In Germany, You Can Never Fly too High – The German SEO Guide
Adidas, Jägermeister and Volkswagen are only a few belonging to Germany’s long list of internationally famous brands. What does it take to enter Europe’s most successful economy? What is the average German customer like? We plunged into data research and spoke with business professionals who know the German market to answer these and many other questions – all in our SEO guide for Germany.
Germany lies in central-western Europe and is the 8th largest country in Europe covering 357,021 square kilometers (137,847 sq mi) with about 82 million inhabitants. Since the fall of the Berlin wall country has become a world-leading economic force, this year experiencing a 1.5% GDP growth
Though one country, it’s difficult to label Germany as a homogeneous market. The differences between the 16 German states (regions) related to language, culinary habits, industrial development etc. create a real challenge for marketing and business professionals. Each state even has its own holidays. If you are based in Berlin and have a public holiday, but people from Bavaria don’t, warn them in advance. Otherwise, they will be frustrated why you have not returned their calls.
Germany is Europe’s leading economy also in the digital sphere. It ranks the 5th largest ecommerce market in the world, and first in Europe. It’s also among the top 10 countries experiencing highest smartphone penetration rates. This explains why German social media users log or check in several times during the day.
The favorite social media is Facebook and other familiar sites like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram are also among the top 10. But there is a significant portion of local social media like the community platform KWICK!, which snatches a large portion of the market. Because Germans love to be organized entrepreneurs a popular app is Yappy. It measures the effectiveness of clients’ social media marketing. Another online community you shouldn’t neglect is XING. Founded in Hamburg it is the biggest competitor to LinkedIn, creating a career-oriented social network with 10,1 million users in Germany.
The favorite search engine is Google, with a skyrocketing 94,5% search share, followed by Bing and Yahoo. Though the local competitor, T-online looked promising, it couldn’t beat the global giants and is now powered by Google.
Yes, I Speak English But …
Even though Germany ranks 9th among the eighty countries supervised by EF in its English Proficiency Index campaign, the main language of communication for business purposes is German. We spoke with Otto Hartvich, who as a child lived in Germany for a couple of years and later worked in Prague as an account manager for German clientele for IceWarp, a mail service company. Otto explained how comfortable Germans are in using English:
They can speak English very well. But they are not comfortable using it for business purposes because they need to be confident during negotiations and understand every detail.
In Which German Do You Search Online?
Not only in Germany, but the German language is the (co)official language in five other central-European countries: Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Because of the wide usage of the language in so many regions and countries, the existence of numerous German dialects is unavoidable. That is why there exists one universally taught and pronounced German called Hochdeutsch – “High German” or also known as Standard German.
When you are doing business in Germany it is expected that both parties will use Hochdeutsch. It’s the German language variation, which every pupil, including myself, is taught in school.
Explains Otto, when discussing specifics of the German tongue. When you are using the German language on your multilingual website, you will not merely attract traffic from Germany, but also from the above-stated countries where German is an official language. At the same time, speaking Hochdeutsch does wonders if you wish to do business in the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, Belgium etc., Otto continues:
Even though Switzerland and Austria have their own standardized German, you can smoothly communicate in Hochdeutsch with local business partners.
Is It Keyword or Key Word?
As you’ve guessed by now – Germans search online in Hochdeutsch and not in a specific dialect. Follow this rule when translating your website content into German. The German vocabulary is extremely rich. It seems that Germans have a word for everything as some of them lack a proper English equivalent. This is important while translating keywords.
When we created a German website version for our client – a pool manufacturer, we realized how many German equivalents can exist to one English word. Check the picture below:
What to do? We evaluated the search volume for each word and with the help of a native speaker recognized the proper language context to find the best “keyword fit”.
Another important thing to be on a look-out are broken compounds and misspellings. Did you know that German is an agglutination language? It means that a new word is formed by merging two or more different words together. Still, some Germans have the habit of searching online in split phrases, hoping to get more relevant results – e.g. textil wirtschaft instead of textilwirtschaft.
Noticed little dots under a, o and u? They are called umlauts (ä, ö, ü) and in phonetic terms, they cause a back vowel to become a front vowel. It’s important not to ignore umlauts when speaking and writing, otherwise the meaning of the word will change. For instance, Losung is a different word from Lösung. The first means a motto, and the latter, a solution. Another option is that the umlaut could be transcribed with the letter e, making it Loesung.
