The Oban Blog

A cork board with paper speech bubbles pinned to it, saying 'hello' in different languages

Half of the world’s population speaks more than one language; how does this affect your multi-market digital strategy?

It is not so long ago that for non US or UK countries ‘going global’ meant having an English version of the company website. We might see it now as closed-minded, demonstrating a lack of empathy, or an over simplistic way of seeing the world. Yet many of us have made the same assumptions about foreign audiences. You may even have made the similar mistake when wishing to translate your website into “Chinese”. On top of comprehending that more than one language can be native to a country, there is the fact that approximately half of the world’s population is speaking more than one language.

This raises the question: if you are growing your business online in a new country, should you still target one single language to effectively engage your target audience?

  • Bilinguals’, expats’ and tourists’ search denied

Bilingualism is present everywhere. On all continents, in all classes of society, in all age groups. However, the bilingual are widely forgotten in digital marketing strategies. Multilingualism is often only taken into account when it comes to an “official” multilingual country like Switzerland or Belgium.

Did you know that, with Dubai as its capital city, 83.7 % of the population in the United Arab Emirates is non-native and probably English or Urdu speaking? It’s easy to see how multilingualism can affect the market penetration of a new business development in this market.

Evidence shows that there are around 60 million official expats in the world; and that over 1.1 billion tourists travelled abroad in 2014, this suggests that the multilingual aspects of ALL countries cannot be overlooked.

  • Yes, one user can search in three languages

Going global is not about finding the perfect one-size-fits-all solution. In search and the internet in general, every single keyboard counts. Your potential prospect could be, for example, a guy living in Switzerland, a Francophone native, mastering also German and English, who uses only English in his searches when looking for cloud computing software.

Surveying our Oban International Experts Overseas (EOS) who speak at least two languages – English plus a local official language – we wanted to know how an individual might search when they spoke more than one language fluently.

The survey shows very clearly that the great majority of people are searching in at least two different languages (97%) and one out of five of our EOS are actually performing their research in three different languages on a regular basis.


queries search engine


  • Regionalism and dialect

Regionalism and dialect shouldn’t be neglected either. In our survey, 80% of our Experts Overseas stated that they wouldn’t use regionalism or dialect in their search queries, because they don’t expect websites to be available in these variant languages.

However, what about the integrated dialect words in official languages? Take for example the search for “plastic bag” in the French language; we can see below how, within the same language, the search varies between two French speaking geographies and within individual countries/states. Not everyone knows HOW a search engine works and that their particular dialect has not been catered for in the design and configuration.


Regionalism and dialect use can make you miss search result opportunities in areas within a country or in another same-language-speaking country such as this example with Canada.

Analysing these differences will allow you to target more broadly or to consider prioritising some geographical areas with a full cultural knowledge to make the right decision.

  • Some considerations for your multilingual strategy

SEO: IP recognition is not useful to set up the language version of a website automatically. You may be staying in France but not speaking French and so imagine the challenge you face when your favourite e-commerce website will appear by default in French. Many web developers prefer this as an implementation for international websites but global user experience will always suffer from it.

PPC: Your keywords list needs to be dialect and regionalism inclusive. A local expert will always be able to let you know about the idiosyncrasies of a product, a service or a word in their culture and their language.

CONTENT: Being more creative and bolder is needed. Organising your audiences into different personas which comprise the complexity of the people of a country can help you to prioritise and understand the multi-area aspect of a country.

Regionalism, multilingualism and people mobility can cause you to miss out on search opportunities. The key is to be meticulous with your market analysis and set-up prioritised personas. Both of these require the expertise of a local expert. Local knowledge leads to global business success!


Skip to content