Are you catering for the thousands of people in the UK whose first language isn’t English?
If not, you might be missing a trick.
Here, we speak to E.ON UK new media manager Paul Squires about its multi-lingual content strategy and the potential boost it can give to customer service and sales.
What has E.ON UK been doing to develop multi-lingual web content, and why?
The background to this is that E.ON UK has an electricity distribution business called Central Networks.
One of the things it offers in its call centre is a service where there are multi-lingual operators - so if you phone up, your query can be answered in over 100 languages. We’ve had that facility available offline for some time, and wanted to make sure our web content was accessible by speakers of various languages across the world.
What we started to do a few months ago was to provide additional pages about Central Networks in various languages – Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Mandarin, among others. People could read those pages and see who Central Networks was, what it did and how to contact it etc, and it went down really well.
Then, on the 29th of June, the entire web presence of E.ON UK was relaunched and the Central Networks website was merged in. We’ve taken the work we had been doing with Central Networks and have started to apply it to the wider E.ON UK site.
As E.ON is headquartered in Germany, we have also started to develop corporate content about E.ON UK in German, to satisfy German stakeholders such as shareholders in E.ON AG.
What research did you do beforehand?
We did an awful lot of research, and tried initially to narrow it down into the operating area of Central Networks – central England. We looked at the make-up of people across the region and tried to apply those demographics to conclude which languages were being spoken.
My tip would be to do as much research as possible as early as possible. Then decide how many languages to cover and what content to translate into each language.
The work you’ve done so far seems to be focused largely on customer retention. Have you any plans to apply it to customer acquisition?
What we’ve done so far is very much a first phase, and we would like to work with our customer and user base to make sure our content echoes their requirements.
For example, if an Urdu speaker wants to find out information about our Powergen consumer brand, we would evaluate that request to see if it was helpful for our wider Urdu audience.
Going forward, with the increasing diversity of languages in the UK, we absolutely see multi-lingual content as a sales tool. My local branch of HSBC has posters in the window advertising its services in Polish.
So it is evidently being used as a sales tool and is quite an untapped resource as far as the web is concerned.
Have you extended these ideas into your search strategy?
Yes, we are looking to do that. There are all sorts of possibilities going forward. For example, the German language content is starting to appear organically on Google.de, so people in Germany that are interested in E.ON UK can start to access that content through their local variant of Google.
Obviously, we will monitor and keep a close eye on that going forward, to see how many people are looking at each page and how we can serve their needs.
Have you gained any insight into how people in the UK who don’t speak English as their first language might behave differently online?
That’s something we are looking at going forward – working with speakers of each language to make sure we know what their search behaviour and techniques are.
Also, if you have a demographic that looks at their native countries’ portals, that creates some interesting issues. Hypothetically speaking, where there is a high proportion of Polish speakers, we would make sure our Polish content was not only visible on Google UK in Polish but also on sites based in Poland.
We’re moving forward very pragmatically. Pragmatism is the order of the day in this – you need to work with speakers of each language as their requirements change.
What costs and other issues do you need to take into account before looking to develop multi-lingual content?
The thing is to ensure there is flexibility in your budget and approach. I used to work for Opportunity Wales, a public sector organisation, which had a legal requirement to make pages available in English and Welsh.
So ensure that, if you have a legal requirement, you factor that into your budget and strategy because you don’t want to dampen the expectations of non-English speakers by having a low proportion of pages available in their language.
Ensure that you are developing sufficient expectations among that audience, and keep monitoring how many people are looking at each page.
Also, make sure the languages available are reflective of your audience. And if you work in a large organisation, find out who speaks what language in your company and try to get to know people that do. Ask if they have time in their lunch hour and see what their language needs are.
Another thing is to make sure your site and content managment system (CMS) can handle a high volume of multi-lingual content. One of the things that CMSs are starting to do these days is cater for non-Western character sets much more flexibly than they did five years ago, and that’s obviously a good thing.