Just How High Are These Standards Exactly?
Among the many German stereotypes, there is one which greatly influences the local business world and market scene – the German love for punctuality and high standards. Discussing business etiquette and what to watch out for when doing business and marketing in Germany Otto pointed out key local cultural facts and trends.
What About the Price?
When dealing with German clients Otto explained the price vs. quality relationship:
They don’t care so much about the price as long as the product has all the necessary features.
Due to the country’s economic success, German purchase power is very strong. As competition in the goods and service sector is high, German people have the opportunity to choose over and compare products across different stores. One of Europe’s most wide-spread price comparison sites: Idealo was actually launched in Germany in 2000. For German people it is not about stinginess, but about getting the best deal.
Another trick for entering the market successfully is by making your presence know through coupon websites. The online scene is full of them: Gutscheine.de, Mydealz.de, Sparwelt.de and even a German version of Groupon. Since such offers are popular among the general public new market players should not be afraid that they will be perceived as less prestigious.
Does it Have a Certificate?
A big trend that has been going on for years now is German people’s obsession with quality certificates. Especially food products and other goods that can affect a person health.
Otto continues that when people shop in supermarkets they constantly look for products labeled with quality certificates:
Some people will only buy products with such labels.
Connected to the German love for price comparison sites – quality reviews are just as important. An extremely popular site is Test.de. It is full-fledged product test and certificate platform, which reviews and compares all range of goods and services: not just food and drinks or electronics, also bank loan deals, computer software, child safety seats etc. The site is managed by Stiftung Warentest – a German consumer organization, which was founded by the state, but is run as an independent agency.
— Stiftung Warentest (@warentest) July 17, 2017
— Thomas Roskop (@t_roskop) August 31, 2017
Tell It to Me Straight
When talking with Otto about marketing strategy he said one important, yet simple thing:
It is more about transparency than it is about selling. A German person likes that you tell things to him straight. Do not say that your product has “this and this” feature, but that in two months you might finally upgrade to a new system.
Germans greatly cherish transparency. Keep this in mind while you are establishing business contact and during negotiations. According to Transparency International, the country ranks the 10th most transparent among 176 countries, with an 81% Corruption Perception Index. A good example in practice are online prices. When stating prices on your German website it is necessary to state and include the VAT in the price.
This also reflects content marketing. We compared CTA button content from Amazon, Facebook and Uber in different languages, including German. We quickly noticed that when creating a CTA message in the German language a copywriter must remember to be cordial, follow etiquette and address the shopper directly.
Was It Made in the EU?
Being the strongest economic force in the European union, Germany is also the biggest contributor to the EU budget. Both the country’s, political leadership and the general public advocate a pro-european attitude. In the last 2017 EU public opinion poll at least 45% of Germans declared a positive approach towards the EU, while 39% have a neutral attitude towards it.
When talking about German preferences of product manufacturing Otto told us that:
Germans really appreciate whether the product is made in the EU or not. Especially when it comes to software. They highly cheris data privacy standards and that’s why software products from the US are not very desired.
EU country members also have to follow EU law. This is necessary to ensure common standards in various industry sectors like food production, farming, telecommunications, marketing etc. The logic behind is, that such measures promote the free movement of goods and services, capital and people within the EU, making it a more homogeneous and stronger market.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the most important examples of such legislation, where both public and private entities are obliged to follow it. Germans greatly cherish their privacy online and the local legislation not only follows the GDPR, but also enforcer stricter data privacy rules. The USA-Germany scandal over the unauthorized surveillance NSA performed over German politicians still echoes among the German public and strengthens local suspicion towards US software products.
Ever Heard About SEOktoberfest?
Not like some other European countries, the German SEO market is highly developed with a lot of competition on the market. Because of this there exist specialized SEO services, especially in the digital marketing area, depending on German consumer needs and cultural specifics.
I had one client in the health industry. In Germany are a lot of specialized internet catalogues which still works. Make a list of all catalogues in the industry which you want to enter and prioritize by website traffic (Similarweb or Alexa) and backlink quality. Then you can get some good referal traffic and some backlink boost.
