Multi-Language Search Strategies

According to recent U.S. Census Board data (October, 2006), the U.S. population has reached more than 300 million. At more then 44.3 million, the Hispanic population is the largest of the minority groups (14.8 percent of the overall U.S. population) and the fastest growing -- at a rate of 3.4% between July 2005 and July 2006. Why is it, then, that U.S. marketers are still not catching onto the fact that they need to start paying attention to reaching foreign language searchers, particularly Spanish-speaking audiences? I find it surprising that in 2007 one of my Spanish-speaking colleagues had gone to Google to look for information in Spanish -- and ended up having to search in English because the search engines did not return relevant information in Spanish.

This is not the fault of the search engines, but of the marketers. World-class brands are investing millions in Spanish-language Web sites and advertising, but neglect to optimize their sites to enable Spanish language searchers to find them. Let's all remember the golden rule of search: If your Web site is not properly optimized, you don't exist.



The lack of attention to this issue could be for a number of reasons, the primary one most likely cost -- that is, a reluctance to invest budget in something when the return is not a known commodity. There may also be a reluctance to start multi-lingual optimization due to the complexities of different languages and the additional dialects within languages such as Spanish.

That being said, this hesitance to invest in multi-language search engine optimization provides an enormous opportunity for marketers who wish to rise above their competitors and take advantage of the void. With significantly less saturation of Spanish-speaking SEO, there is little competition for brands looking to reach Spanish-speaking searchers with the strategic use of multi-language SEO.

A close look at the marketing headlines reveals that major brands understand that Spanish-speaking consumers must be targeted in an individualized way, not to mention in a different language. Last month, Unilever launched the ViveMejor Web site as part of a broader campaign to counteract the fact that despite shopping more, the U.S. Hispanic population enjoys its shopping experience less than the general market. The new site promotes food and personal care brands with articles and other branded content.

Unilever strategists thought of everything! Or did they? Despite this major online investment, they appear to have neglected to do the most powerful and cost-effective thing that would drive Hispanic searchers to the new site: optimize for Spanish searchers. When performing a search on the Spanish version of Google for one of the high-profile brands featured on the new site, Dove or Skippy for example, ViveMejor is nowhere to be found in the first two pages of results. Likewise, when one searches for popular keywords with a high relevance to the Web site, such as "belleza" and "recetas," the site is nowhere to be found. In Unilever's defense, it has optimized the Spanish versions of its corporate and individual brand sites, which is certainly beyond the work of most marketing organizations.

I can't help but be reminded of the situation I was in ten years ago when I was trying to sell the value of search to prospects. I was actually told by a Fortune 100 company that search marketing was unethical; in the current landscape, it's hard to believe that comment was made. Because of this paranoia -- or, put more delicately, cautious attitude -- of the bulk of major brands, marketers who were early adopters and investing in organic search found it relatively easy getting to the first page on the large search engines (Google was not the "King of Search" yet!). As search grew in importance and securing top rankings on the pages quickly became very competitive, the marketers that had already been focusing on search marketing had a big leg up on those scrambling to get in the game.

Today, the same situation exists in multi-language search marketing. Invest now and gain a major competitive edge while your counterparts lag behind -- leaving the multi-language, particularly Spanish-language, top search engine results wide open for your brand to capture the attention of this critical market.

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