English is often seen as the Internet’s ‘lingua franca,’ but the truth is that most of the world’s population speaks no English at all – and even 85% of those who do speak English as a second language won’t buy from an English-only website, according to a study by the market research group CSA Research.

With Internet usage increasing rapidly throughout the world – China alone has almost 400 million users, according to Internet World Stats – there are clearly vast potential markets that remain unavailable to anyone sticking with a monolingual approach.

Marketing to a multilingual audience online requires a well-thought out strategy – below are a few tips on how to succeed.

Translate and research your keywords

There are various ways to translate your content, such as adding a machine translation widget (like Google Translate) or inline code, or employing the professional translation services of a native speaker of your target language. The last option is likely to yield the best results, but even if you use machine translation, you should never directly translate your keywords. Popular local search terms might include English-appropriations, regional variations or colloquialisms, and keyword research should be carried out separately for each target country, both by using translators, and by analysing keyword data.

In-country domains

Hosting your localized sites on country code top-level domains (e.g. .jp for Japan or .nl for the Netherlands) will boost your rankings on both Google’s local search engines and any local competitors. Try to ensure that the site is also hosted on a server located in that country, as this will also help your site appear more locally relevant.

Link locations count

To boost your rankings, you’ll want incoming links that are not only relevant to your content, but also located in your target country. This will mean targeting high Alexa-rated sites located within that country and could involve, for example, posting comments on Japanese online media to provide links to your own Japanese site.

Same language, different usage

The same language can have many regional variations. The Spanish spoken in Spain is different from that used in Mexico, while U.S. and UK English have many variations in vocabulary, and especially in colloquialisms. You might not consider it worth the expense and effort of setting up separate localized sites for countries that share a common language, but at the very least, you should ensure that the content you use makes sense to speakers of each version of the language by having native speakers check it for errors. You certainly don’t want to fall on your fanny and make a faux pas here (and if you’re not aware of what that would mean in the UK, check out this guide to British slang).

Google doesn’t reign supreme everywhere

Google remains the single most popular search engine worldwide, but local competitors are dominant in some markets. In China for example it’s Baidu, while Seznam is the most commonly used search engine in the Czech Republic. Don’t neglect Google, but do focus your efforts on the dominant search engine for each target market.

AvatarChristian Arno

Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translation agency and localization specialists Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 120 employees spanning four continents and clients in over sixty countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated over thirty million words for businesses in every industry sector and their projected turnover for 2010 is $9m.