By JANET CHOYNOWSKI
Sales of U.S. property to international buyers are heating up. According to the National Association of Realtors, international sales were up 24 percent last year, representing 9 percent of the total residential market.
NAR’s member surveys show that in the 12-month period ending in March 2012, international buyers bought U.S. property valued at more than $82 billion, generating about $5 billion in real estate commissions.
NAR defines international buyers as not only those who live outside of the U.S., but also recent immigrants and temporary visa holders.
If international buyers perform a search for houses for sale in your city, does your website show up in their search results?
The chances are that your website is not being suggested to valuable international prospects unless you have taken steps to ensure that it can be indexed in other languages.
The reason is simple. Search engines are programmed to predict what their users want. That’s why when you perform a search in English, your search engine “knows” you expect to see results in English and that is what you get. The same is true for other languages.
Now here’s the catch: According to one estimate, about 72 percent of all people with Internet access speak a language other than English.
Because many people speak more than one language, it’s hard to say exactly what percentage of searches are conducted in a language other than English.
But across the globe, viewers get results that are relevant to them by using the approximately 165 international “Googles” and countless other regional search engines programmed to understand the habits and expectations of their own local users.
You can get a good feel for what a Brazilian prospect searching houses for sale in your market will encounter by performing this search: Visit www.Google.com.br and paste: “venda de casas em your city” into the search box to see which websites are included in the search results. You will find, no surprise, that the top search results are all websites with content in Brazilian Portuguese.
Buyers from Mexico were responsible for 8 percent of the international investment in U.S. residential property over the past year. A search on www.Google.com.mx for “Casas en venta en your city” will reveal who is most visible to prospects searching your area for houses for sale.
Chinese nationals made 11 percent of the 85 billion dollars in total international investment last year. A resident of China would likely visit www.Baidu.com to perform a search for ” your city ??” to research your local real estate market. The search and results will be in Chinese of course.
Unless you already have some content in these languages, your website was probably not in any of the results above.
These search engines are programmed to deliver results in other languages and your English website is no more relevant to them than a page in Chinese is to Google.com.
There are two simple things you can do to start to improve your global visibility and increase the probability of attracting international prospects.
For a low tech and low cost solution, ask bilingual or multilingual associates or coworkers to write a few paragraphs about your local market in their own languages. Add this content to your website with links up at the top so search engines can easily index it. This content should actually be on a page within your website, not just linked from another site.
Write a blog in other languages if you can or hire someone to write the blog for you. Include hyperlinks from keywords in your blog post such as the translated phrases for “real estate for sale in your city” or “houses for sale in your city” linking back to relevant content on your website.
These small steps will allow international search engines to index your website and suggest it when an international prospect looks for real estate in your area.
Please do not add machine translation tools to your website in an effort to gain visibility, though.
This is what Google has to say: “We recommend that you do not allow automated translations to get indexed. Automated translations don’t always make sense and they could potentially be viewed as spam.”
Utilizing good-quality content in other languages can help you move your website to first-page results in the languages of your choice. After all, who knows where your next client might come from?
Janet Choynowski is the founder and chief executive officer of the Real Buzz Immobel Group, operator of the Real-Buzz.com international property portal, and a provider of globalization technology, services and consulting to the real estate industry.