The internet is expansive and it reaches all corners of the globe, and thus most languages in use have found their way online to some degree. As such, it is a popular thought that businesses marketing both their presence and product online want to have language-specific sites in order to cater to specific audiences offering content that they can readily consume. This remains entirely true, however, the behavior of web users in relation to their language use and web searching looks a bit different than previously expected now, considering recent research by UK marketing firm Greenlight.

Their study of 500 consumers (70% were Europeans, 25% North Americans, 3% Asian, and 2% were from other regions) showed overwhelmingly that although people may prefer to speak a certain language or do so out of the norms within the culture in which they live, once online it is a different story. The figures are quite telling: 76% of all study respondents occasionally search on the web in more than one language. In Europe, more than 90% of consumers responded that they have searched in a language other than their dominant one – 100% in Belgium, Italy, and Spain.

The researchers point out that this is not surprising for countries such as Belgium which has three official languages, but it is more surprising for countries like Spain and Italy whose respective Spanish and Italian language use is fully dominant. The researchers say contends that this is an indication of English being a “quasi-official” language of Europe as that is the language that was seen as the common denominator. They also point to a previous Geenlight study that showed the country with the most web pages per person was the UK, signaling that there is simply more quality English webpages than those in other languages across Europe.

Opportunities Abound for Quality English AND Language-Specific Content
This brings to light the inherent differences in spoken versus written language and its use, particularly online. The reality is, once online, people can search and consume information with a degree of comfort that they likely would not have in conversing in the language in person. This presents opportunities for businesses to extend English content as well as that in specific languages catered to their markets. If the English content is compelling enough, people will come to it. By the same token, it presents the added opportunity to be different in catering to specific languages, making it more comfortable for people and showing your care and attention to consumers of that market.

Essentially, businesses can supply one kind of content, the other, or both. But in the end, my main recommendation is for businesses to cater to each specific market they are in (which I have written about before), but at the same time not shying away from English content that is available on separate sites or related pages (considering the survey results). With these pages, the businesses would want to make the conscious decision to have the language less complex for easier comprehension or fully developed as that may be more enjoyable for the users in terms of learning and language exposure.

The aims of the company would need to be weighed up in order to make this decision, which has implications for international search engine optimization as companies need to balance the different opportunities. ISEO and internet marketing agencies can assist in this process – reach out to me directly at rbuddenhagen(at)webimax.com and @ryanwbudd for more information or connect with us through our contact page.

Here is a look at the percentages of web searching in a second language for the countries that had enough respondents to base conclusions off of:

  • Belgium, 100%
  • Spain, 100%
  • Italy, 100%
  • Portugal, 95%
  • Netherlands, 94%
  • Germany, 91%
  • Canada, 44%
  • United Kingdom, 42%
  • United States, 35%