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Hispanics have recently become the largest minority in the US, and a lot of marketers are trying to tap into this growing market. While many businesses now publish their information in Spanish and advertise in Hispanic print media and TV, relatively few are considering the Internet as a medium for reaching Hispanic consumers.

Traditionally, Hispanics were perceived by the mainstream as low-paid workers new to the country. The assumption has been that most Hispanics have neither the technological savvy nor the means to afford luxuries like computers with Internet connection. Whatever might have been true in the past, that certainly isn't the case today.

A March 2004 study by AOL/Roper ASW shows that 14 million Hispanics in the US are online. While this is already an impressive number, the growth rate is even more impressive. About 20% of online Hispanics had connected their households to the Internet less than six months earlier. More than half who were not yet online expected to connect within the next two years.

The Hispanic community is going online in large numbers, and it's happening right now.

So how are businesses serving the increasing online demand? So far, Hispanics feel there is a lack of online content and advertising available in Spanish. Although it is true that many Hispanics speak English fluently, at least half prefer to read content in their native language, according to a 2003 report by comScore Media Metrix.

They are more at ease with information they read in Spanish and pay more attention to Spanish-language advertising. Although English content can reach and does reach large numbers of Latinos, marketers who want to target this market in full must also provide content in Spanish.

Another interesting fact was revealed by a 2003 report from Univision Communications: the more Latinos connect online, the less time they spend with other Spanish media, such as print or TV. Marketers will increasingly want to reflect this shift in media consumption in their advertising budgets.

For marketers who have understood the significance of the emerging Hispanic online community, this is the next question: How can marketers reach this audience on the Web?

Three core elements are crucial when building a strategy:

1. Language translation

2. Cultural adaptation

3. Understanding the Hispanic online marketplace

To achieve results, marketers will need to build know-how or work with competent partners in all three areas.

Language Translation

If you want to fully reach the Latino community online, you will need to communicate with them in Spanish. You might choose to have your complete site translated or just selected parts of it. Translating is no easy process, and you should choose carefully who does the translations for you.

First, computer-generated translations won't do. You can see this for yourself if you go online, look up a free translation Web site and then have a few sentences translated into Spanish.

Then, take the translation that was generated and have it translated back into English with the free service. Read it, and you'll see why it's not a good idea to use computer-generated translations for your marketing message. Your texts will look ridiculous to native speakers.

Some companies have bilingual people in their workforce and assign translation work to them. However, not everyone who speaks Spanish makes a good translator—actually, most people don't. There's more to translation than just knowing the language. If you want to have Spanish texts that sound professional, you will probably want to work with professional translators.

There are literally thousands of translation businesses that vary considerably in size and professionalism. Here are a few things to look for in translation providers: They need to be working with professional translators who are native speakers of the languages they translate. Only native speakers have a perfect feel for their language. Working with native speakers will ensure that your translations sound natural and culturally appropriate to your audiences.

Also, the translators who work on your material must know your industry. Translating for a law firm requires expertise different from that of translating for a consumer electronics Web site.

In addition, you may want to put some thought into how to handle communications when your site visitors actually contact you with a question in Spanish, by email or phone. You might already have bilingual people in-house who can take these calls and answer email. If you don't, make sure your translation provider is able and willing to help you promptly when these things come up.

Cultural Adaptation

Language is just part of the communication process. You will also need to build know-how or work with a competent partner to make sure you understand some of the cultural variables.

A few examples: Using Hispanic faces in your online photography can increase rapport between your visitors and your organization. Adjusting to different color preferences and forms of graphic presentation can increase the effectiveness of your Web site presentation. Understanding Latino lifestyles will give you an edge in your online campaigns.

For example, a marketer recently running a mother's day campaign learned that in most Latin American countries mother's day falls on a different date than in the US. While some US Latinos have adapted to the US date, others don't. The marketer therefore spread his campaign over a longer period to cover both dates.

Understanding the Online Marketplace

Having a Spanish-language Web site that is professionally translated and culturally appropriate is an important first step. However, it alone will not generate you any business. You need people to know about your site and come to visit.

Marketing your Spanish Web site requires specialist knowledge about the Hispanic online community. Not many Web development companies can provide you this expertise.

Besides mastering general Web marketing techniques such as search engine optimization, pay-per-click campaigns, banner ads and sponsorships, you will need specific knowledge about which sites are popular with Hispanics, which search engines they use and how they spend their time online. Without this knowledge you will not be able to attract visitors to your Spanish Web pages and won't be able to reach this market effectively.

The Strategic Mix

Strategically combining the above factors—translation, culture and online marketplace—will enable you to successfully reach the growing Hispanic online market.

The timing is excellent. The market has reached a critical size, and chances are your competition is not there yet.

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Martin Heimann is the project manager for the US Office of OCE Translations Network (