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It's no secret the Hispanic market is the fastest-growing segment online. According to consulting firm comScore Networks, about 12.5 million Hispanics are now online, growing 15 to 20 percent annually. By comparison, overall U.S. Internet growth is between just 2 and 3 percent.
Major online retailers are taking notice. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Nissan North America Inc. and Office Depot Inc. are among dozens of well-known corporations that have constructed Spanish-language sites in the past year specifically to target this market. But what about you? Should you also design your Web site to attract Hispanic consumers?
According to most experts, the answer is yes. "It's a growing market, and it's only going to get bigger," says Richard Israel, vice president of Hispanic solutions at comScore Networks. "I would be working to target this market feverishly. Companies that jump on the bandwagon today are those [that] are going to become leaders in the Hispanic market tomorrow."
According to Lisa Strand, an analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings, "There has been a perception that [Hispanics] are not such an important group to think about online because people who are shopping online are mostly technically savvy white males. But that is definitely not the case as we evolve."
In fact, says Israel, Hispanics spend more on travel, pet supplies, automotive parts, baby supplies and consumer electronics than non-Hispanics online. It makes sense, then, that entrepreneurs who sell these kinds of products should consider reaching out to this market.
Strand agrees, but points out that compared to the average Internet user, Hispanics tend to have slightly lower incomes. But depending on what you sell, that could work in your favor: "Sites that [offer] value for the dollar are popular [with] the Hispanic demographic, compared to some of the other websites out there," she says.
Israel says the best way to target this group is to feature a Spanish-language web page that visitors can link to from your home page. The link may say something like "En EspaÃ±ol." To make the most impact with visitors, make sure to feature relevant Hispanic-oriented content. "Don't just translate your page," says Israel. "Hispanics get that, and they don't necessarily like that. You have to have original content, and you have to appeal to [their] culture."
However, experts caution that while the Hispanic market might be a great opportunity, it's important to get as much information as possible before taking the plunge. "Try to get feedback from the people visiting your Web site," says Andrew Erlich, president of Erlich Transcultural Consultantsin Los Angeles. For example, ask site visitors to submit their names and addresses. If you notice a lot of Hispanic surnames, that's a clue you should think about focusing on this group. And once you discover that a large percentage of your visitors are indeed Hispanic, develop a questionnaire, says Erlich: "[Ask questions] such as 'What do you look for in a Web site?' Do they want to be spoken to in Spanish? You may have a huge proportion of customers who are Hispanic that don't need to be marketed to in Spanish or who don't want to be spoken to in Spanish."
Erlich also recommends checking out your competitors' Web sites. "See what they are doing vis-Ã -vis the Hispanic population," he says. For example, if you sell toys online, see what the bigger toy companies are doing. Do they target Hispanics? If so, it's probably a good idea to at least consider experimenting with the market.
As Erlich points out, "By 2050, one out of every four people will be Hispanic, so it's wise to begin thinking about targeting this group." Ben Dattner, president and founder of Dattner Consulting LLCin New York City, has already started. His consulting firm specializes in executive coaching, organizational effectiveness consulting, and training and development. His websitefeatures an "En EspaÃ±ol" link. Those who click are taken to a Spanish-language replica of the Web site. Today, these pages get 10 to 15 percent of his hits.
Dattner, 34, who's fluent in Spanish, says that adding the Spanish pages about a year ago was an important investment. For one thing, all his services, training materials and assessment instruments can be translated into Spanish. But also, many of his customers are large, multinational companies interested in "rolling things out in South America," he says. "Even if I am working in English with someone from a Spanish-speaking country, they love to know that I am fluent in Spanish and that I have translated [my site] into Spanish, because it makes them feel comfortable."
But if you're not fluent in Spanish, don't let that stop you from producing content that targets this market. Hiring a translator is an effective way to make that connection while minimizing the chance for translation errors. Of course, it never hurts to familiarize yourself with the basics of the language-the customers that wind up doing business with you will appreciate the effort.
Melissa Campanelli is a marketing and technology writer in Brooklyn, New York.