4 Companies Winning in the Foreign Language Internet

For the past year, I’ve been banging on about how the future of ecommerce is multilingual and international, for three simple reasons:

  1. Foreign languages are growing rapidly online (Internet World Stats ).
  2. People need information in their native language to make a purchase (Common Sense Advisory’s “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy” report).
  3. There’s less keyword competition in languages other than English, due to there being less content overall.

Take a look at Google’s Global Market Finder tool, a nifty little application that shows you how much you’d have to bid for paid search for the translated equivalents of your top keywords in foreign countries. Try it out and I’ll bet that your PPC costs would be dollars less per click in non-English speaking countries.

Global Market Finder isn’t infallible, as it uses direct translations of keywords, which may not be the best performers, but it is still useful for giving you an idea of the SEO potential of foreign markets.

The potential for success in the foreign language Internet is better than hypothetical, though. Plenty of small businesses have built themselves into powerhouses simply by embracing foreign markets with translated and optimized websites. Here are four companies that have done just that.

Hilton Herbs

This British animal healthcare company decided to expand into Europe with translated websites after receiving unsolicited orders from France and Germany. They now have websites for the USA, France, Germany and Japan and are seeing 60 percent of their turnover come from abroad, driven via these websites. Indeed, sales via the French site have doubled year on year, and Hilton Herbs now plans to expand with websites for China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Arena Flowers

This online florist discovered that searches for ‘thank-you flowers’ were three times higher in European markets like Germany than in the UK using Google’s Global Market Finder, and so launched websites for the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Belgium (Dutch and French) in 2008 and 2009. Despite doing very little to promote these websites beyond optimization, their foreign sales have climbed steadily and now account for 20 percent of their overall $8 million USD turnover.

Few Watches

This Swedish custom watch manufacturer generates all its sales online, and targets 11 European countries with translated websites. They saw rapid returns on their foreign language websites – their Danish site delivered a full return on investment in less than two months, while they saw a 300 percent overall traffic increase after launching their localized websites. Sixty percent of their sales now come from outside Sweden.



This Scottish price comparison website for commercial flights is the perfect example of how embracing the foreign language Internet can help to elevate your business to previously un-dreamed-of heights.

Skyscanner’s English website was launched in 2002, with 26 localized websites for European and Asian countries rolled out through 2006 and 2007. A few years later and 70 percent of Skyscanner’s sales come from outside the UK – indeed, the company is the largest meta search site in Russia, with a Russian user base that expanded from 30,000 to 1 million people within a year and a half.

Skyscanner have attributed their success to the relative ease with which they were able to penetrate the foreign language market due to low competition online, with Skyscanner’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Frank Skivington, saying that, “the foreign language versions of our site have been paramount to our success and growth.”

Indeed, the question for ecommerce businesses right now isn’t “can I afford to invest in foreign language websites?” Rather, it’s “can I afford not to?!”

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