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Posted by on Aug 25, 2015 in All Matters SEO |

“International Unveiled,” a World Tour in 3 Stops – Second Stop, Europe

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Welcome to the second post of this international search and social series. This week we will be travelling to Europe and taking a closer look at the UK, French, German, Russian and Spanish markets.

The “old continent” features about 50 countries, 23 official languages and more than 60 indigenous regional and minority languages. Quite crazy, right!? But don’t worry, English is the second most spoken language.

Fun fact: the above mentioned diversity is included in a territory of about half the size of the USA and is smaller than Australia! Now we are talking about having fun with targeting many different customers!

Let’s dive into each market


The UK: Let’s start with a market that speaks the same language (almost) and uses the same platforms as U.S. customers. Not surprisingly, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are overwhelmingly present in the UK, one of the most mature markets in Europe, when it comes to digital. UK online shoppers are very confident about online commerce. In fact, they are the top online spenders across the globe with an average annual purchase value of $4,501 (source: WebCertain).

One thing to note is that in this market the power and presence of OTAs on the first page of Google is tremendously powerful. They make it almost impossible to rank organically on the first page for “hotels in London” or other popular search terms.

To make things worse, online bookers are skewed towards OTAs and have a higher propensity to click on, Expedia or They believe that’s where they will have the largest choice and best price.

Moving the needle for your organic rankings will definitely take more effort than in most other global markets. With high competition and creative digital players, you will have to seriously stand out in the quality of your offering.

Ah la France, Paris, the world’s fashion, food and art capital. This lovely country, host to over 350 different cheeses, can basically be divided between Paris and the rest of France (if you ask Parisians), making it a challenging market as well.

First, the language is made-up  of so many rules and even more exceptions to the aforementioned rules that doing your keyword research definitely requires a native speaker. A good example is the translation of “hotels in {destination}.” Depending on the first letter of the destination’s name and its type/gender, the “in” can be “à” or “en” or “aux” – impossible to automate here. This can only be handled manually.

Second, online customers are influenced by a multitude of local communities, local blogs and local media that vary by city and sometimes even districts within the city. This makes reaching your audience quite challenging because it requires marketers to be well versed and connected in as many of these communities as possible.

Third, French people are very biased towards French brands and French-made products – growing your brand awareness will be tough, and you will need to prove your value.

Finally, as in other large European markets, French people use Google, Facebook and Twitter. They also have their own local versions such as DailyMotion (equivalent to YouTube) and Viadeo (LinkedIn wannabe).

France is also known for firm legal actions forcing Google to remove some search results. For example, they initiated the right to be forgotten law and forced OTAs to remove price parity from their contracts with hoteliers, creating legal precedent and entitling other countries to do the same.

If interested, read more about the latest developments on the right to be forgotten law here: Google is fighting back!

The driving economic power in the European Union, Germany is also the largest market in Europe in terms of internet shoppers. It is currently 4th in the world after China, the USA and Japan (source: eMarketer 2015). Place Germany at the top of your list if you’re debating between various European markets to target.

Similar to French, the German language is made of multiple rules and exceptions, and auto-translations rarely do it justice (auto-translation is almost always a bad idea). Add a very strict polite vs. informal form of addressing people and you have your two key arguments to hire a native speaker to ensure you don’t step over the line when talking to this audience.

While Germans go on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, they differ from the rest of the world in the way they use these platforms. German users have increasingly been described as passive on social media. They have an account and browse content (on average 3 hours less per day than the rest of the world) but rarely comment, share or like. It doesn’t mean the content doesn’t reach them, but you might not get similar engagement when compared to other markets (source: eMarketer and WebCertain).

Russian online habits differ quite a lot from the rest of the world as they primarily use Yandex to search online, but also favor VK (local iteration of Facebook) when it comes to interacting on social media. Other local favorites include (email + search engine) and Odnoklassniki (social network service to find classmates and old friends).

As explained in the above linked Yandex article, the Russian language is on its own level when it comes to being complicated. There are very little variations in spelling, and you could unintentionally say something flat out rude. The local favorite platforms seem (unsurprisingly) to be better at understanding the users’ intent and therefore serve up more adequate and relevant results than western companies.

Yandex maps recently opened up for anyone to go and edit listings (similar to Google’s Map Maker). This is interesting as they are limited ways of officially claiming a listing and making sure no one else edits it.

The Russian government is also threatening to take action (but hasn’t acted on most of them yet) against sites that do not respect their rules and/or censorship laws. Sites that received official warnings and threats include Google, Twitter and Facebook. More recently, Reddit was blocked for two days due to their non-compliance with requests to remove posts about the Ukrainian conflict situation.

Part of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), Russia is quickly developing and growing, however, due to infrastructure in the country it is “only” projected to grow B2C ecommerce sales by 10.5% in 2015 (source: eMarketer). However, the mobile penetration rate is massive and it is very common for Russians to have multiple smartphones.

Last but not least, Spain is an interesting market to examine. Spain has been going through rough economic conditions for the past few years, but seems to be returning to positive trends with a projected growth of B2C eCommerce sales of 11.9% in 2015 (source: eMarketer 2015).

Spaniards use all the common social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. They also favor Google for their online search (Google owns an impressive 95% share of the market).

However, they do also have their local specialties (why would this market be in this post otherwise, right?).

Castilian vs. Catalan Spanish: The vast majority of Spain speaks Castilian Spanish, which is considered the standard version, similar to the Spanish spoken in Latin America. More to come on Spanish linguistic differences in my next post, stay tuned!

In Barcelona and the greater Catalonian region, Catalan is the spoken language. Catalan is not a derivative language, it is a language in its own right.” Therefore, if you start to tackle the Spanish market, make sure you use the right Spanish for your audience.

Also, as a recovering economy, the travelers from Spain tend to favor other European destinations for short breaks. However, they also travel quite significantly to Latin America thanks to excellent airline connections.

Fun fact: Barcelona is largely debated as one of the smartest cities in the world. With many innovations such as smart garbage cans so that garbage men only come to pick them up when full, smart street lighting to save energy and much more. In line with this, Barcelona hosts the World Mobile Congress every year at which world-premieres are announced or presented (overview of ten years of MWC – in Spanish).


My takeaways:

UK: You might be better off doing less tactics, but embracing them 110% to make sure you move the needle. If you decide to go for one social media platform over another, be creative, stand on your own and inspire your potential guests with exceptional content to win the stay if you are within the hospitality sector. Make sure you also use Queen’s English spellings.

France: Start with thorough linguistic research to ensure you use the appropriate terms to reach your audience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Embrace the culture and explain how your offering is different/better than local brands. Engage in local social channels if you can.

Germany: Keep it at the top of your list if entering the European market. Ensure proper language norms are respected on your site. Bloggers are very expensive to work with but have a large influencer power in this country which passively uses social media.

Russia: Be ready for a roller coaster ride! Regularly check that your Yandex map is correct and make edits if necessary. If possible, build your business page on VK as it is a great way to be found by potential customers.

Spain: Use the correct Spanish language depending on your target audience. Ensure that your site is mobile-friendly.

Across the region: If your website allows you to localize and input in-language content, that should definitely be your first step. This will allow you to show your audience that you care about them and are making an effort to talk to them in their own language.

Next stop: CALA.