Getting Ready for Global Business: The Benefits of the Foreign Language Internet

globe-ballsAs this column goes live, I’ll be in (hopefully) sunny San Francisco delivering a presentation as part of the Getting Ready for Global Business session at the 2011 SES San Francisco conference.

Together with fellow speakers Motoko Hunt, the founder of AJPR LLC, Michael Bonfils, SEM International managing director, and Tim Coughlin, vice president, we’ll be covering all the fundamentals of going global as an e-business. I’ll be focusing on the basics of foreign language Internet marketing strategies and the linguistic side of keyword research.

For those who aren’t able to make it to SES SF 2011, I thought I’d post a brief summary of the main points from my presentation.

The Foreign Language Internet – the Facts

The foreign language internet is growing at a rapid rate – between 2000 and 2011 (according to Internet World Stats):

  • Portuguese has grown by 990.1 percent
  • Chinese has grown by 1478.7 percent
  • Russian has grown by 1825.8 percent
  • Arabic has grown by 2501.2 percent
  • While English has only grown by 301.4 percent

Indeed, only 25 percent of the Earth’s population are English speakers, and 94 percent of those speak it as a second language.

And when targeting online consumers, you must do so in their native language – Common Sense Advisory research shows people are four times more likely to make a purchase online with information in their own language.

Foreign Language Internet Marketing – the Golden Opportunity

The key point for search engine marketers is that, despite the massive growths in foreign languages online, there is still relatively far less content in languages other than English – and that means dramatically less competition for Internet marketing campaigns.

Foreign language Internet marketing delivers better ROI and faster results, and the case studies of companies that have succeeded prove the point.

The Case Studies

Flight comparison website Skyscanner launched in 2003 and hit the foreign language Internet in 2006. They now have translated websites for 23 different languages and trade in 60 currencies.

Their Russian website produced the most remarkable results, with hits skyrocketing from 30,000 to over 1 million in just 18 months, but all their localized sites contribute to their overall success – of their $24.6 million (U.S.) turnover, $17.2 million (70 percent) now comes from overseas.

Similarly, Swedish custom watch company Few Watches launched Swedish, English, Danish, and German sites and saw a 300 percent increase in online traffic since commencing trading on the foreign language Internet. Indeed, their Danish website delivered a complete return on investment in less than two months.

The Key Steps

1. Market Research

Before launching into foreign markets with translated websites, there are some simple steps you can undertake to determine where you might find suitable markets.

Google’s Global Market Finder is a great way to get an overall idea of the search volume for your top keywords in international markets. Global Market Finder automatically translates keywords related to a company’s products or services into 56 languages, ranks the countries with the highest monthly search volumes for the terms, and provides a “suggested bid” for your PPC ads.

Not only does it show you the monthly average of how many searches have been undertaken for that key term, it also suggests top translated keywords, and tells you whether local customers have also been searching in English or another language.

2. Keyword Research

Keywords are the building blocks of foreign language Internet marketing, and one area where it’s invaluable to have local knowledge, in the form of in-country native speakers, to identify linguistic differences.

In Italy, for example, one of the top terms for low cost airline is actually half English, half Italian (“voli low cost”). As British and Irish airlines pioneered low cost travel in Europe, it seems their language infiltrated the Italian psyche and made this hybrid term lucrative. Brands really need local knowledge if they’re to take advantage of commercial opportunities like this.

With the assistance of native-speaking experts, foreign language keyword research is a simple four-step process:

  1. Research: Examining your existing website and your competitors’ websites to determine a list of potential keywords.
  2. Localization: Direct translations of English keywords into other languages are rarely correct, you need local expertise to assess and localize your keywords.
  3. Search volume analysis: Use online tools (like Google Analytics) to determine which keywords are searched for most often.
  4. Competition analysis: Online research to determine which keywords represent a gap in the market.


Foreign language Internet marketing presents a golden opportunity for search engine marketers – with a less saturated market, it means high rankings and high ROI – but the fundamental rule is that local knowledge is needed for your keywords and content. The good news, though, is that the foreign language Internet makes going global with your business a lot easier than you may have imagined.

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