Anders Hjorth – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Wed, 29 Jan 2020 20:51:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who’s winning on Amazon right now? /whos-winning-on-amazon-right-now-328383 Wed, 29 Jan 2020 18:43:48 +0000 /?p=328383 The winning advertisers understand how third-party sellers, algorithm-driven metrics and Prime work in the Amazon ecosystem.

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While we wait for Amazon’s Q4 results to come out to see how high they climbed in 2019, I want to share eight expert views on who is winning on Amazon right now.

As a merchant on Amazon, you can have two different roles. One is as a vendor working with Amazon in a retail partnership. This is when products are sold to Amazon to be commercialized on the platform and does all the marketing for you. Or, as a third-party seller on the marketplace that uses Amazon as a platform for marketing the product. There is also a hybrid model to be a seller but benefit from Amazon’s fulfillment solution.

We expected experts to respond to our Amazon Marketing Report research to say there is a slight advantage to being a vendor over a seller (or the opposite). But, responses were a lot more varied and with some interesting angles.

Nils Zündorf from factor-a gave us this surprising, but also completely justified angle on the question: Amazon is obsessed with the customer experience and always makes sure the price is right, so the end-user is the winner.

Definitely the end-users because Amazon gave them not only transparency in price, but also lower prices and they raised the bar in terms of services with free shipping and kind of an unlimited guarantee on a product.

– Nils Zündorf

More in line with what we had expected to hear, but with an interesting perspective of how the winner of yesterday is not the winner of tomorrow, was the response we got from Megan Harbold of Kenshoo: 

It used to be the power of the brand name. Then it used to be throwing money at it to keep at the top of search. I think there’s, again, this shift happening where neither is good enough on its own. It is about a dedicated focus to the consumer experience.

Megan Harbold

Adam Palczewski from Philips insisted on learning to adopt Amazon’s customer experience focus:

In order to win on Amazon, you have to embrace their culture of customer obsession: start with the customer & work backward. It’s always day one, no PowerPoints just 6-page docs and PRFAQs, 2 pizza-size teams, embrace innovation, work-hard-play-harder-make-history.

– Adam Palczewski

But there is competition everywhere, and Nich Weinheimer from Kenshoo uncovered a new dimension we really hadn’t expected to see:

Today traditional brand-holding companies are ramping up their investments on Amazon (and Walmart) as a strategic defense of their market share against innovative upstarts with rapid scale. The democratization of the digital shelf opens the door to China-direct brands where traditional grocery stood guard for more than 100 years. On Amazon’s marketplace, nearly half of the top sellers are China-direct manufacturers, and their growth is staggering.

– Nich Weinheimer

Are brand-holding companies preparing for this new world of digital commerce? Absolutely, as Benjamin Spiegel from P&G could testify:

Amazon, brick-and-clicks and last-milers have emerged as the leaders in today’s digital commerce environment. This has drastically disrupted the rules of retail and opened up the field for a whole new set of competitors. No longer do you own the shelf based on your scale, instead you win based on their unique algorithms. Buzzwords like Glance Views, Search Rankings and Buy-Box % are the new metrics that decide who wins on the digital shelf.

– Benjamin Spiegel, an SMX West speaker

Trish Carey of TC Max Marketing provided a simpler answer that is more based on the dynamic growth statistics of the moment:

“Sellers are doing really well. Third-party sellers are outselling Amazon right now.”

– Trish Carey

Indeed, sales from third-party sellers in the Amazon marketplace represented higher sales figures than Amazon e-commerce by 15-20% and are growing at a higher rate. There are also movements from one form of sales to the other: vendors becoming sellers, losing certain data access and service levels and gaining others, making people wonder whether perhaps there could be some kind of homogenization of the two merchant models on the horizon to level the playing field.

From Tanner Schroeder of Hanapin Marketing comes a different view, but also totally justifiable:

Prime is winning. If you can get your product to be Amazon Prime, you’re going to be in a good spot. The competitive advantage is becoming less important as the number of Prime products increases, though.

– Tanner Schroeder

Prime, an out-of-the-ordinary loyalty program you actually pay to be a member of and which actually provides the member with real benefits, is changing the rules of the e-commerce game as it affects user behavior on one hand and becomes a product characteristic that was not previously a criteria at the moment of buying.

