||Special correspondent Judy
Colbert recently attended Search Engines Strategies Latino, a conference
focused on the ever-expanding Latin American marketplace. What follows
is a glimpse into a very big opportunity, with some very big challenges.
The event was held July 10-11 2006, and chaired by Nacho Hernandez, CEO
and founder of iHispanic Marketing Group, LLC.
After 16 fact-packed sessions over two days at the Search Engine Strategies
Latino conference in Miami, the consensus is Latino marketing is a gold mine
waiting to be tapped. Businesses were told, if you’re contemplating marketing to
the Latino market, you’re likely heading in the right direction.
The Latin American market is huge. It’s bigger than huge — the numbers are
mind-boggling. Eduardo Valades, president of iHispanic Marketing Group, says
there are 44 million U.S. Hispanics with $575 billion in buying power. Almost
half of that population is 24 years old or younger. In the U.S., there are an
estimated 16,000,000 Hispanic Internet users and that number is expected to grow
30 percent in the next five years. In fact, there is at least one person of
Latino heritage in over 3,000 counties in the United States. They are qualified
buyers and spend more time on the Internet and look at more pages than the
non-Latino market. The top 20 Latino markets in the United States represent more
than 70 percent of the total marketplace.
Latin American countries around the world host a population of 560,000,000
individuals and 80,000,000 Internet users. In the Brazilian market alone, there
are about 26,000,000 Internet users in a population of more than 184,000,000
people. Of course, it’s not all rosy. There are some major roadblocks.
Search; Lost in Translation
As this was a search engine seminar, there was an emphasis placed on search
engines and capabilities. A major problem is translation. Spanish usually
translates longer, according to Paul D. Saffery, managing director of SilverDisc
Chile. For example, “Cheap Tickets to New York” is 25 characters including
spaces, but the literal translation, “Pasajes Baratos a Nueva York,” is 28
characters. A 25-character fix would be “Vuele barato a Nueva York” (fly cheap
to New York). To make matters more difficult, Spanish is considered a
non-standard language, says Saffery.
There are 13 different versions of Spanish just in the Western Hemisphere. They
range from North Mexican and Mexican to Paraguayan and River Plate or Buenos
Aires. The Spanish translation for “flight ticket” is “billete aéreo,” while in
Mexico “boleto aéreo,” and in Uruguay “tiquete aéreo.” So, the accent is a
second factor, because search engines don’t read them. Thus, you have to
deliberately misspell words by omitting the accent. In another example, “erizo”
means “sea urchin” in Chile, but “hedgehog” in Spain. These obstacles can seem
insurmountable. Neutral Spanish is an option, but it eliminates a lot of the
Then, there’s Brazilian Portuguese. To ignore that market is to ignore one third
of the South American population. Language translation is also an issue in
Brazil where there are three distinct words for tangerine, depending on the
region of the country. If you’re trying to market to the entire Latin American
market, then a Google.es search for the most popular of several possible
translations may be the best choice.
With relatively few websites in Spanish, Latinos are forced to do their research
on English language pages. So, website designers will benefit greatly from
having the important pages, such as product descriptions and pricing translated
into Spanish. Often, the Latino market will spend an inordinate amount of time
researching a product and then go to a store to purchase it.
Target As Hispanics
Valades’ primary message though, was “Don’t just target to Hispanics, target as
Hispanics.” For example, a Latin American consumer will understand oral care, or
“cuidado bucal,” but will search for bad breath, “mal aliento.” Even when a
professional translator converts an English-language site to Spanish, the
navigation buttons aren’t included in the translation. Often, the graphics still
show North American images instead of Latin American images. Broadband is not
readily available, so the use of Flash and similar media are a drag on the
system. Ultimately, it’s better to have a good translation of important pages
rather than a poor translation of an entire site.
For selling, pay-per-click is the option of choice, with an almost unlimited
number of paid ads available and PPC costs at pennies on the dollar when
compared to U.S. prices. Another choice is buying domains in each country that
you plan to market. This not only marks your presence, but also protects your
brand. Some countries, Argentina for example, are giving away their country
domains for free or at a very low cost. Others cost a small fortune. Some
countries require that you have a mailing address in that country, while some
also require an agent or hosting service from that country. When targeting just
one or two countries or areas, you can define your PPC with geo location
Positives & Negatives
Another negative is in dealing with payment options for goods purchased, most
specifically in the business-to-consumer (b2c) area. Most people in the Latin
American market don’t have credit cards. Those who do usually don’t feel
comfortable providing their credit card information over the Internet. So,
someone in Latin America may need to visit a bank to complete the transaction.
Further complicating matters is relying on postal service. Delivery can be
lengthy, cumbersome and unreliable. Even private companies like UPS have their
share of hassles.
Google recently announced Google Checkout as an equivalent to PayPal for the
Latin American market. So far, Google Checkout only accepts credit cards.
However, Gonzalo Alonso, general director of Google Mexico, anticipates payment
agreements through the various banks in Latin America in relatively short order.
Now, some good news. Younger Latino audiences, particularly in the United
States, are more likely to understand and be comfortable working with an English
language Web site. That’s a good portion of the aforementioned 44 million U.S.
The State of Hispanic Online Marketing If you plan to promote your product or
service to the Latin American market, yesterday is the day to get into it, but
tomorrow isn’t too late. Understanding the challenges and finding solutions to
Latino Marketing will undoubtedly pay huge dividends. Be sure to
have important content in Spanish, more text than Flash or images, and make sure
your translation is appropriate.
Also, remember this important consideration: Most Latin American homes don’t
have a computer. Internet cafes are incredibly popular and often the social
center of a community. The café owner becomes the evangelist of all things
Internet, from new search capabilities to informative websites. So, beyond the
technical advantages, sites that optimize for the search engines will benefit
from old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. Families, friends, coworkers and
Internet café communities will soon find their favorite sites. A massive and
growing market is waiting.