I am a big proponent of bilingual sites for U.S. websites. By now almost 15% of the Nation is comprised by Latinos and among them 47% is Spanish Dominant (Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos Online, March 14, 2007). Even thought the latter are not as “connected” as their English Dominant counterparts, they are certainly catching up thanks to cheap computers, cheap high-speed internet connections and to the iPhone!
I’ve always advised that you should give your site’s visitors the OPTION to get the information they need from you in the language they prefer. It does not have to immediately be a full-fledged version of your English site, but at least a work in progress (make sure you accentuate this on your site) that shows Hispanic visitors that you consider them an important part of your online customer base.
That said, there are the other 53% of Latinos of which 30% are bilingual and 23% are English Dominant. So roughly 10 million Latinos prefer to speak, read, and write in English; they are not proficient in Spanish. That’s the size of the population of a small country! Now, these folks are culturally Hispanic, but you just won’t be able to reach them with any kind of Spanish communication, they want, need, and prefer to be access their information in English. And all sources confirm that these are the ones more likely to be online right now.
Even bilinguals to a certain extent, might prefer to access online information in English; be it because they’ve been conditioned by the bad Spanish language quality control on certain sites or because they were simply led by any means into the English site, felt comfortable there and did not feel the need to reach out for the information they were looking for in Spanish.
My advice to you is that you should begin to understand Latino culture and subtly begin to weave it into your website’s design and more importantly, content. Please note I am not talking about language here, I am talking about Culture; independently of the language spoken, there are scores of cultural nuances that remain with Latinos.
If you are able to include these seamlessly within your site in such a way that they speak, even whisper, almost on a subconscious level to Hispanics you will be connecting with that other 53% of their population that very likely are visiting your English site. You will be able to notice if you have implemented this successfully by the “ca-chings” of your cash register, since without alienating your general market customers, you will be connecting on a deeper level with English dominant Latinos, who without even knowing what hit them will be more willing to buy from you.
So what are those cultural cues you should be so aware of? That will be the subject of another post.