One mistake that many website owners make is to assume that every customer speaks English. In the U.S., the predominant language is English so a website in English is natural. There are, however, over 28 million people who speak Spanish as a first language. That’s almost 13% of the U.S. population. The question then is whether or not to create an online presence published in two or more languages.
I wouldn’t recommend a multilingual website for everyone, however, there are certainly situations where a multilingual website could be more profitable. It’s fairly easy for brick and mortar businesses. If the neighborhood where your shop front is located has a high population who speak a certain language, then it makes sense to market to that language. Almost every major city can point to ethnic enclaves within their community, and most businesses put together marketing programs aimed at everyone in that community.
The online world is different. If you are targeting a world wide market, then it doesn’t make sense spending a lot of time putting together a web site in several languages. However, if your online presence is only targeting a local market, you need to determine the language make up of that market. Would a Spanish translation of your website increase sales – with 13% of the population being Spanish speakers, that could be a sizeable chunk of the market you are missing.
Multilingual websites do come with a few SEO issues. Fortunately, Google has several guidelines that are well worth reading in order to gain a better understanding of these issues. When creating a multilingual website, never take anything for granted. Having a flag doesn’t always clearly indicate another language. Landing pages with language options are popular, however, English users seem to be less tolerant of these pages and this could lead to drop-off in visitor numbers.
Having a multilingual website can provide some businesses with a real boost in traffic. However, they can be high maintenance with every major article published requiring a second copy that has been translated. You then need to ensure it isn’t marked as duplicate content by the search engines. This is where a good SEO program is a must – if you have a customer base that is from a different ethnic background, consider creating a multilingual website.