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Times are tough in the English language internet. With billions of pages of content competing for your attention, and many of them optimised for search engines, getting your web page into the broader search consciousness can be like running up the down escalator.

There is a place, though, where there’s less competition for keywords and domain names, and less content overall, and that place is the non-English or foreign language internet.

Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘yes, we know that there’s money to be made with online marketing of multilingual websites’, but it never hurts to hammer the point home with some interesting statistics.

The future of the internet is undeniably multilingual, as demonstrated by projects like the W3C Multilingual Web Workshop, which aims to develop standards for a universally accessible internet of diverse languages.

Internet marketers and e-commerce businesses that ignore the foreign language internet are rejecting what will surely prove to be the great untapped resource of the 21st century. Here’s why:

  • The English language currently only accounts for 31% of all online use.
  • Over half of all Google searches are in languages other than English.
  • In fact, only 25% of the Earth’s population speak English - 94% of this number do so as a second language – and internet access in non-English speaking countries is increasing every year.
  • Between 2000 and 2008, foreign languages have experienced massive growths in usage online – for example, Chinese use increased by 755%, Portuguese by 668% and Arabic by an astonishing 2064%. This is compared to a 204% online growth rate for English use.
  • The Common Sense Advisory’s ‘Cant’ Read, Won’t Buy’ report found that 85% of all consumers require information in their native language before making a purchase.
  • E-commerce is growing year upon year – Forrester Research Inc forecast a compound annual growth rate of 11% for Western Europe alone over the next five years, hitting €114 billion by 2014.
  • The Localization Industry Standards Association’s 2007 report found that every US$1 spent on localisation yields a $25 return.
  • And you want to be on top of the rankings in every language, because Chitika Research found that 35% of all web traffic goes to the top Google-ranked site, double the traffic of the second ranked site.

Looking at the statistics, and the increasing rates of internet accessibility in the BRIC countries, it seems obvious that English is only going to decrease in online prominence as time progresses – and that the increasing use of other languages online will result in a increase in content and keyword competition in those languages.

For the moment, though, in much of the foreign language internet it’s still a fairly quick and simple process to identify your foreign language keywords, launch a localised site, undertake some simple organic SEO strategies in the local internet (such as back-linking) and see your site climb onto the front page within a short period of time.

My tip? Get the head start on the pack by claiming your slice of online real estate across multiple languages now, before the foreign language web starts to get as crowded as the English language internet.

Christian Arno

Published 28 October, 2010 by Christian Arno

Christian Arno is Founder and Managing Director of Lingo24 and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter

23 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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I really appreciate this article. I am a French graduate but never though I could use my skill in this direction. Need to brush up and get going. Thanks for the tip

almost 6 years ago

Jean-Guillaume Paumier

Jean-Guillaume Paumier, Digital Account Director at Banner Corporation

Hi Christian,

Great post as it introduces some really interesting numbers to back up to importance of non-English internet.

A few comments to add from a display advertising perspective: as a pan-European planner of digital media, I won't surprise anyone by saying that local ads are must. No matter how targeted or niche the audience, local language advertising will always generate a better response. I completely agree when you say that we should never underestimate the importance of local language. Also, to tap efficiently into relevant local sites, local keywords on Google Display Network are a must. By pasting English keyword on non-English markets, you will be missing out on so much relevant inventory. So yes, relevant multi market advertising will always involve investment whether it is in advertising translation or local set up of targeted campaigns.

almost 6 years ago

Yves Goulnik

Yves Goulnik, Digital strategy director at Strategik & Numerik | Indigenus

This even impacts terminology. With the launch of internationalized domain names (iDNs), you're no longer limited to dot-com, dot-co-dot-uk and such like, but you now come across the likes of dian-zhongguo (.中国), also in arabic, cyrillic etc.

Thanks for refering to foreign languages in your article, rather than diminutive local. To  paraphrase your title, I would ask, The foreign language internet: your 21st century or(e) mine?

almost 6 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

There's nothing to claim, Christian.

There's a project to start and to which to commit. Just putting up sticks will not take you too far. There's so many real estate sites which got there first which we've already blown away and are now abandoned mines.

almost 6 years ago



My main concern would be whether top-level domains like .com .net .org etc would rank for "local" searches, even if written in a foreign language. The problem then becomes the maintenance of foreign top-level domains. But great point, it should be easy to double or triple one's audience through translation. It goes without saying, though, that using Google translate or the like (i.e. machine translation) is a recipe for disaster. It is imperative to hire professional translation and localisation teams.

almost 6 years ago


Translation Services

Very interesting article! I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say regarding the future of the internet and language.

over 4 years ago

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