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.