SEO in Europe vs. America – 2 different approaches

words Alexa Wang

SEO Europe


Mastering SEO effectively can maximise the chances of success for any ecommerce company – but adapting your strategy between Europe and the USA is crucial. Using a one-size-fits-all logic risks failing to consider those all-important cultural nuances and viewpoints that shape our decision-making.

So, when the time comes to expand your business and launch into unchartered territories, it is vital that you are first familiar with your new audience – as well as their culture. Once you understand your new customer’s expectations, you can tailor your SEO to match. The remaining pieces will fall into place.

Language considerations

There are 24 languages spoken in the European Union – but up to 200 when you consider languages spoken across the whole continent, including regional languages such as Catalan. As such, your website needs to be translated and tailored in a variety of ways in order to meet each of these linguistic and cultural needs.

If you are just beginning to branch out into Europe, you should start with a distinct focus area – perhaps a country you are already familiar with, or one whose language is not such an obstacle. For example, if several of your employees have a solid grasp of French, it makes sense to make use of this skill.

Don’t, however, fall into the trap of carrying out a glib translation of your website. This needs to be properly translated and optimised for your target country so that it feels like it has been written by a native speaker. Let’s imagine that one of your employees who speaks French is actually Canadian. They know that in Quebec, a mobile is often called a ‘cellulaire’, but French speakers in France use ‘portable’, instead. In France only 1,900 people a month search for ‘cellulaire’ compared to 27,100 searches for ‘portable’. Using the wrong word would vastly reduce your site traffic, as well as putting off potential clients.

Even within Europe, different versions of the same language exist; the word ‘serviette’, for example, means both ‘towel’ and ‘napkin’ in French. Usually, the context is all you need to work out which one you are talking about. In neighbouring Belgium, however, ‘serviette’ is only used to mean ‘napkin’. If you need a towel, you should ask for an ‘essuie’. It is important to show an awareness of these cultural differences in order to have an authentic voice with your client base.

It’s also one reason to avoid Google Translate. Without a manual translation it’s all too easy to accidentally state that you sell a completely different product than the one you actually do.

Select appropriate products

Another area that requires a common-sense approach is which products you focus on in your international SEO campaign. If you sell clothes, you won’t sell many coats in Spain or Italy in the middle of summer. If you sell posters, Europeans will select different posters than Americans. Prioritise the products most likely to sell, particularly when building backlinks to a site.

Tweak call-to-action phrasing

For American retailers, a forceful and direct call-to-action is commonplace: ‘buy now!’, ‘join now!’ or even longer examples such as, ‘subscribe now and never miss a post!’ are frequently seen. In many European countries, this approach would be considered too direct – perhaps almost brash. A softer, less forceful call-to-action does not always garner weaker results, especially in cultures where something seen as too ‘pushy’ could be very off-putting.  ‘Show selection’ or ‘browse options’, for example, have been seen to perform better than ‘shop now!’ For more effective call-to-action examples, have a look over here.

Think like a local

SEO USA

Thinking like a local doesn’t mean ‘tarring everyone with the same brush’, it simply means factor in cultural habits and tendencies into your SEO strategy. We all understand that not everyone is the same, but a well-planned marketing strategy is informed by valuable trends and insights. This is how understanding the online shopping habits of different countries can feed into your international SEO considerations; some European countries – such as Spain and Greece – are more likely to make an online purchase spontaneously, whereas German consumers on the whole prefer to read more reviews first.

Understanding this allows you to factor it into your European SEO approach:

  •  An impulsive buyer is more likely to search a more generic, shorter keyword whereas a consumer who has read a lot of reviews prior to making their purchase might have looked up a specific product or technical spec.
  • While a spontaneous purchaser might simply search for a short tail keyword ‘washing machine’, a shopper armed with the advice of several reviews might have a clearer idea of what they need. Here, long tail search terms can work well: ‘best ecological washing machine’, or ‘Samsung Ecobubble washing machine’, for example.

If your company has great reviews, make sure your draw your site visitors’ attention to them. If not, you may be better off targeting more keywords aimed at impulse buyers.

Be practical, rather than emotional

This is one area where Americans and Europeans really diverge; an American consumer is more likely to be drawn to a brand because of an emotional ideology they associate with it. In Europe, on the other hand, customers are more focused on the individual products they sell, and the select benefits they carry. The keywords you target should reflect this – as well as other aspects of your marketing strategy, such as how you promote your brand online.

On a similar note, studies show that if your client base is primarily female, using ‘feel’ will be more effective than using ‘think’. If your client base is primarily male, the opposite is true.

Comply with GDPR

In Europe, internet-users are aware of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (or, GDPR), which is the world’s strictest set of data gathering laws. In America, data privacy is addressed differently, by implementing sector-specific data rules, rather than generalised protection of private information.

This partly explains why Americans are generally more open to receiving personalised marketing messages and tailored offers. In many European cultures, this approach risks being seen as too ‘forward’, and with a higher level of suspicion. On the other hand, American companies can compile a broader range of data and use this to build customer profiles. This can allow more targeted advertising which, in Europe, needs to be achieved through an understanding of cultural backgrounds, instead.

The GDPR applies to companies who have clients in Europe, regardless of where the company itself is located, so before launching your EU website, ensure that you comply with GDPR.

Adapt your link building strategy

In America there are huge numbers of high authority sites available to place guest posts on, and guest posts are often considered to be the most effective SEO strategy.

In Europe, the number and quality of sites will vary greatly by country. In Italy, for example, several of the top news sites will accept guest posts for a fair price. In Germany and Holland, it’s particularly hard to place guest posts on high authority sites, though some do exist for the persistent link builder.

If this feels overwhelming to try and comprehend, you are not alone! Multilingual SEO requires a team of native speakers who understand each country’s language, traditions and differences. To navigate these complexities, many companies prefer to draw on the expertise of a multilingual European SEO agency. Multilingual link building is one aspect where contacts with other blogs and news portals are particularly helpful and approaching a team of experts will save you considerable time compared to completing the link building project in-house.

European perspectives on space and time

The European Union is only half the size of the USA – despite being comprised of 27 separate countries. This in part explains why time and distance are considered differently by Americans and Europeans – and not just in terms of measurement units. A journey with a distance of a hundred miles might seem like a short trip out in America, but a major expedition to someone in Europe. And, while this might not directly impact your SEO, it helps to approach SEO in Europe with the assumption that things might not operate exactly as they do in the USA.

In terms of time, the USA uses a 12-hour clock as standard, whereas most European countries use a 24-hour clock, so 3.30pm becomes 15h30.

Currency is also written differently in different countries in Europe. In France, Germany and many other European countries the dot and comma are changed and the Euro sign is normally shown at the end after a space, so:

€1,000.50 in America would be 1.000,50 € in France and Germany.

If you have an eCommerce site then displaying the currency correctly in different countries can significantly improve your conversion rate. If you have to use the same format for your English and international site, then one option is to not put any comma or full stop in units of thousands. This actual makes values be perceived as small, so gives you an extra benefit.

A last point

A final note, before translating your website ensure that your English SEO is impeccable first, otherwise you will end up having to do extra work for your on-page SEO in every language.

I hope this article proves useful and helps your business expand in Europe.

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