The image below shows the top 3 German SEO companies based on ranking by Clutch.co. The highest you’ll pay per hour will be between $100-150, while most services charge between $25-49 and are still ranked high among users.
To convince you that Germany is a proper SEO mecca, check out the popular festival held in Munich right during the famous Oktoberfest, bringing together SEO professionals from all around the world – SEOktoberfest.
— Yoast (@yoast) 22. září 2017
A quick recap of SEOktoberfest X in 10 photos https://t.co/FTcuPTbY2f See you next year @ the SEOktoberfest G50 Summit at Elmau Castle 🙂
— Marcus Tandler ✰ (@mediadonis) 6. října 2017
Its Own SEO World
If you plan to enter the German market then make sure you get acquainted with the local digital marketing and SEO scene. Because – it does exist! There are local SEO gurus like Marcus Tandler aka Mediadonis and Marcus Tober, the founder of Searchmetrics, which have been involved with German SEO since its beginning and are key developers in the field.
As the local SEO scene is so highly developed it also has its own terminology. Here are two important SEO terms that might help you while doing German SEO.
The “Semantische Kern”, translated – the Semantic Core, is a great tip for any content marketer or copywriter. Simply explained, it is a bundle of most frequently used keywords associated with a certain product. When creating your marketing strategy, this will help you to optimize content and save precious time during copywriting.
To most frequently used tools to find these keywords are Google Keyword Planner and Google Search Console. Factors that are taken into consideration when finding the Semantic Core keywords are: frequency, query competitiveness, bounce rate, seasonality, the number of impressions etc.
By using the formula WDF*IDF, it is possible to determine the ratio of certain words in a text document. It’s great for on-page SEO optimization so search engines recognize your site as more relevant.
— Jochen (@j0e_org) 7. listopadu 2017
WDF means within document frequency – how frequently a term is used in a document. While keyword density only calculates the percentage distribution of a single word in relation to the total number of words in a text, the WDF also includes the ratio of all words used in the text.
IDF means inverse document frequency – the frequency of a term compared to the frequency of all the other terms in a document. Thus, IDF determines how relevant a text is to a particular keyword.
Both formulas multiplied together give the keyword importance of a certain document relative to all potentially possible documents that contain the same keyword. The larger the database used to calculate the WDF*IDF, the more accurate the results.
Don’t get scared. As many German words “Sichtbarkeitsindex” sounds long and scary. That’s why there exists a “simplified” English translation: The SISTRIX Visibility Index. Those of you who are use to Google Analytics get prepared for your world to be shaken.
The SISTRIX Visibility Index is a German made SEO tool to, which displays how well your website is doing in Google search engine. Compared to other SEO analytics tools you can compare your site domain’s stats with your competitors. Also, SISTRIX ignores seasonal trends (weather, holidays etc.) to make sure data is more reliable.
Lukas also mentions Sistrix amongst the German SEO tools he’d recommend:
I There are really a lot with a long history. I prefer:
Ryte.com or onpagedoc.com for onpage optimizations
Sistrix.com or Xovi.de for measuring KW rankings
Searchmetrics.com for Enterprise SEO
To convince you that it is the to-go SEO analytics tool for the German digital market check out the comprehensive webinar below. Hint, just like Sichtbarkeitsindex is not a short word, this video will not disappoint in length (but, we really appreciate the effort, Patrick).
Well educated marketers have certainly came across the term semantic priming or “semantisches Priming” in German. Priming takes implicit, not totally conscious, memories or associations and uses them to influence the response to something else. In semantic priming, we talk about semantic categories. When a person thinks of one item in a category, similar items are stimulated by the brain. For example, the word cat is a semantic prime for jaguar, because the two are similar animals.
Marketers use this to subconsciously trigger desire through seemingly unconnected word and image associations. There also exists SemanticSEO, with focus on keyword strategy and some German SEO experts use it very precisely when optimizing website content. In the post: “The Perfect Online Article”, you’ll find handy tips not only what kind-of keywords to use, but also to place them as far to the center left in the heading. To create a shorter and original page URL you can use shorter priming keywords. The main point of the post is that the human eye is use to only scrolling through websites, so you have to know your audience well to choose the right semantic keywords, which trigger the desired association.
