It’s sometimes easy to forget just how global the World Wide Web really is.lost_in_translation

Hundreds of millions of people are surfing at any given time. We in the U.S. (and other English speaking countries) have a tendency to think everyone speaks our language.

While many do, that’s not as big an advantage as it seems. Global consumers are over five times more likely to buy from a website with content in their native language.

The foreign language Internet – meaning all web content not in English – is an enormous opportunity for companies to increase revenue, but one that most ignore. In doing so, they’re not only throwing away money, they’re unnecessarily increasing their competition.

Launching a web page in English instantly pits you against billions of other pages on the search engines. Launching a page in another language can make it much easier to achieve prominence.

At Lingo24, we launched a Danish micro-site at a cost of under £100/$160 at the beginning of last year. By September, sales had reached a level that allowed us to take on a full-time account manager – and the Danish market has become a significant and growing slice of our business. All totaled, international revenue now accounts for 64 percent of our business.

Obviously, you don’t want to ignore the domestic market, but your company’s entry into an underserved territory could attract the eyes of industry watchers in that country. That can mean media attention alone, improved search engine positions and customers. Seek out relevant media in the markets you target.

Combined, foreign language markets can be worth more than your domestic market. Need proof? Look at Google. The dominant search engine in all but a handful of countries, Google derives 52 percent of its revenue from the foreign language Internet.

Putting together a foreign language Internet site may sound daunting, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin planning your strategy.

Develop your understanding of the market. If you have customers abroad, or domestic clients with links abroad, ask them whether they think your offering might be attractive internationally. Ask for contacts that can validate your ideas and perhaps become your first customers.

Check out the competition. Google’s automatic translation tools can help you quickly determine what your competition is up to.

Evaluate the demand. Use Google and Yahoo’s tools to identify the key phrases you need to target in your foreign markets.

Have your site professionally translated. Google’s translation program is adequate for understanding content, but completely unreliable for a company website. Use a professional translation company to get the message right for your customers.

Market your site online. The principles are the same as in English. Build links through partners; use pay-per-click; and try to get mentioned on sites your potential customers frequent.

Following these steps (and repeating the process in other languages) can result in a larger, better-diversified business.

About the author: Christian Arno is founder of Lingo24, a global translation and website localization company.

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