Because the web is immediately international. And it's on tap 24/7 to hundreds of millions of people, the vast majority of whom would prefer to conduct their web business in their own language. English speakers have a tendency to think everyone speaks English but while many foreigners do, research has shown web users are more than five times more likely to buy from a website with content in their own language.
The key point about the foreign language internet – meaning all web content not in English – is that it is an opportunity for all companies to increase revenue. Web-using native speakers of languages other than English significantly outnumber the English-speaking web population so those ‘not doing it internationally' are missing a trick and a whole pile of money.
The opportunity is even greater because competition online is much less intense in languages other than English.
Research by the European Interactive Advertising Association indicated that two thirds of European marketers intended to increase their use of search engine optimisation (SEO) in targeting new customers in 2010, with around the same amount of advertisers stating their intention to increase their overall internet spend this year.
This helps to highlight the role online marketing plays in the 21st century business world – it is one of the most powerful tools available to organisations seeking to target new customers both at home and abroad.
Indeed, online marketing facilitates the building of mutually beneficial relationships between company and client. However, with shifting trends and tastes, there isn't a single marketing solution that can be used for every demographic and every industry - each campaign must be tailored with the target audience in mind, from banner-ads and websites, to e-newsletters and competitions. With foreign markets, however, an array of cultural complexities is thrown into the mix too, and what is funny/clever in one market may be offensive in another, which is why having a localisation strategy in place is crucial.
Within the relatively small confines of Europe, there are around two hundred indigenous languages, and in the European Union alone there are 23 official languages, resulting in an annual translation spend of over a billion Euros by the various EU departments.
However, whilst the differences between English, French and German may be obvious, the difference between the different dialects may not be – for example, in French (France) 'lunch' is déjeuner, but in Swiss French it is dîner. And there are many such examples between the different dialects in Europe, not to mention across the world, with countless notable variations between the English spoken in the UK, for example, and the English spoken in the US. Being aware of the finer nuances within the various vernaculars is crucial when marketing to international audiences. But how do businesses actually go about localising their website for foreign markets?
Well, the first stage is to identify the target country. One way of doing this is to research the existing local competition. If there are a number of similar companies, then that's a good sign as it demonstrates a demand, but if there are too many then it can be hard to penetrate an already saturated marketplace.
Once a significant demand for your service or product has been established in a certain country, it's important to research what key search terms are used by local internet users. It can be tempting to simply translate the keywords you use on your English language website, but this isn't always a good idea. A car insurance company, for example, may rank highly for the term 'car insurance' on Google UK. But the direct (and correct!) dictionary translation of 'car insurance' into other languages may not be what people actually use to search for car insurance in other countries. They may use countless variations of the translated term, including colloquialisms.
Both Google and Yahoo have very handy, free keyword research tools which can help identify the relevant terminology. So, for example, by going to Google France's keyword tool and typing in the dictionary translation of 'Car Insurance', which would be 'l'assurance automobile', you would soon realise that this terms gets very little search hits, and something like 'assurance auto' is far more commonly used.
So once you have established what key search phrases to use, it's time to incorporate these into a professionally translated website, which will help organically optimise the foreign language website in the country-specific search engines, such as Google.fr (France) or Google.de (Germany).
This is where a website localisation specialist can really help you.
To help the SEO process, you can also use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising (e.g. Google AdWords), which create sponsored links in a search results page, ensuring your website always features highly for your pre-determined keywords. Using PPC advertising in conjunction with a fully optimised and translated website means businesses of all sizes can go global with nothing more than a networked computer and a touch of entrepreneurial savvy.
Here is an excellent example of the sort of company which I suggest you use for your website localisation.
Lingo24 is a global translation company that also specialises in website localisation. It has over 100 employees based in the UK, Panama, Romania, China and New Zealand, and a network of 4,000 translators, and you will find them to be very professional and approachable.