Hola. Ciao. Bonjour. 你好. Xin chào. Hello.
No matter which American state you reside in, you’re likely to hear any one of these greetings as part of the 300+ other languages spoken by US residents.
While English is the official language of the United States, its rich diversity means that large portions of the population speak non-English languages.
In fact, in the US, 60 million people—almost a quarter of the US population—speak a language other than English. And if they’re speaking it, you can be sure they’re searching with it, too!
This makes multilingual audiences a valuable new market for any local business looking to:
- increase its customer base;
- drive additional traffic to a website;
- secure more in-store appointments; or
- generate online sales, email subscriptions, or other conversions.
Source: Business Insider
Multilingual Voice Searches
Whatever your city and business niche, your potential customers are statistically likely to speak a language other than English when searching for products and services close to their location.
Google’s multilingual voice search capabilities have echoed this audience need. In 2012, its voice search function supported 42 languages. By 2017, that figure had increased to 119 languages, covering more than a billion people.
If your local SEO doesn’t account for multilingual voice searches, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of potential custom.
In every major US city, a large proportion of non-English speakers live, work, and shop. Each person naturally has the same need for products and services in the local area as native English speakers do.
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples, or you can use this interactive tool to see a map of languages spoken in the United States for yourself.
In Chicago, IL, there are 950,720 people who speak a language other than English. Almost a quarter of the city’s population (23.4%) speak Spanish as a first language.
In the same city, there are 93 plumbers listed on Google as serving the Chicago area.
Now, imagine if you were one of the only plumbers who optimized your digital storefront to cater for those Spanish speakers. How much of a difference could that make to your business?
In Los Angeles, CA, 42.2% of residents speak English, while 41.7% speak Spanish.
There’s much less competition for the Spanish market, despite there being nearly the same volume of Spanish speakers as English speakers!
San Jose, CA, is home to the largest Vietnamese population in the USA, with an estimated 70,000 speakers.
As a local business, you exist to serve the needs of the local people. If you’re one of the city’s nearly 300 hardware stores appearing in Google local search, how much could you benefit from optimizing your digital presence to be visible to Vietnamese speakers?
And Many More…
This multilingual trend appears across the length and breadth of the USA.
BrightLocal Academy’s How to Perform Local SEO Audits for Multi-location Businesses course will show you how to create an actionable audit for a multi-location business – whether that’s for two or 200 locations!
What about where I live?
To find out the popularity of non-English languages in your state, county (and even township!), you can use this tool to conduct your own local language research.
You can then make an informed decision on the potential positive impact of targeting local non-English text and voice searches.
How to Optimize for Local Languages
1. Conduct Keyword Research in Other Languages
One of the trickier aspects of multilingual SEO is keyword research—you can’t always translate directly from English into another language to create your seed keyword list.
It’s worth calling on a native speaker to help with this phase of your research. This is because they’ll be better placed to understand what terms speakers are actually using.
And while it goes without saying, we’re going to say it… never rely solely on Google Translate!
2. Create Personas for Speakers of Other Languages
Language is very much a reflection of culture and heritage and, just as search habits will differ for speakers of other languages, so too will their likes, dislikes, and expectations.
Undertake primary research into your new audience, and create personas that provide you with a deeper understanding of what makes that portion of your demographic tick.
3. Do What You’d Do for a New, English-language Audience
Apply the same SEO principles to developing local language content to house your new keywords as you would for any new English-language audience.
If you were launching a new product or service, you’d want to know how to appeal to your target audience, so do the same things here.
To succeed, you’ll want to:
- Use tools such as Google Analytics (see below screenshot) to see how different native speakers currently use your website.
- Research local-language websites to see what design and imagery they use, and what kind of content they tend to focus on.
- Run five-second testing to see how immediately appealing it is to new users.
- Experiment with split tests for local language pages to see which choices each audience responds to.
You don’t need to create a completely multilingual website with every single page translated, but you will need to create content designed to appeal directly to each audience.
Summary of Multilingual SEO
Here’s what we’ve covered in this article:
- No matter your location in the US, multilingual search is happening around you.
- To ensure your local business is reaching as much of the local consumer base as possible, you need to optimize for the languages spoken predominantly in your town or city.
- Factoring those languages into your local SEO strategy is a must. It’s the only way to ensure that you’re targeting the full spectrum of local search users hunting for businesses like yours, not just the English-speaking percentage.
Engage with your multilingual audiences and you’ll do a better job of meeting their expectations. This will make them more likely to engage with (and therefore buy from) your business over a competitor’s.