Search Engine Optimizing for Europe


My company will have a new presence in London soon, to oversee U.K. and European operations. And in May, we’ll be opening a new office in Hong Kong, to position us for the Chinese and Asian markets.

That being the case, I’m trying to get as much information on international SEO (define) techniques as I possibly can. I’m frequently asked about launching Web sites in new geographical territories.

As I’m in Munich as I write, it’s an ideal opportunity to tap into a couple of leading SEO experts based in Germany to discuss optimizing for Europe, and the growing German marketplace in particular.

Alan Webb is a Brit living in Hanover. He was posted to Germany by the military in the late ’80s. He’s been running an SEO service, as well as a major German SEO resource site, for five years now.

In the U.S., we tend to talk about the four major players: Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask. Is the line-up pretty much the same in Germany?

Not at all, says Webb. “In the States, Google has about 40 percent market share, I think, and then it’s split between the others after that. But here in Germany, it’s Google. It’s Google through and through. They have something like 85, 90 percent of the market.”

Something else which always creeps into conversation when discussing the major players in search is, do you optimize for just one and hope for the best with the rest? Or do you optimize for them all?

Webb thinks if you optimize around Google for link power and then do some keyword density work for, say, MSN, you’re probably doing the right thing. At that point, we both laughed and agreed optimizing for MSN at present is a bit like SEO was circa 1999.

On the subject of keywords, although Webb is a fluent German speaker, he doesn’t feel qualified enough to get involved with the job himself. “Obviously, not being a native, I leave that to others. There’s only one German keyword analysis tool. We can’t use Wordtracker or anything like it.”

Other than language issues, is anything else different about optimizing for a German site? Not really, he says. “The other elements of optimization are pretty much the same as optimizing for an English site.”

What about linking? Do you need more links from .de domains as opposed to .com for a German site to rank higher? “I think, in the first instance, you need to go for links from .de sites. They’re the same language, so the links are more within the community, and usually they’re hosted in the same country, which is important.”

From a business perspective, what’s the major difference in running an SEO service in Germany? “The competition,” says Webb. “I think you’ll find that there are about five or so professional SEO firms in Germany, compared to the hundreds in the States and the U.K.”

It must be said that Germany has some of the most elegant spammers in the industry in my experience. Thomas Bindl is a native of Munich. At one time he had a reputation as a spammer extraordinaire. However, like one or two other industry-recognized black hatters, he’s since put his blog-spamming software back in its box, donned a fashionable suit, and joined a fast-growing German search marketing agency.

Bindl, whom I’ve known for some time, is remarkably eloquent in the language of white hat SEO these days. I asked him about Germany’s spam culture. “We have some spammers in Germany which are really huge, even compared to those in the U.S. They have hundreds of thousands of domains in their networks. They’re doing German stuff and French stuff, so it’s not really that obvious.”

What about the well-publicized case when Google pulled them for spamming? “In my opinion, it was just plain stupid,” says Bindl. “There’s simply no reason to use such techniques on a brand as strong as BMW.”

I agree. It does give the industry a black eye, particularly when using such amateurish techniques with such a prestigious client.

So I had to ask, as Google is the hugely dominant player in Germany: is there a sandbox in Germany? “Yes, definitely!” he says. “It seemed to take a little longer to get to Germany, but there is a sandbox. However, if you start a new domain, I do completely agree with you, Mike. All you have to do is get links from good authority sites, established sites, and you’ll rank within a couple of weeks.”

So spam’s alive and well in Germany — at the moment. But so’s good, old-fashioned, marketing-led, white hat SEO. The sandbox eventually arrived, but it’s the same as the one in the U.S. and the U.K. It could be something, but, with some decent links, it might be nothing.

There’s actually quite a lot to take into account when targeting a new geographic territory.

I asked my two experts to share just two or three of the most important tips they would give to someone launching in the German marketplace. Both seemed to agree very much on these points:

  • Make your pages in German, and be sure to use a native translator.
  • Use a native speaker from the industry sector or subject matter field to do keyword research.
  • Use a .de domain.
  • Get local hosting and a local IP address.
  • Consider partnering with a German-based SEO firm.

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