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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.

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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".

Edited by happygeek: unstuck

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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Last Post by issaccosta
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Thank you for a thought-provoking article.

There are three main reasons website owners don't really consider this an important issue:

  1. Most sites are selling to one market in one area in one language.

  2. If you are talking about US websites, which is the bulk of the commercial web from an English speaker's point of view, they have no interest in any other buyers apart from English speakers. And UK website owners tend to be very insular in their view, ignoring EU buyers - as they are hard to sell to.

  3. Even successful commercial website owners have huge problems with technology. They don't like spending money on it even though it's what earns them their crust. In my experience, a business needs to be turning over $20m a year from the web before it usually looks as if they have employed the right people to sort out their web issues. There are plenty of web-based firms turning over $5m-plus who obviously have major site issues of all kinds.

The idea of setting up and running a multi-lingual website for someone even in the million dollar a year bracket is frightening as they know they don't have the personnel to cope. This, put against the fact that if they do employ the right people, in some markets they can go from zero to $1m a year in 18 months. Seen it multiple times.

Essentially, multi-language is a business problem most owners don't need, as they are fighting to grow market share in their main market, a task made more difficult because they don't understand fundamental issues never mind things that could add 2% to their gross. Yes, there is googlejuice in getting more hits from overseas as well; but this isn't seen as a core issue.

And to be fair, site owners have enough problems without working on this. Like: where do you find a competent Nginx server tech? Where do you find an Apache tech who can get 100,000 visits a day out of a single server running a CMS? The top tech resources just aren't out there.

After you've figured that out, you'd then need to ask: where do you find a Magento webmaster who can run a multilingual website?

Pity the poor website owner who has found a good paying niche. Their problems only just began.

(I'm a UK web business manager who mainly works for US or US-targeted businesses.)

Edited by Rolygate

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nothing prevents the anything speaking regions of the world, inventing the hardware and software needed, except not wanting to invest 30 years.
or improve the translation, except the requirement for effort.
English, because the inventors spoke english

Edited by almostbob

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I also agree with Roly. Most businesses indeed just focus on one target market. Besides that, English has become the lingua franca of the entire world wide web.

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Well loved that post......One question from my side that ... till when google allow users to do SEO....

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The information you have give is very nice and it will very useful for beginners. Thanks for sharing.

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Outstanding post, this is really incredibley bit of information for me , Great job man keep it up posting usefula content like this .

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We should also consider the market size before put any hard work in creating site in the native language.

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Yes it is true that our website should speak the language of SEO, which means it should tagged with meta tags, description, title, keywords, good quality content and content readability. I think for performing SEO it is not necessary to have website based on local language, it should be in common language i.e. English, which is easily understandable to anyone. As my business is based in Italy, however to attract world’s audience I have made it in English language, whose SEO is being handled by Linkshake firm. Truly, language doesn’t affects it’s ranking on search engines.

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