Is Your Website Credible Enough?
Reading through the article you’ve realized by now that Germans are cautious business partners who appreciate etiquette. That’s why it’s important to make a good impression even before any contact is established. A simple idea how to achieve this is by pointing out your business partnership ties on your website.
While scrolling through top German startup websites like Candis, Honeypot and SMACC you’ll notice that towards the end each of site, banners from business partners and companies which use their services are displayed.
Another thing to watch out are NoFollow vs. DoFollow links. To avoid search engines detecting your content as spammy you can tag some of your links in your content as NoFollow. This will make your content more credible and clean for SERP.
Even Google Gets Tougher in Germany
Website credibility and quality are not a joke as Google.de performs regular checks and is not shy of penalizing the big websites for displaying worthless content. It doesn’t matter how big of a player you are, the German Google team will happily reduce your rankings. Way back in 2006 Google blacklisted BMW’s German website for using “doorway pages” when users searched for “used cars”. After clicking one of the top displayed SERPs, you’d get redirected to the official BMW site, which included far less relevant keywords.
Though “doorway pages” seem like ancient black-hat SEO history, the German SEO website Searchmetrics DE annually publishes a report of Google’s Top100 winners (Gewinner) and Top100 losers (Verlierer) depending on online visibility. The team keeps a close eye on how the visibility of popular German websites changes depending on various Google updates: Google Core Update, Mobile Update, Phantom IV Update and Penguin Update.
To keep the long story short it’s still about recognizing content relevance depending on the search query, keeping clearer website structures without duplicating content, staying away from spammy backlinks and optimizing for mobile view.
The graph below shows the distribution of website winners by category. What’s interesting is that “Publisher” sites – sites which typically have a lot of dense content, appear most frequently among the winners (30%). Shopping sites (25%) are also very cautious about their page rankings – Amazon.de, Sparwelt.de, Check24.de etc. The absolute winner of the list is Pinterest.com, while encyclopedia sites Duden.de and Langenscheidt.de take 4th and 5th place respectively.
Looking at the Top100 looser’s list the biggest percentage of sites, again, belong to either the “Publisher” or “Shopping” category. But many sites did not correspondingly suffer lesser traffic or revenue losses. You’ll find popular local online news domains Spiegel.de, Stern.de and N-tv.de as well as video sites Myvideo.de, Tape.tv and Moviepilot.de
Due to the above, it makes sense that German companies are skeptical about link exchange. They are careful when choosing a SEO company to perform link building for their site and putting links on their website content.
How to Make a Good Website Impressum
Apart from your usual website content and info necessities, there are some particularities you should pay special attention to when creating a German website.
- Full company name
- Address of the company business seat
- E-mail address, which allows fast and direct contact
- Names of the management and supervisory board members
- Company registration number
- Tax identification number
To get a better idea of how things should look check out SAP’s Impressum section.
If you are still not confident in your Impressum skills, you can help yourself with an online impressum generator offered by eRecht25 – a law practice specializing in internet and website law. Their video will help you with the process. Though it is in German you can auto-generate the translation of the subtitles to English.
Lukas confirms the importance of a well elaborated Impressum. When asked about the specifics of a typical German Internet user, he answers:
It depends in which area your business is, but show presence in Germany is very important (local number, german support and german sales team). Have a good Impressum and follow up the Google Analytics rules.
Work Hard to Win Hard
Being one of the leading economies in the world Germany is an extremely appealing market to enter. It’s technologically well developed and has a sophisticated customer base. Though it’s been awhile since the fall of the Berlin wall, you’ll still have to climb high and make a strong effort to win over German hearts.
To help you keep things in check we’ve created a quick and efficient Germany SEO checklist.
What’s great about the German market is that you have the advantage of knowing business etiquette and expectations in advance. Remember to keep a transparent business relationship and get some certificates of quality for your products. Though it might seem much, pimping up your website with a correctly written impressum and putting up banners from your business partner should not take much time. Germans love predictability so why not play by the rules and enjoy a well deserved reward after the hard work.
Need a translator for your upcoming German language website? We’re ready to assist and navigate your way through. Write to us and we’ll be back with a plan.
Featured image source: Pixabay.com