Polish SEO Guide – A Digital Wedding of Something Old, Borrowed and New
It’s Poles, as in Polish people and not a high rod to hang your flag on. But we set our foot firmly on Polish SEO soil. This article features a detailed SEO guide to navigate you through the Polish digital marketing sea. GFluence’s Martin Kura enjoyed a business trip to Gdansk meanwhile gathering first-hand research about the local SEO scene.
The duality of the new and old heavily influences local business and the consumer market. By digging in to individual topics like local e-commerce and marketing habits, we will examine how this duality works in practice and influences Polish SEO success factors.
A Quick Look at the Poles
Once strongly behind the iron curtain, today Poland is Europe’s wonder child. After gaining independence in 1989 Poland embraced economic liberalization. Since 1990 the country has doubled its GDP to become the 7th largest EU economy with an average unemployment rate of a bit over 5%.
Internet penetration is good, at around 72%. That’s 28 million out of total 38 million Polish people and almost 40% of internet users shop online. Walking around Poland, Martin noticed the incredibly good availability of public Wi-Fi access. There are many public spaces with free and high-quality internet. Poles like when content is delivered in video form, that’s why Youtube is the number one social media, with Facebook following second.
The dominant language of everyday communication is Polish language. But in comparison to other former Soviet republics, Poland scores highest in English proficiency, with an average EF score of 61,5%.
The Playful Polish Tongue
Have you ever seen a text in Polish language? Even if you are a Slavic speaker you will get confused by all the unusual alphabet letters. Polish language belongs to the second most difficult language group to learn for English speakers. A major reason for this are also the complicated pronunciation rules.
Whether you’re planning to start learning the language or just preparing marketing content for Polish translation keep in mind some language specifics.
No Language for the Impolite
Common for Slavic languages, Polish includes cases. The form of the noun will change depending on its grammatical relationship in the sentence. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking of keywords. In English, the keyword will appear only in one or two forms: either singular or plural. But in Polish, the keyword will change depending on the case.
Polish distinguishes between formal (3rd person singular) and informal (2nd person singular – ty) addressing. Martin noticed that many Polish ads use informal, first name addressing to establish a sense of connection with their clients. But in more serious service sectors, like banking, formal is used:
- Pan to address a man in singular form
- Pani to address a woman in singular form
- Państwo to address a gender-mixed group, plural form
When you are formally addressing a woman or man make sure you use Pani (f.) or Pan (m.) and not Wy (2nd person in plural) as it is common in other Slavic languages, like Russian. It is incorrect and very impolite.
Repeat after Me: ch, cz, dz, dź, dż, rz and sz
Polish has many letters which look similar, but there will be slight, yet very important nuances in the pronunciation. This is important because the meaning of the word will change if you mess up the pronunciation or when writing the letters in your search bar.
Bellow are a couple of tricky Polish pronunication examples to watch out for:
- The Polish letter w is pronounced like the English letter “v,” so the Polish word woda (water) is pronounced like “voda.” There is a “w” sound in Polish, but it is represented by the Polish letter ł.
- To the untrained ear, the Polish letter ź might sound like ż, but it is a “softer” version that comes closer to a “pure z” sound. If all this sounds too complicated, a simple approximation is to pronounce ź like soft “zh”.
- The Polish letter c is always pronounced like the English letter “s” with a “t” in front of it. So, the Polish word co (what) is pronounced like “to”.
No Country for Sloppy E-commerce
Readers who focus on e-commerce business must have twitched by the fact that only 40% of all Polish internet users buy online. Though the forecast for Polish online shopping is good, there are a few local specifics to take into consideration.
Overcoming Trust Issues
Poles are generally difficult to convince. A major reason why some internet users are wary of buying online is their feeling of uncomfortableness. Many people check site reviews before deciding to shop there. On the other hand, first time online shoppers can be quite naive and get easily scammed and then turn away from e-shopping.
Martin conducted an interview with Michal Leszczynski, Content Marketing Manager at the Polish digital marketing company GetResponse. Much was said about the safety habits of Poles when they shop online:
Due to EU regulations people have become more relaxed when buying online. But I check website reviews and comments on social media.
If you already have a Polish version of your shopping website or are offering postage to Poland, make sure clients find customer rating and reviews easily. Also, make your presence known on popular social media channels or other local review websites. This will make your site more authentic for Polish users.
