Commentary

How Foreign-Language Internet Strategies Boost Sales

Social media, lead generation, PPC campaigns -- it seems digital marketing has turned into the be-all and end-all of B2C communication and brand awareness. Companies have openly embraced digital marketing solutions in a mad race to reach, win and -- most important -- keep costumers in the highly competitive arena of e-commerce.

But how about the challenges in trying to reach that coveted top Google search spot? Although English has long been the lingua franca of the Web, it has now reached a point of saturation. It is becoming incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to compete with those billions of optimized Web pages vying for consumer attention.

While businesses are engaging on all e-marketing fronts, there's a largely untapped opportunity that the vast majority have failed to embrace: foreign-language Internet. Due to less competition for keywords and domain names, and less content overall, the multilingual Web offers unparalleled opportunities to bolster sales in overseas markets easily and affordably.

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With the exponential rise of non-English searches and the massive growth of emerging economies, savvy businesses could reap significant benefits by targeting far-flung markets in a linguistically and culturally sensitive way.

Companies shrewd enough to tap into this opportunity have experienced significant ROIs. Such has been American restaurant consulting and hospitality management company OnSite Consulting, which launched six language versions of their site in late 2010 and experienced significant foreign market growth: 20% of their revenue now comes from abroad.

Facts that substantiate the need for companies to address consumers in their mother tongue keep emerging, and hammer home the point that the road to better sales runs through the foreign-language Internet:


  • 82% of European consumers are less likely to buy online if the site is not in their native tongue (Eurobarometer survey).
  • 72.4% of global consumers are more likely to buy a product if the information is available in their own language (Common Sense Advisory).
  • The English language currently only accounts for 31% of all online use, and more than half of all searches are in languages other than English.
  • Today, 42% of all Internet users are in Asia, while almost one-quarter are in Europe and just over 10% are in Latin America.
  • Foreign languages have experienced exponential growth in online usage in the past decade -- with Chinese now officially the second-most-prominent-language on the Web. Arabic has increased by a whopping 2500%, while English has only risen by 204%

    The recession holding Europe and North America in its grip may be a bad time for business expansion at home. But not if you dare to look far enough. There are flourishing markets unscathed by the crisis. It's no secret that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are experiencing a spending boom, with consumerism growing at a rapid pace. What is more, an estimated billion people in the BRIC countries will be using computers by 2015 -- another reason why businesses should consider focusing their foreign digital marketing efforts on these countries.

    Other emerging markets where there's less competition on the Web include the CIVETS countries -- Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. But beware -- as more and more businesses are realizing the potential of BRIC and CIVETS markets, competition for keywords and online presence is likely to grow.

    After all, recession needn't be an obstacle to business expansion. As the semantics of the Chinese word for crisis (meaning both danger and opportunity) aptly demonstrates, businesses should overcome the fear of breaking into new markets and realize the only way to reap the benefits presented by the emerging markets is to fearlessly dip their toes in the multilingual Internet.

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