If you have never stopped to think about language in terms of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) then the results of a survey by digital marketing agency Greenlight might make you do just that. According to the global Search and Social Survey, some 76% of people do their online searching in at least two different languages. This should come as no real surprise when you consider how many countries have more than one official language, and explains why Belgium with three official languages was towards the top of the survey for countries topping the multilingual searching stats. However, this explanation does not hold true when you also consider that Italy and Spain topped the list with 100% of respondents searching in multiple languages.
Adam Bunn, the director of SEO at Greenlight, says that "despite reasonably homogenised language use" the high level of multilingual searching in Italy and Spain is "possibly a testament to the position of English as the quasi-official language of Europe and the relative prevalence of English language web pages." Certainly with the UK producing the most web pages per head across Europe, some 17 pages per person on average according to Greenlight research, which compares to 6 in Italy and 10 in Spain, this could point to more English content to be searched for within the European markets at least.
But why should anyone engaged with SEO care? Bunn reckons that as search engines use the domain extension to determine geographical relevance (a co.uk domain has an increased chance of ranking within UK SERPS but that top level domain counts against it when people are searching outside of the UK) the creation of multi-language site versions becomes a potential weapon in the SEO arsenal of brands and businesses. This despite the golden rule that duplicated content is bad for SEO, as long as the content is properly localised for specific regions Bunn thinks it should be OK. "The point here is that proper research, beyond just gathering a few keywords from the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, really does help to inform SEO strategy" Bunn insists, concluding "the first step to deciding whether to progress an opportunity is to define the size of that opportunity. This data does give some food for thought."
As, indeed, does a study being undertaken by the Multilingual Internet Group which will aim to determine how usable the Internet actually is for people in the Arabic, Urdu and Farsi speaking regions of the world. Claiming that a new multilingual Internet is coming which will open doors that are closed to billions courtesy of the dominance of English and the western alphabet, the Multilingual Internet Group argues that while pages get translated, with ASCII script based on the western alphabet being the norm for most web addressing it makes navigating the web much harder for those not familiar with these characters at all.
The study itself is not being limited to those users just in the countries where Arabic, Urdu and Farsi are most often used, but includes native speakers across the world. The study will also include interviews with regulators and key officials, and could certainly be of interest to those in the business of SEO. Khaled Fattal, chairman of The Multilingual Internet Group, insists that "this market knowledge is vital to lay a solid foundation for the next billion plus Internet users who will not come from the West but from these emerging markets in the next very short years. They still lack many infrastructures, eServices, security and safety for this coming Multilingual Cyber Space to make their use of their own language on the net a seamless but secure user experience".