— GetResponse (@getresponse) March 15, 2017
I’ll Keep my Card Number to Myself, Thank You …
Closely connected to consumer trust, you’ll be surprised that only 10% of online payments in Poland are made by credit card transactions. A lot of people prefer to pay via a secured connection through their online banking system or simply pay cash on delivery. Make sure your e-commerce site offers as many versatile payment methods as possible.
Poles need to feel comfortable and safe when buying online. In Martin’s interview Michal Leszczynski explained his user habits of smartphones vs. PC:
I don’t like paying or ordering products via my phone. Also, I don’t like doing money transfers or paying bills. I need a bigger screen and to sit down, because it demands more focus.
It’s Not About Being Stingy
Going hand-in-hand with Polish shopping habits, a major factor is price sensitivity. Poles are not stingy, but you need to convince them that they’re getting their money’s worth. Polish people will expect high-quality products, while still remaining price sensitive. There’s a simple cultural explanation for such consumer habits. Back in the old days, it was common for people to negotiate about the price of almost any goods:
My parents use to negotiate for everything. My mom actually helped us bargain when we were buying an apartment.
Michal Leszczynski shared with us. For a Pole it is simply common sense, to try to get the best deal possible and not through money out the window. It’s known among business circles that Poles are hard negotiators when it comes to prices.
According to a research observing the change in consumer habits after the economic crisis, Poland was in second place when it came to saving money. 51% of Polish consumers were on a lookout for a bargain. Also today, people are crazy about sales and discounts. If you’re offering above average prices in comparison to your competitors, then better think twice. People don’t mind browsing through price comparison sites to find the best option. Some local favorites include Ceneo.pl, Skąpiec.pl, Nokaut.pl and even a Polish version of Twenga.
New Business – Yes, But Pay Some Respect
A major reason for Poland’s economic success is due to the opening of the local market to foreign investors and companies. The level of bureaucracy outside companies face to enter the Polish market is quite tough. Some foreign investors have complained about biased treatment from local tax offices and the level of corruption present in state institutions. There are also Polish laws limiting foreign ownership of agricultural and forest land.
Many companies, which had to start paying taxes decided to close up and then simply open a new companies with another name. It was actually big international companies like Carrefour, which was previously Jean, which was previously something else.
This caused a huge uproar among local companies as it became a clear case of unfair competition. Michal continues:
These days especially, in the political situation we have now, the leading parties are looking pretty closely at foreign companies, which don’t pay taxes.
Today the tax exemption is no longer in force. A stricter approach to foreign business is an important agenda of Polish conservative parties which scores them popularity points.
The English Star of The East
According to EF the overall English proficiency in Poland is very good, around 61,5 %. The regions of Silesia with the city Wroclaw and Mazovia with Warsaw and Łódź stand out from the average. High English proficiency is the reason why foreign companies managed to enter the market as it was possible to hire local workforce.
Martin found out that there is a small group of people in Poland who studied in Great Britain for several years. Thus, their English is excellent. If you’re opening a new business in Poland and are looking for people to fill up higher management positions, you will have options. But such employees have their price. Martin explains in detail:
Currently Polish SEO is quite underdeveloped and those few English speaking Polish SEOs are highly overpaid.
The Hidden Duality
The hidden duality behind Poland’s economic success was already mentioned above by pointing out protectionist business tendencies in local politics. Another simple, but difficult habit to overcome as a foreign company in Poland is people’s love for local produce.
The infatuation with local, especially more bio food products is nothing new and is present in countries all around the world. But in Poland their popularity is steadily growing and local grocery chains like Żabka and Biedronka promote their business by pointing out how much local produce they sell on their shelves says Michal Leszczynski
For Biedronka to be stronger than Carrefour and Tesco, they emphasized the fact that X percent of products are produced locally. And people pay attention to that.
We mentioned that at first, it was easier for foreign companies to enter the market. Another unusual demand springing out from recent political trends is about visa requirements. Those migrant workers who are not from the EU will have a difficult time obtaining a visa, as today one of the demands is to speak Polish. This heavily influences the incoming of outside labor. If you’re a foreign company which wishes to hire native foreign speakers or even brings one of your current employees to Poland, you might have more trouble than you imagined.
A Polish Copywriter Is Not Radical or Short-tongued
While traveling through Poland Martin was on the look-out for advertisement strategies and copywriting style. Michal Leszczynski confirmed that the style has definitely changed throughout the years. At first, the ads were cheaper, showing a lot of women in bikinis or just a pretty girl in general. Today the style has become much more inclusive and engaging.