And, thanks to Amazon leading the way in e-commerce and having the power to influence user behavior, the final quote from Evan Facinger totally makes sense:

Amazon is winning. Because Amazon is forcing everybody to do it the way that they want.

– Evan Facinger

So, we have third-party sellers winning over vendors, bold marketers winning over traditionalists, algorithm-driven metrics over traditional knowledge, service and price winning over brands, and end-users simply winning, especially via Prime, which they, of course, pay Amazon for.

In 2020 there will likely be many new winners on Amazon. But the competitive space is becoming fiercer, and understanding how the ecosystem works and where to bet becomes essential.

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SMX Overtime: Rise of the PPC geek /smx-overtime-rise-of-the-ppc-geek-323825 Tue, 22 Oct 2019 19:16:02 +0000 /?p=323825 The PPC track at SMX Advanced Europe discussed entity harvesting, automation, audience targeting, "broadience" and the need for better technical integration in search marketing.

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Amy Bishop speaking at SMX Advanced Europe held in Berlin in September.

For the first edition of SMX Advanced Europe, the PPC track was strongly dominated by a new breed of search geek. Today’s PPC is “the science of managing data pipelines,” as Chris Gutknecht from Bergzeit put it. The main themes of the PPC track were concentrated around entity harvesting, automation, audience targeting and the concept of “broadience.”

I was fortunate to moderate SMX Advanced Europe and its amazing PPC track. I always thought of myself as a techy marketer but the techiness of this PPC crowd was overwhelming. The venue by the Spree River was a beautiful and very pink hotel called Hotel nhow and a few hundred meters from a long stretch of the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Speakers in the PPC track suggested learning python and work on building a proprietary entity catalog. They recommended mastering SQL in order to get the most out of BigQuery. 

There was also a whole host of ideas on how to hack everything from the customized ads data feed in order to build conditional ads to how to use Google Ads scripts in combination with the Google Ads API to run and maintain your campaigns. How to start enriching your own dictionary of entities via Big Query, spaCy, Prodigy and AutoML were also included.

For many years on this level of conferences, we would hear all the SEO geeks lament the lack of collaboration with PPC departments and incompatibility in data sets. But this year, I heard the PPC geeks suggest that a learning organization should be harvesting queries from both organic and paid to build a proprietary library of entities to enrich search marketing operations over time. Perhaps at long last, we will see a technical integration of the two parallel lines of search marketing, organic and paid in harmony.  

But it was not only a geekfest. There were also some solid run-throughs of how to organize for scale in multi-million-dollar accounts and how to actively build an analytics structure around a user journey across various channels. And then there was an inspirational presentation including a new marketing concept, “broadience.”  


Purna Virji from Microsoft Ads presented a concept she calls “broadience.” The short story is to overlay audience targeting on broad-matched campaigns. It will be counter-intuitive to a lot of search marketers who have always tried to make targeting more precise and more specific. But with audience targeting, broad-matched search targeting can be used earlier in the user journey and still be efficient. 

Deep-dive into audience reporting

Co-speakers Amy Bishop and Michelle Morgan took us through targeting along the user journey and one of the most notable stops along the way was the deep-dive into audience reporting in google analytics. “You can totally geek out with audience reporting,” is how Amy Bishop put it. Many European marketers might have turned audience tracking off due to GDPR but in this presentation we had a good geek look into the levels of reporting and insights you can extract from it. 

Entity harvesting

Several sessions addressed the handling of search query reports and how to build knowledge of useful entities from those reports. Marco Frighetto for whom “Big Query is not optional anymore” addressed this from an automation perspective. He ran through a tools stack for extracting, segmenting and managing the keywords depending on whether they cannibalize, burn budget or are performing strongly. 

Christopher Gutknecht also started with the search query report and added layers of machine learning tools in order to build his library of entities using tools like SpaCy and AutoML. 

And finally, Marcel Prothmann showed his tool stack and entity handling using Big Query, Apps scripts and Big Query ML as well as the various custom-built scripts they add in order to control and optimize the process and showing how the set-up can predict profit per click as output from the process. 

