After graduating with a degree in French and Italian in 2001, I launched translation company Lingo24 (www.lingo24.com/), which now operates across four continents with more than 100 employees worldwide and a network of 4,000 freelance translators. I've learned quite a bit in the ensuing eight years and would like to offer some advice for companies looking to market themselves and grow.
First is a word of caution: For businesses, failing to plan is planning to fail. It's important not to throw large sums of money at things without knowing what the outcome will be. In the early years, companies would call me to sell me advertorials, which sounded great, but weren't. After a couple of costly ones, it became apparent the return on investment really wasn't there.
Indeed, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising were still relatively novel concepts at the turn of the century, but I quickly realized the potential of these marketing tools. The Internet was pivotal in the success of Lingo24, and today direct online marketing is still our most powerful tool. I discovered SEO and Google AdWords, and there has been no looking back. PPC allowed me to test online marketing techniques for very little money—I could set my monthly budget at a nominal amount, allowing me to gauge its efficacy without blowing my entire marketing budget. And as it turned out, it has brought us many customers.
Internet marketing certainly seems like the most cost-effective route for businesses to go in the current downturn, and the need to proactively seek out new opportunities is as important as ever—if not more so—as companies must react to the new economic conditions and find fresh ways of targeting new customers.
SEO now is among the fastest growing marketing strategies with 64 percent of European marketers alone indicating they planned to increase their SEO spend in 2009. However, optimizing a company's English-language Website is one thing; launching fully optimized foreign language Websites to help tap into international markets is another.
Myriad cultural and linguistic intricacies face those seeking to grow abroad. In the European Union (EU), there are 23 official languages spoken in the 27 member states. Although English is the most widely spoken, German has the most native speakers in the EU with almost 20 percent, followed closely by English, Italian, and French. Understanding the nuances within languages is crucial to the translation/localization process. For example, the differences between French and German are obvious, even to those who are monolingual. But the differences between French in France and French in Switzerland or Belgium aren't that obvious, In France, for example, déjeuner means "lunch," but in Switzerland and Belgium, it means "breakfast." Additionally, diner is "evening meal" in France, but in Swiss and Belgian French, the word is "souper." Similarly, Swiss German often uses a different grammatical gender to that used in Germany (e.g., "das E-Mail" instead of "die E-Mail").
To complicate matters further, decimal commas and points in numbers are used in different places across Europe. In the U.S. and UK, a number would be written as 1,000,000.00. But in Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and several other countries, this is reversed: 1.000.000,00. Some countries such as France and Finland don't use any thousands separator at all: 1 000 000.00.
Assuming you intend to adopt a fully localized marketing strategy, what are the practicalities involved in setting up a foreign language Website? First, you must establish a need for your service in a particular country. A good way of doing this is to check out the local competition. If there are similar organizations there already, that's a good sign, as it demonstrates a genuine demand.
Then, research key search terms as used by local Internet users. Google and Yahoo have some handy free tools that identify search phrases in the desired foreign market. These key phrases then should be incorporated into a professionally translated Website to organically optimize its position in search engines. It's possible to rise quicker in foreign search engine rankings, simply because the saturation in other languages is nowhere near what it is in English.
By using inappropriate style, terminology, and grammar, key messages often are lost, and overall confidence in a brand diminishes. This is why a multilingual marketing and localization strategy should underpin any international campaign, with SEO playing a central role.
Christian Arno is founder and managing director of Lingo24 (www.lingo24.com/), a global localization and translation company. It has more than 100 employees based in the UK, Panama, Romania, China, and New Zealand, and a network of 4,000 translators. Its projected revenue for 2009 is U.S.$6.5 million.