Over the past few years, we had seen a dramatic increase in the number of online search terms in the US that are in Spanish and that have local intent such as dentista (dentist), abogados (attorneys), and seguros (insurance).  Additionally Google has stated that 8% of ALL searches at Google.com in the US are in Spanish, approximately 1.5 billion searches per month.  Given the trend that US Latinos as a whole are becoming increasingly comfortable in English, we had been wondering who’s searching online in Spanish and why?

Our first assumption was that the consumers that searched in Spanish were strictly Spanish-dominant Latinos that know little or no English whatsoever.  Since many online Latinos living in the United States (71%) are perfectly comfortable or somewhat comfortable speaking English, why would these consumers search in Spanish?  And given the amount of resources available online in English, why would anyone that speaks English bother to search in Spanish anyhow?

Based on extensive analysis of web search logs from YaSabe.com and based on actual surveys we conducted of our users, what we’ve discovered over the past year runs contrary to the conventional logic.  The truth is that Hispanic consumers have a wide and complex set of expectations related to language and culture and that our behavior online is substantially enhanced by the specialized needs of Latino Americans.

First, lets look at the numbers:

  • According to Google, 8% of all searches in the U.S. are in Spanish
  • We know from ComScore that approximately 14% of all U.S. Internet users are Hispanic
  • We also know from AdAge and others that approximately 29% of the Hispanics online are Spanish-dominant

As a result, approximately 4% (29%*14%) of users most likely search in Spanish.

Those Spanish-dominant consumers that search in Spanish exclusively account for 60% of the Spanish searches online.  So who are the consumers that conduct the remaining 40% of Searches in Spanish?

Even though 71% of the Hispanics online (about 10% of the total users) are comfortable communicating in English, it must be that they are also searching in Spanish.  It’s not that these bi-lingual consumers search in Spanish all the time.  Rather, it’s that at least some of the time, these consumers are searching in Spanish.  Based on the math, if we assumed that these consumers search in Spanish half the time, that would mean that 80% of Hispanics that are comfortable communicating in English must be searching in Spanish at least some of the time.

So we have established that English speakers are searching in Spanish, the next question is why?  Here is what we have learned about the reasons why English-speaking Latinos search in Spanish in a local search context:

1) Looking for a particular “latin” product
This can be a food product such as “empanada”, “arepa”, “horchata” or it can be a clothing product like “levanta cola jeans” or can be a musical instrument like a “marimba”.  In all cases these are products that are specifically of interest to consumers with a Latin background.

2) Looking for a service provider with a cultural connection
This can be for services such as “impuestos” (taxes), “dentistas” (dentist), “doctores” (doctor), “repuestos” (used parts), “mecánico” (car mechanic), and many more.  In many such cases the consumer is perfectly, if not more, comfortable in English than in Spanish.  Their search in Spanish was to identify a merchant who articulates their business in Spanish or wants to be known in Spanish.  The prevalent view is that by searching in Spanish the consumer will find a merchant or provider that either a) they can trust, b) understands their culture or can relate to their circumstances and specific needs, or c) will give them a good price or deal.  For example female users often search for “salón de belleza” because they want to find a salon that is familiar with a specific understanding about Latina hair and hairstyles.

3) Looking for a type of business that carries particular latin products
In this case, users are not necessarily looking for a particular individual product nor are they necessarily looking for a service provider with a cultural connection.  In this case, users are searching for a type of business that carries or conveys a “latin” oriented set of products.  For example, users search for “panadería” instead of bakery because they want Latin bread or pastries; or users search for “quinceañera” to find merchants that carry particular dresses and formal clothing, party favors, and other products that are culturally relevant and consistent with the fashion and traditions of this important cultural event.

While its convenient to think about segmenting the US Hispanic population purely by language (Spanish Dominant, Bi-Linguals, and English Dominant), the truth is more complex.  The interesting dichotomy between language and culture has raised many new interesting challenges and plenty of opportunities about how to provide local community content online that is culturally relevant and interesting to the rapidly growing US Latino population.