The internet is becoming a much more multilingual place – including in the United States. It’s estimated that around 20 per cent of the population speak a language other than English at home. The vast majority of these speak Spanish. And not only do these consumers have an estimated spending power of $1.2 trillion, but more of them are spending it online.

Yet businesses of all sizes have been slow to keep up with this trend. Research by the Common Sense Advisory found only four out of the top 50 U.S. online retailers had translated a significant part of their websites into Spanish. As you might expect, this proportion drops for small and medium-sized businesses.

This does appear to be changing, with recent success stories inspiring more companies to take a bilingual approach. Amtrak, Home Depot and Best Buy are just a few household names who have seen huge returns on investment by targeting this growing market. Numerous smaller businesses are also finding that tapping into the Spanish-speaking market can be a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to increase sales.

One reason to try this strategy is the relative lack of competition online. While English accounts for only a quarter of web users, more than half of all web content is in the language. In the United States, Spanish speakers are more likely to use social networks and smartphones  – but are still relatively under-served by online businesses.

The benefits of Spanish-language digital marketing

Although most of the Latino population speaks English, research shows that a large number of them prefer to speak Spanish at home. A study by ComScore and also found that, in general, they were “ideal online customers”. They were more likely to be active online, and more receptive to new technology. They found 37 per cent of Hispanic respondents were likely to respond to targeted ads, compared to 30 per cent of the non-Hispanic population. They also tend to be younger, and more likely to browse online using smartphones.

These findings appear to be confirmed by Best Buy’s experience. The company reported that users of its Spanish language website spent twice as long browsing, and spent an average of twice as much as English-speaking customers per visit.

Amtrak found its Spanish website quickly exceeded its sales targets soon after launch. As an added bonus, they found that they had significant sales to customers in Spain, Mexico, and other Spanish-speaking countries.

Translation and localization

The first step to reaching these customers is translating your website.  If you’re on a tight budget, translating a few main pages is an easy way to test the waters. If these prove popular, you can translate the whole site. It’s best to hire native-speaking translators, rather than rely on free services such as Google Translate, which are prone to errors.

It’s also important to consider the language and culture. If your business is mainly targeting customers in your home city, then consider the most widely-spoken dialect of Spanish. But if you’re trading throughout the United States, standard Latin American Spanish is the best option. Consider localizing cultural references – for example, you might want to refer to popular celebrities on Spanish-language television.

Being social – and mobile

Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are a great way to publicize your website and latest promotions.  It’s best to establish separate feeds for English and Spanish, as mixing the languages can just annoy and confuse followers.The growth in smartphone use is fast making a mobile-friendly website essential. Taking time to ensure your site works on a small screen will avoid losing valuable customers.

It’s also important to consider other ways of publicizing your site online. As well as offering visitors the choice of languages, you can also submit the site to key industry directories. Submitting press releases to local Spanish-language media, or running an online advertising campaign, can help get the word out.

As with any digital marketing, it’s unlikely to get instant results. But with a little effort, a bilingual website can expand your customer base and provide a better service to Spanish-speaking consumers.