We are trying to be less formal, to break the ice between the people. I think it’s working. Especially among younger generations.
Social Values You Should Not Touch
It’s a generally known fact throughout Europe, that Poles are quite conservative. Though there are mixed opinions about the dominance of the Catholic faith in the Polish civil sphere, source cites that at least 80% of the population is Catholic.
Christian holidays are kept in high regard and many people do not work or shop on Sundays. There are also strong anti-drug and alcohol regulations. This effects pharmaceutical companies and alcohol producers as taxes are higher. We’re not saying that Poles are uptight, but that you should be careful when creating content for the Polish market. Make sure you’re not offending any religious symbols. In summer this year there were protests in Warsaw against a play which dealt with child abuse in the Catholic church and criticizing Pope John Paul’s II involvement.
Wspólnie obronimy naszą Świętą Wiarę. Przychodźcie pod Teatr Powszechny. Trwa protest przeciwko Klątwie. pic.twitter.com/fYE3ybrvTI
— Marsz Niepodległości (@StowMarszN) May 27, 2017
Make Sure There’s Extra Space for Translation
An important part of Martin’s interview with the polish content marketing manager at GetResponse Michal Leszczynski was about Polish language. In particular, the relationship between English and Polish while translating content.
It’s difficult to translate anything from English to Polish. The biggest problem is actually the space. Polish language takes-up much more space than English and it’s visible when creating leaflets for example.
When translating content from English to Polish make sure you’ll work with an experienced team. If something works well in English it doesn’t mean that it will work just as good in Polish. Very quickly, you’ll need more words and space for the Polish translation. Some generally known English expressions won’t click with Polish audience’s so you’ll have to find local equivalents. That is why content localization is so important.
English has developed some standard terminology both in business and marketing circles. Though Polish people will understand such broadly used term, the appreciation for their language is very strong. When you’ll pitch an idea to a local client or create marketing content strongly avoid English parasite words.
How to Make Your On-Page SEO More Polish
Based on Martin’s experience, even in business circles, there’s a generally low understanding of SEO. Because the presence of local SEO agencies is weak, many Polish companies rather go for more experienced international SEO companies. Many Polish websites lack some basic search engine optimization features. This creates a lot of opportunities to start building up on-page SEO from the very basic technical features:
- There’s already a lot you can do if you take greater care of your title and meta tag descriptions. It’s not just about using the right keywords. If you plan to use the English language, make sure it’s evident from the content that you’re targeting Polish customers.
- Enrich your alt tag picture descriptions with location-specific words. Again, if you’re content is in English use the word “Polish” or local city names if it fits the context.
- Set your website geo-targeting settings in way that it’s clear for Google (and other search engines) that your business is situated in Poland. If you’ve decided to go for a purely Polish website and opted for the local ccTLD domain strategy then change your Hreflang to “pl-pl”.
- Till recently Polish SEO was heavily dependent on massive link building. With Google forcing stricter guidelines, content marketing is a new challenge for many local businesses. Make sure you’ve got quality and keyword rich content on your site.
On-page SEO in 2017 – good points on how make the search engines and users happy at the same time https://t.co/Fr9GMnjfE2
— Michal Leszczynski (@mrleszczynski) May 1, 2017
Local is Still the Way to Go
Did you know that Poland has 16 provinces – voivodeships? Each region has its own cultural specifics and customer behavior. In correspondence to this, services are also locally specific.Consumer habits heavily depend on household income, which is usually lower in rural areas. Polish internet habits are closely connected with the human development index, which is usually higher in cities. Though the situation is improving, many people from non-urban areas do not see the point in using the internet for shopping or means of information.
There’s a lot of opportunities to boost web traffic and revenue by focusing on local SEO. To help you get started we’ve created some tips with which you can’t go wrong:
And going local is exactly what our Martin Kura would suggest when entering the Polish market. It’s impossible to establish a significant presence in the country without setting foot on the land yourself. You’ve discovered by now that the Polish market is more sophisticated than what stereotypes believe. If you enter the market with a professional attitude and respect for local culture, you’re halfway towards success.
Wish to enter the Polish market, but have trouble finding a local partner? Get in touch with us and we’ll advise you which services need outsourcing and which can be solved by international SEO.
Featured image source: Pixabay.com