Using automation for paid search

Automation was an omnipresent theme on this track. It confirmed research from Innovell (my company) that found that 25% of advanced teams would, “automate everything that can be automated.”

Automate search terms report, use ad feeds to dynamically update ads and in the last session of the day, Dmytro Tonkikh explained how his colleagues would invest a lot of time in building rich content for their real estate database so that the publication of campaigns could be fully automated. “When they upload the product database, we automatically set up the campaigns and the targeting and then we let DSA [dynamic search ads] do the rest.” So, no human intervention. 

This triggered me to ask Tonkikh during the Q&A: “Tell us what your workday looks like.”  

“I first check that my scripts run ok since the day before or over the weekend and then I spend some time automating new processes via scripts I build,” Tonkikh said.

It looks like we are at the dawn of a new PPC marketing approach – and it is very geeky.

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Search marketing is moving back toward more human interaction /search-marketing-is-moving-back-toward-more-human-interaction-320428 Fri, 09 Aug 2019 14:18:53 +0000 /?p=320428 PPC expert Mark Irvine shared his insights during SMX London on what lies beyond the data to manage walled gardens with new opportunities in mind.

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At SMX London in May, I attended two presentations with PPC expert Mark Irvine. He was recently crowned the number one PPC Expert by PPCHero in their annual list.

Irvine works as a data scientist for Wordstream, a Google Ads and Microsoft Ads management and optimization platform. Examining data and explaining what it means is his expertise and I interviewed him for my 2019 Search Trends report.

Social trends predict search trends

Some of the data from his analyses goes beyond search to the trends his data is showing across multiple platforms. 

This slide from Irvine’s presentation at SMX examines how an hour of trending on Twitter affects searches. In this case it doubled on Google and within six hours, the searches increased fivefold. There is a good case for real-time marketing and this view of the data is something we rarely see in digital marketing because of the channel specialization and the difficulty with access to cross-channel data. 

Irvine consequently made a case for differentiating the roles of digital marketing channels. We discover on social and then we search on Google. I am tempted to continue that phrase in line with my current research on Amazon Marketing to say… and then we buy on Amazon. This is all about how humans behave on social media and this differentiated view shows that there may still be some life in the funnel concept as well as a strong case for jumping from one walled garden to the next with our marketing initiatives. 

I certainly wouldn’t try to build a brand using Amazon and I really wouldn’t try to sell products via Instagram at this stage – good luck with that, brave pioneers! Those things will require massive changes in services offerings (that the platforms are currently undertaking) but also in user behavior and habits. 

So, what are the big trends in digital marketing?

Irvine notes that we are not talking about keywords much in 2019 – and he is thrilled he does not have a thesaurus on his desk anymore. We are now talking about how audiences find brands. After years of polished ad copy and perfect images on social media, he suggests that human-to-human conversations are better. Could it be that more authentic communications are on the rise?

In terms of the work itself, PPCers are not just Google-focused anymore. Everybody is forced to learn a lot of advertising platforms. The skill set requirements are also changing. We have more tools doing the repetitive work and therefore need to concentrate on our added value in terms of creativity and insights.

On the platform side, Irvine is quite optimistic about the future for platforms like Pinterest, Quora and Reddit, although they may have a bit of a brand-safety challenge. He is less optimistic about native advertising and platforms like Taboola, Outbrain and Criteo. 

Irvine offered these words to wrap up our interview:

“Data isn’t going away. But increasingly I have to think more about the human dimension. Data-focus is moving to a human-to-human perspective. We need to put our advertising in that context.”

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Decompose your ads, not your brand /decompose-your-ads-not-your-brand-318050 Tue, 11 Jun 2019 18:31:02 +0000 /?p=318050 It's time to rethink the way brand assets are put together because now we have less control over dynamic ad formats in the final version.

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Raise your hand if you would like to advertise for your brand without knowing what the message will be? A lot of people probably remember Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI) gone bad with the fancy syntax {KeyWord:OrElse}. It was a prime example of the dangers of automation, and maybe it was back then when ads started decomposing. I will always remember the eBay ads that would appear on practically any search query you could imagine. Search for “Dirty Thoughts,” and an ad would offer “Dirty Thoughts for Sale.” Or how about “Athletic Sweat” or “Vampire blood?” I think this is my favorite:

And there are even more examples including Free Dead Cats or ads inciting users to Meet Dead Singles.

