Reaching the much coveted Number 1 spot of English searches is a mission sometimes beyond the reach of even the most experienced SEO. With billions of English pages vying for consumer attention and more and more businesses jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon, the competition for presence on the English web feels like an uphill struggle.
Naturally, English has been the lingua franca of the web ever since the onset of the dot-com boom, so it’s no surprise that it’s now reached the point of saturation. But there’s a vast – and largely untapped – area where there’s less competition for keywords and content overall, and that is the foreign language internet.
Emerging markets, unscathed by the recession holding Europe and North America in its grip, present unparalleled growth opportunities for e-commerce sites. All a marketer needs to do is carefully identify the markets to target and start working towards optimizing and localizing websites for the respective countries.
Why the Foreign Language Internet Is Moving into the SEM Limelight
The past decade has witnessed some really curious – if quite logical – developments in online usage: stats show that English is giving way to other languages, presently accounting for a mere 31% of all online use.
This tendency, coupled with the booming use of languages such as Arabic and Chinese, shows that if businesses wish to be on the same page as consumers, they need to "speak" their tongue. Here’s why:
- 75% of the world speaks languages other than English.
- Official pan-European research found that 82% of consumers were less likely to make online purchases if the site wasn’t in their mother tongue (Eurobarometer study ).
- On a global scale, a massive 72.4% of consumers said they were more likely to buy a product online if the information was available in their own language (Common Sense Advisory ).
- Over half of all Google searches are in languages other than English.
- Compare the increase in searches in the following languages in the last ten years: Arabic - 2,502%, Russian - 1,826%, Chinese - 1,277%, Portuguese - 990%; with English at a mere 281%.
These facts prove that the web is becoming increasingly multilingual, with more and more users likely to demand services and products in their native tongue.
SEOs and SEMs should read these signs and tap into the opportunities that the multilingual web presents: with less competition for content in languages other than English, it’s easier – as well as cheaper – to reach the top of the search engine rankings.
To do this, however, you need to go through what is probably the most difficult part of the process – identifying the right markets to target.
Tools to Test Your New Markets
We’ve all heard a lot about the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) "tiger" economies: so lucrative and fast-growing that a lot of corporations are catching on  by refocusing their business efforts in Asia and South America.
No surprise there: with a GDP of nearly 5.9 trillion US dollars, China is now officially the world’s second biggest economy, and is even expected to outstrip the US in the next decade. And a new report  commissioned by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has forecast that Asia’s GDP will increase from $17 trillion to a whopping $174 trillion in just forty years.
While targeting these burgeoning economies may be a wise marketing move, there are specific sets of online tools which can help you spot the right foreign markets to target.
The Quantitative Tool: Google’s Global Market Finder
This handy online tool is a great way to get an overall idea of the search volume for your top keywords in international markets.
Global Market Finder  automatically translates keywords related to a company's products or services into 56 languages, ranks the countries with the highest monthly search volumes for the terms, and provides a "suggested bid" for your PPC ads.
Not only does the tool show you the monthly average of how many searches have been undertaken for that key term, it also suggests top translated keywords, and tells you whether local customer have also been searching in English or another language.
The Qualitative Tool: Google Global
As handy as Google’s Global Market Finder is, its data is based only on PPC results, and is therefore not an accurate reflection of search results on the ground in different countries.
This is where Firefox add-on Google Global  comes in. It allows you to view paid and organic search results as they appear in other cities, regions, zip codes (for US) and IP addresses, so you can compare side-by-side the SERPs for certain keywords all around the world.
Aware of the growing prominence of multilingual SEO and armed with some nifty online tools to gauge and find the right foreign markets to target, SEMs should fearlessly dive into the foreign language internet. If you want to emerge on the crest of the multilingual e-commerce wave, the time to make the leap is now.
Christian Arno is the founder and managing director of Lingo24, a global translation, website localization and multilingual marketing agency.
Image via Kenneth Lu