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WebmasterWorld's European SEO strategy primer #3, part 1.
The Internet scene in Europe.
802 million live in Europe and 130 million of them are online. That's one in seven, corresponding to 26% of the world's online population. There are 53 countries and autonomous regions, more than 40 languages and over 1.200 search engines and directories. The European Forum at WebmasterWorld covers the 325 most important. Europeans account for about 180 million of the roughly 700 million searches made every day.
There are 13 million hosts and 141 million pages in the national domains alone, not counting local dot-coms. The online population grows by 25-75% per year in most countries, but in places like Scandinavia, penetration is already so high (50-60% of the population), that the growth is beginning to level off. An overview country by country and a map is found here [webmasterworld.com].
The language situation.
English is the mother tongue for 8% of all Europeans. Although it is the preferred second or third language for many more, only 28% of all Europeans understand English at all. Even within the 15 European Union member states only 41% understand English. The understanding is greatest among the Germanic speaking peoples of northern Europe and lowest in the Latin language areas in southern Europe and the Slavic language region to the east. There is also a demographical factor - younger people know English better than older people and this goes for all of Europe.
The biggest European online languages are: German (23% of the total European online population), English (16%), Italian (13%), French, Dutch, Russian (each 7%), Spanish (6%), Swedish (4%), Turkish (3%), Danish, Norwegian, Finnish and Polish (each around 2%).
This means effectively, that you can use English only for the UK and Ireland, a few small countries where the understanding of English is very high - Sweden, Norway and Denmark - and such special market segments where the working language is English. For all other areas and segments, you will have to translate your pages.
Translations lead to higher rankings!
It is much easier to attain high rankings in search engines for languages other than English than it is for English. Most engines - even the regional versions of international ones - have the default search set to "Local language". So if the surfers do nothing but to type in the keyword and click "Search", all other languages will be filtered away, leaving just a small subset of the web left to fight for page one. Most Europeans behave this way when searching for information. Translations are particularly valuable if the keyword used is common to many languages, e.g. golf, tennis, Chicago, Nokia etc. More on that here. [webmasterworld.com].
In addition, the knowledge of good search engine optimisation practises is not yet widely spread in Europe - major league web design outfits are among the leading offenders - and that makes competition much lighter. You can make it to page one for most keywords by just doing a good basic job:
- Good keyword(s) in url
- Good keyword(s) in title
- Different title, description and 10 keywords for all pages.
- Pages properly structured with H1 P H2 P P H2 P P etc. Use CSS to control appearance.
- Good keywords in IMG ALT attribute
- Structured text and a complete set of links in NOFRAMES if site is framed. At least 10Kb, 30 if you can.
- All pages and sites thoroughly cross-linked, not just at top level. Keywords in link text.
- No links in scripts.
- Eliminate '?' and '&' in links.
- Inbound links from sites with the same theme wherever possible.
- Outbound links to sites with same or higher page rank.
- Submission - one for each language - to ODP and Yahoo to be considered bare minimum.
Automatic translations vs. human translators.
Machine made translations can only give a rough understanding of what a page is about, nothing more, and the results are often laughable. For a serious website, you need human translators. The best and least expensive way is usually to hire somone who lives in the country. Some of the discussions in the European forum already have this information at the end of the country overviews that start each one. If not, you can always ask people who have participated in the discussions if they provide translation services. Prices seem to range from $0.05 to $0.10 per word or $50 to $100 for a 1000 word page. HTML markup is extra.
At these prices, you have the right to expect idiomatically correct quality translations. If style is important, e.g. if the text of the source page was written by a professional copywriter, then a local copywriter should be used to enhance the translation of the page in the target language into compelling advertising prose. You cannot expect a translator to provide that kind of style.
Multilingual vs. single language sites.
Multilingual is the way the Europeans themselves do it, but it is not the best way to go. Many search engines give extra weight to keywords in url:s, so having a domain name with one or two keywords in the local language can be an big advantage. Splitting multilingual domains up into separate according to language is also practical when submitting to search engines and directories - particularly when using automated submission tools such as TopDog, which covers most European engines. In addition, there is some concern that themeing might not work too well for multilingual sites.
I have heard people claim that they have had good results with keyword translations and it will work in some cases. But a different language means a different culture and a different way of thinking. In many cases people in other countries will think in different terms and that makes translated keywords chancey. So, to do a really good job, you need a keyword database.
Local SEO professionals is one source for that. If they are worth their salt, they have a keyword database. Local search engines is another. They don't shout it from the rooftops, but all of them need money and some sell keywords on request. You will have to ask around though. These two solutions will cost you a fair amount of money.
A less expensive way is to get hold of a mining script and start mining yourself from engines that show current searches. If the engines don't like to be mined, or if you are too agressive, there is always a risk that your IP-address will be banned. You can find a list of engines with spy-pages here [webmasterworld.com].
If you can't write scripts yourself, send me a sticky mail and I will tell you who I used for mine. Remember that mining is time consuming. For a statistically reliable database of the 50.000 most used phrases in a given language, you will need to collect at least 30 million searches and that can easily take a year.
Major international engines vs. locals.
It is important to understand that here is no such thing as a European Market. Don't believe anyone who tells you he's got great coverage of the European market. There are 53 different European markets and each has to be handled differently. Major engines such as MSN, Yahoo, Google, Lycos and Altavista can show impressive reach on a European scale, simply by collecting a few percentage points in almost every country. But that obscures the fact that in each country it is usually a purely local engine that has the lion's share of that market, with the majors way down the list. An overview of the engines that you cannot do without is found below, region by region.