At the time, I thought eBay had a special deal with Google to target just any keyword, but looking closer, I noticed many of them had the little “aff.” mention in the ad, showing they were affiliates rather than eBay itself. Affiliates are good for volume but not for branding.

Today, digital marketers have become accustomed to working with automation and dynamic ad composition. As an example of this, the creative process on Facebook is composed of four stages: identity (brand), format, image (or video) and text. The ad composer then allows the digital marketer to view what the composed ad will look like in each placement.

Beyond that, you simply can’t picture what the end product will look like.

Google has also progressively decomposed ads on its’ network into individual elements. Recently, on Google Marketing Live, a new type of ad was launched, the Discovery Ads. These ads are dynamically composed based on titles, description and images and are displayed on three different Google properties: Youtube, Gmail and Google Discover. Google recommends you to provide as many variations of each element as possible. Google can also scan your website for images, you can add them manually, or if you don’t have any images available, “try searching for stock images.” The machine will take care of the rest.

Do I need to say this? If you care about your brand and about the user experience – then don’t!

You don’t “look for stock images” when you are within the Google platform creating an ad. You will have done the thinking and the image search for this, working with other people, and in a structured process. And if not, that is where you need to step up and build a better process for building dynamic ads.

But it gets worse

Google also announced a new machine-learning based ad feature called the “Bumper Machine.” I like the dreamy nature of that tool and the vision on which it was based. It will take existing video ads and turn them into six-second long “bumper ads” to put in front, or at the end of a video on Youtube. It is a fantastic technological achievement, but does it really cover a need? The intention behind it is positive: help advertisers overcome the pain of having to create a new video format for Youtube when they already have one (longer version) of the video. It is, however, a complete disruption of the creative process and a mechanism by which the story and the message from the original video are also recomposed.

I asked one of the speakers at the SMX London conference, Roey Rafael, a Youtube ad specialist for Envato, what his thoughts were on this new solution. He already optimizes videos to convey a full story within the first five seconds, so that he can benefit from free impressions using the TrueView type of ad so he won’t be using it.

We cannot ignore what is at hand, however. Ads are continuing to be decomposed into individual elements and dynamically recomposed at the time of visualization, as ads become contextual, multi-format and personalized. As for the eBay example cited above, letting loose technology can have some unexpected and undesirable effects on the end-user.

Leading teams are building brand consistency

In my company’s research, we surveyed leading paid search teams and we asked the participants how “brand consistency” was being managed. The responses were encouraging, as a majority were actively building this with their clients or stakeholders.

But a number of them said this was not in their area of responsibility and relied on other departments or their clients to ensure brand consistency.

Is your process optimized for ad composition?

Creative disruption and ad decomposition are here to stay. And despite my warnings above, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing – we simply need to organize for it. This comes down to rethinking the way brand assets are put together and how communication channels are used. The “Bumper Machine” is there for a reason – advertisers didn’t prepare six-second ads and therefore, they can do it with the bumper machine. But in the future, they should build video ads with various outputs: six seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 90 seconds. This requires a different creative process, with a focus on the input rather than the output. Essentially it is one story to be told in various time frames from various angles and with various formats of output.

For images and messaging, the same philosophy should apply. Image selection should focus on the values they express and be made available in various formats and resolutions. And once the values are reflected in the images, they should also be carried by the various communication workers in an organization. Communication is increasingly transcending the entire organization – think about employee advocacy which a lot of organizations are striving for. Have you prepared your employees for carrying the values of your brand? Are you empowering them?

My favorite metaphor for an ideal communication process is that of the hologram. In a hologram, every pixel of the 3D image holds a representation of the entire image. The brand can be seen from many angles and with many nuances, but the image remains consistent from one communication instance to the other. From one ad to the next, even shifting devices or changing channels, the image remains consistent.

We have work to do.

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The time has come to optimize for IRLs rather than URLs /the-time-has-come-to-optimize-for-irls-rather-than-urls-315797 Tue, 23 Apr 2019 12:43:35 +0000 /?p=315797 Drive-to-store strategies have reached a tipping point where they can play a significant role in improving performance of online marketing due to more reliable tracking methods.

