Although SEO principles are roughly the same globally, companies that apply the same strategy for different countries are bound to fail. The reason is that populations are different and will value different things compared to other markets.
Alban Renard from CyberCité and Anna Troidl from Webcertain spoke at BrightonSEO (Sep-18) about the factors you should take into account before optimising your website for the French and German markets.
Golden rules of international SEO
Whichever country you decide to market to, there are a few rules you need to be aware of before starting to create a lot of websites that will end up struggling to rank in the search engine results pages.
Best practice for international websites is to build a subfolder structure rather that using separate domains. The main reason is that the more domains you have, the harder it will be to build authority for each of these domains. Indeed, you will have to multiply link building efforts by the number of your domains, and we all know how hard it is nowadays to build authority for one domain, yet alone several!
Using a subfolder structure (i.e. www.yourwebsite.com/fr/) allows you to benefit from the authority of your existing domain whilst signifying to Google that parts of your website are for specific markets. To do so, you will be using hreflang tags that will tell search engines, this subfolder is for French speaking audiences for example.
This method is also a great way to avoid duplicate content between different countries that speak the same language (i.e. UK and USA). You can simply use a .com domain with hreflang tag /en/ instead of having two websites with .com and .co.uk.
If you have a very strong presence in several countries, you can use their specific domain as it might look more trustworthy to your audience. For example, you could have a main website using .com with different subfolders for languages/countries that you cover and another .de website because most of your European business comes from Germany or German speaking countries. The decision will depend on the nature of your business, and the resources that you have.
Translating your keywords and website into different languages won’t be enough to start ranking. This is because each market is different and audiences from different countries search for different terms.
You will have to find native speakers who can perform keyword researches and help with the website translation to ensure it’s using a terminology that will resonate with your audience. It’s best if these native speakers know SEO because they will be able to optimise your website following best practice.
SEO specificities of the French market
Getting to know the French market
The French market alone represents 67 million people and if you extend it to French speaking individuals (called Francophonie in French), that’s a whooping 274 million people in the world. That’s a lot of opportunities for a brand that’s internationalising.
Online advertising is usually cheaper in France as there’s less competition than in the English-speaking market. Cost per click can be cheaper but this means search volumes might also be smaller. This obviously depends on the industry so the only way to know is to try.
In France, SEOs seem to focus more on technical bits than content, so you should ensure your website is technically spot on to be able to compete. Plus, writing exceptional content will probably give you an advantage! French SEOs are still using some dodgy methods so don’t be surprised to find fake websites in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and old-fashioned SEO methods. The market is improving but not as ‘clean’ as in the UK. Ensure you follow best practices as this will pay up in the long run.
How to talk to French people
French people are very attached to grammar although many make mistakes as French grammar is full of crazy rules that make no sense with long lists of exceptions. If you want your company to be taken seriously, you need to ensure your website is free of spelling mistakes and uses the right capitalisation. For example, you shouldn’t capitalise each word for meta data as French people will see this as a mistake.
Most French shoppers value a good deal rather than quality so using premium and luxury arguments might not work. The French see themselves as poorer than countries like the UK or Germany. However, money is a bit of a taboo so people don’t talk about how much they earn. If you want to advertise your products or services, it might be a good idea to try focusing on its cost as good value for money and use words like cheap or good deal (bon plan in French).
How French people shop
The French like to shop local rather than order everything online. 60% of French people use stores to discover new products vs. 48% in the rest of the world. They absolutely love click & collect and these have been soaring across the whole territory, especially from supermarkets.
French people do shop on foreign websites, but you should be aware of some online favourites that dominate the SERPs such as leboncoin.fr, meteofrance.fr, allocine.fr or cdiscount.com. Although they’re not all shopping platform, it’s good to be aware of them. Do your research to see if you can use any of these websites to push your products or services.
What about French speaking countries?
Although the French language is spoken in many countries, the vocabulary and expressions used can vary enormously! French in France is completely different from French in Quebec, and many even struggle to understand each other when the accent is too strong.
If you have websites for multilingual countries such as Switzerland, Belgium or Canada, you should avoid using automatic redirection to a specific language and give your visitor the opportunity to choose their own language.
Here’s when your French website ranks number 1:
SEO specificities of the German market
Getting to know the German market
The German market represents 82.7 million people and the German speaking population is between 90 and 95 million. Germany is a mature market with a very high internet penetration of 91%. Google is very popular there, but Bing has a fair market share (around 9%) so don’t miss out on the opportunity.
How to talk to German people
The German language can be very tricky which makes keyword research and translation very difficult. German spelling rules changed in 1996 which means people might spell words differently when searching online, nouns can be put together to create new words and some words might have double meanings. German also have formal and informal vocabulary which you should use carefully depending on your audience. Informal should only be used with younger audiences when formal should be used by established brands or for a wider audience.
German people don’t like to give away their data and that’s why you might have noticed more data protection regulations than in other countries. Be aware of this when creating forms and asking for personal information. Ask for the bare minimum and use established paying platforms such as Paypal instead of asking for card details.
Germans value trust and will research their purchase thoroughly before making a decision. They need to know they’re getting good value for money and, contrary to the French, they might be happy to pay a bit more for higher quality. Show off your reviews, business partners, certificates and awards to reassure them, not only on your website but on other trusted platforms.
GDPR and German regulations
As discussed above, Germans don’t give away their data easily and that’s why there are more regulations around data protection than in other countries. If you create a .de website, you’ll need to register the domain like you register a company. This means that you’ll need to have a business address in Germany or choose a representative based in Germany that can be contacted if needed.
On top of displaying your terms and conditions, cookie and privacy policies, you’ll need to have a page called impressum which is a legal disclosure of your business address and contact details. This needs to be easily accessible via the navigation menu or footer. Beware, German visitors to your website might not buy from you if they can’t see this!
Here’s when your German website ranks number one:
International SEO done right
International SEO shouldn’t be taken lightly and will need time and investment if you want to do it right. If you decide to just transpose your English website into different languages, don’t expect to rank number one as you need to take into account the specificities of each market you’re selling to. Make sure you have the right resources; native speakers are always a plus!
If you need some help to structure your website for international markets, do not hesitate to contact our knowledgeable team.