Note that a large number of local engines rely on Fast's index and Google is growing rapidly in popularity in Europe, now that they have registered local domains in many countries. Google also serves several local engines with their index. There is a forum for each here at WebmasterWorld and it is important for you to understand how these engines work.
Local domains vs. dot-coms and dot-infos.
The possible solutions can be ranked like this in order of preference:
1. Local domains with keyword in name, e.g. something.co.uk, irgendwas.de, quelquechose.fr etc.
2. Dot-coms with keyword in name, e.g. something.com, irgendwas.com, quelquechose.com etc.
3. Everything in same site with keyword in page name, mysite.com/something.htm, mysite.com/irgendwas.htm, mysite.com/quelquechose.htm etc.
4. Sticking the translated pages into subdirectories for each language with names in English, e.g. mysite.com/english/index.htm, mysite.com/deutsch/index.htm, mysite.com/francais/index.htm etc.
1) is pricey and requires legal presence in many countries such as France.
2) is the most cost effective.
3) is the best of the inexpensive solutions for small budgets.
4) is the inexpensive and classical solution that the Europeans use themselves and will work if the competition is low.
An additional plus with number 2: You can cross-link all pages to get more inbound links, e.g. "This page in English", "Diese Seite auf Deutsch", "Cette page en franšais" etc. A very user-friendly approach, since search engines might easily direct people to a page in a language other than the one preferred by the visitor. Normally, most people just put the language choices on the top page, forgetting that a lot of visitors will enter from the side via search engines.
Generally, and with only a few exceptions, all major international engines and the leading of the locals will accept dot-coms as long as pages are in the local language. Most countries require legal presence for a national domain registration anyway and setting that up can become quite expensive. The new info-domain is not in operation as of writing, but there is as yet no reason to believe that European search engines will treat dot-infos any different from dot-coms. There are lots and lots of good local language domain names available in dot-info, and even in dot-com. See www.afilias.com about dot-info or any of their authorized registrars. They usually handle dot-coms too.
The local rules are listed in the 35 country discussions in the European forum and there is an overview here [webmasterworld.com].
PFP and PPC - Pay for Play and Pay per Click in Europe.
European search engines need money, just like the American, so they review all kinds of pay schemes. Things haven't gone nearly as far as in the US yet, but there are new announcments all the time and we shall see more and more of these pay schemes in Europe. There is a summary in the European forum [webmasterworld.com], which is being kept updated by members from many countries.
Part 2 [webmasterworld.com] Europe region by region.
Any objections, errors discovered, additions needed or comments you'd like to make? Post below.
See bottom of page for printer friendly format.
(edited by: rencke at 4:07 pm (gmt) on Oct. 5, 2001
joined:Oct 23, 2000
Nice to see the original author back in here :)
You are absolutely right. It still holds! The findings in these primers are still really the best information available about european search engines on the internet today.
Even so, much have happend the last four months and things are moving towards "paying for getting something listed somewhere" - recently Espotting taking over most european Yahoo's [webmasterworld.com] being the latest "thrill" in the PPC arena.
Thanks for giving us a heads up and do drop in to tell us a little about how your new adventures work out.
What has changed since? In detail of course a lot of things. Searchengines have vanished, directories got closed down, algos have changed...
If we were to point out a trend here, than it would be this: The importance of the local players is declining. With so many countries of course there are lots of exceptions, but generally the local players have no chance but to team up with the few global majors. Most prominent example is T-Online going for Fast [webmasterworld.com].
For the major European markets we are dealing basically with only a handful of SEs and portals. Of those three are European based, the Terra Lycos network, Fast, and Tiscali [webmasterworld.com]. Incidentally those three all work together.
What is most amazing is the unbelievable expansion of Google throughout Europe [webmasterworld.com]. The more advanced the countries online community is the bigger the market share Google has gained.
What back then was still in it's infancy, the adventure of PPC and PFP in Europe, has not just grown, it has nearly been exploding. In Germany not a single important searchengine or directory is left that goes without a pay scheme, again with the exception of Google. And Germany along with the UK is only leading the general development.
So to sum this up we might say the western European internet gets homogenized by the sheer power of money. This is partly due to the downfall of the new economy and subsequent focus on ROI. But then it is also due to the fact that European e-commerce is growing very fast. There is big money to be made and lots of fresh audiences to be reached.
And speaking of money lets not forget the EURO [webmasterworld.com], new common currency for most of the prospering western Europan countries. A common currency is especially welcomed in the internet economy. It helps making things transparent and comparable.
Those unifying trends, the coming together of Europe and the globalization of the searchengine scene, offer excellent conditions for localizing websites to European countries.
And you know what? This all applies just for a part of this continent. There are still hundreds of Millions of people in central and south eastern Europe that only just begin to develop their parts of the world wide web.
Bumping this to the top again, just in case someone wants to talk to me about it at PubCon, next Saturday.
Since January, I have mounted a full scale test of the recommendations in Part 1 involving 19 150-page sites in 19 languages - in other words, putting my money where my mouth is. With just one small addition, I am prepared to vouch for the soundness of the princips involved. The small addition is this:
Because of the enormous and still rapidly growing importance of Google in Europe and the fact that Google sees plural forms of words as different from the singular form, it can be very tricky or actually impossible to attain high rankings for all relevant keywords and keyword phrases.
My additional recommendation is to bridge over any gaps with the use of the Google Adwords program, which IMHO is the best thing since indoor plumbing. Certainly the most cost effective advertising medium yet invented. If you want to make a killing in the market, add Overture, Espotting & others by all means. But don't miss out on the traffic that Google Adwords can generate for you.
Other than that, you'll do well if you follow the recommendations. But beware of Part 2, which is outdated. Use it with great caution and make sure to double-check everything in the respective country threads, before you act on anything in it.