day that Incisive Media (the conference hosts of Search Engine Strategies) would take SES to Spain and Portugal. Primarily, Spain is growing tremendously, and there is a lot of opportunity there.

SEW: Do you find that to be a special challenge in terms of explaining to the US search industry and search marketers that yes, there is a great opportunity from tapping into the Latino market early, but it is a real challenge, especially for people who aren’t from the area, or familiar with the territory?

Regional targeting is a big challenge with this market. It’s really about trying to be creative with targeting your users that way – misspellings, “Spanglish” (mixing back and forth between Spanish and English). There are different dialects that are being used in different ways; all the ways that Spanish can be pronounced because of mixed dialects. I remember looking at a specific case study where a company wanted to focus on the female users. Gender is used in words to identify these users. “Latinos” is the male version, or both men and women together as a group; “Latinas” refers solely to the female users. This is where there are all these variations of the language; even though its Spanish, Spanish for whom? Do you want to give your Spanish a “regional” focus on Mexicans, or Cubans, or Argentineans? Or, do you settle for a “neutral” form of Latin American Spanish?

We had 3 amazing sessions which all dealt with this subject. One that was very popular was called “Translate or Create – Strategies for Those With English Language sites.” This becomes a really big marketing decision. Getting unique content is important, but it’s a greater challenge across language barriers. If you want to translate your original copy to another language, you should use a good, clean human translation. Optimize that content for SEO or SEM purposes. You may want to have professionals from the local countries do it instead of using U.S. translators. You will get a much better response that way, because there are different meanings from local country to local country. Even then, you will still find it quite challenging to optimize that translation.

Now you may not want to bother with translating between languages; you may just want to create in just the non-English language; but then again, you want to make sure you are still creating unique content focused for the market in question.

Another session that was quite popular was the “Multi-country and Multilingual Website Optimization.” This is where there are many SEO and usability challenges. There was a special focus on what do you need to do to avoid duplicate content if you are going to do as many as five versions of Spanish for each major country in Latin America. This session also covered the tactics of Link building, which for the Latin American market can be quite a difficult task. If you do a lot of link building on a basic development format, which nowadays is either that or trying to find things like digg or other social networking sites, those things don’t really work in Latin America, because there is no equivalent to digg. Instead, you have to primarily work on business development for your link building. That is quite a challenge to do if you don’t have a native Spanish speaker in your team to accomplish that.

We had another session that was called “Targeting Spanish and Portuguese Search Ads by Demographics and Behavior.” We had great case studies to show that when you are using these tactics, you might want to try to use different sets of ads, campaigns, and landing pages, especially for the US Hispanic market. Try some English, and try some Spanish.

As for the search engine capabilities and limitations… Google doesn’t discern between what language you use for your ads or landing pages. Yahoo! does do an editorial review of everything that you do and put on Yahoo!’s search marketing platform. MSN does not support Spanish yet.

The industry is clearly still evolving and moving forward, I’ve seen this industry grow since 2003, when we did our first session for SES; and it was interesting to see that first group of 50 to 70 people in one room. At SES Latino 2007, we had 500 to 550 people there, which is a lot of growth from last year. We saw that people were very enthusiastic and excited, and had sine really good networking. We also got a lot more attendees from Latin America than last year, so this year’s mix was really great. When you were going back and forth in the hallways you would hear about 80 percent Spanish. No matter if it was a US Hispanic or Latin America professional, you would hear them speaking in Spanish. One nice thing about a smaller show is that is was more intimate and personal. This is not what you would expect at a SES New York or SES San Jose which are huge, with 6,000 or more attendees. This is more of a smaller show of really focused, niche people, and everybody is really open to talk to everyone, share all their experiences and comments, what’s working, what’s not working. Its kind of like the old days of SES, really.

SEW: What are your projections for the US Hispanic and Latin American Market for 2008?

comScore did a great report on some key numbers that were analyzed for this year for the US Hispanic and Latin American markets. What we saw is that Latin America rates #2 year after year in market growth, with a 16 percent rate. That’s about 45 billion unique online visitors [who are also in the search space”. Compared to other regions, the #1 group was Middle East/Africa, #3 was the Asian pacific market, Europe was about 6 percent US Hispanic is less than 5 percent, and North America is about 2 percent growth. The general US market is not moving; it’s not really going anywhere any more. Where the other markets, like Latin America, are growing much faster so there is great opportunity to be first in these markets. This is why for many of the search engines, they have started to open up offices and add human resources for these markets. It has become a priority for them; these population segments are growing much faster. So more of them will get into the internet, at higher penetration levels, and at all different levels of search experience – it’s just a higher opportunity for them.

Our own company did some research and analysis of this population projection. I estimate that between 2010 and 2050, probably around 2030, the number of searchers in Latin America will be greater than or equal to or be greater than the number of searchers in United States. What does this mean to the major brands? Eventually there will be 250 million people in Latin America, and 250 million people in the US, and they will have to have to split up their budget evenly.

SEW: One very notable statistic: US Hispanics hold an 89% penetration to search, and more time spent online than any other group, even more time online than watching television. They also tend to more quickly adopt and converge on the newer online search technologies, such as social networking, video, even mobile.

For the US Hispanic, they have a little bit of an advantage, because there are a lot of search engine marketers that are willing to help all these companies. But when it comes to Latin America, there is really only a handful of search marketers right now who are offering any kind of services to that area. So I think one of the key tasks, and why I wanted to become conference chair for SES Latino, was because there is a lot of education that is needed for Latin America. Its been my mission to help these people learn the topic, and learn this new profession which I really have a huge passion for. I really want to have more people; more professionals come on board, and add search engine marketing into their entire mix of internet advertising because there is huge opportunity for it, primarily speaking for Latin American professionals and business owners. There is going to be high growth for Latin American SEM. Whoever comes up first is going to have a good lead, whoever comes up 2 or 3 years from now is going to be seeing what is left over in terms of market share.

Grant Crowell is the Senior Project Director for Grantastic Designs, and a contributor to the Search Engine Watch Blog, focusing on video search topics. Grant also serves as a video production and optimization consultant, and produces documentary video content for Walking Eagle Productions.

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