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Sometimes we have this fight in our minds between reason and data. Should I trust my gut feeling or should I trust the data? Back when I was running an agency, I would often be the one to present the side of the data and I could observe that mental struggle on the face of a client or a prospect trying to align his or her world view with what the data presented. We shouldn’t blindly trust the data which has problems of incompleteness and unreliability. But we should never reject what the data says either.

The good news in 2019 is that data relating to offline activity – things you do without a screen – is becoming actionable enough to fuel dedicated strategies rather than just side-projects or proofs of concept.

Store-visits tracking have become more reliable

At the core of this change lies the improvement in tracking mechanisms. It looks like the “store-visits” tracking from Google and Facebook has become more reliable in several contexts. The precision and reliability of this type of tracking depend on the capability to precisely track ones geographical position via GPS and wifi.

The level of precision is dependent on several factors like the geographical location, user behavior (logged in?) and technology (sophistication of devices) in each case. From one country to another, the level of precision could be radically different and there are a lot of potential error factors. Clearly, it makes a difference to know whether a user has been inside your specific point of sale, outside your point of sale or next door at a competitor’s shop. A difference of one meter (three feet) makes for an entirely different interpretation of user behavior.

Leading teams have started doing this

In our research for the Search Strategy report, we asked the participating teams (shortlisted teams in search awards around the globe), to what extent they took offline data into account in the projects they managed. They declared using tracking of offline activities in almost 1/3 of their projects. Although perhaps several projects are not meant to generate an offline impact, there seems to be a huge untapped potential for better data collection on the impact of digital campaigns. Additionally, if the adoption rate of offline tracking is 32% among the leading teams in paid search, we should expect the rate to be much lower in the broader population of search marketers. There is ample opportunity!

Research Online Purchase Offline

ROPO is when we do online research for a purchase but end up buying the product in a physical store. We do this for a number of reasons: trust, need to touch, delivery place and delay. When we do ROPO, it is almost impossible to track our full user journey as we change “channel” and “device.” One minute our touch point comes from a desktop computer, the next from a smartphone and in the end, we physically touch the product with our hands and the tracking chain is definitively broken.

One of the teams in our survey, award-winning digital marketing agency Wolfgang digital, used a sophisticated method to measure the effect of ROPO for one of their clients. It involved the use of digital receipts after a purchase allowing them to reconcile data from campaign-driven ROPO. The main learning was that for every dollar being spent online, there was another $6 spent offline after a user visited the site. Knowing that the value of their digital campaign was significantly higher than they could measure online, they could now redistribute an additional part of the overall budget to online channels. The change is significant!

What is becoming mainstream is a simpler approach. One in which the data is not as complete as the example we gave, but on the other hand, it is available in real time. Campaigns will, therefore, aim to drive people to the point of sale, and it is this visit to the store which is the data-point we optimize against. Hence the name drive-to-store strategy. We can then only assume or retroactively estimate sales outcome from the store visits.

What does a drive-to-store strategy look like?

In a simplified manner, a drive-to-store strategy can be summarized in the following points:

  1. Geographic definition of the points of sale
  2. Definition of catchment areas for each point of sale
  3. Set-up of specific tracking for store-visits
  4. Update campaigns with location extensions, multi-layered radius targeting, maps campaigns and other geotargeting
  5. Ongoing optimization of campaigns against the flows of visitors in the points of sale
  6. Position-based reporting

Increasing store visits by 50%

In the report, we illustrate the drive-to-store strategy with an award-winning case study from MediaCom Worldwide and Bose who established an ambitious strategy to generate measurable and quantifiable offline actions based on digital campaigns.

Bose increased visits to their store originating from digital campaigns by 50% and the revenue generated from these actions increased by 56% driving significant amounts of incremental sales. This was achieved by implementing a full-scale drive-to-store strategy in which always-on campaigns were enhanced with location information and extensions and a Promoted Places beta allowed them to place ads on Google maps to flag and promote Bose stores.

The age of IRL has arrived

We are at a turning point. It is time to exit our online boxes and start optimizing campaigns for what happens In Real Life rather than to actions that happen on specific URLs. Offline data has become available for online optimization. We can’t yet access transaction data in real time, and it is, therefore, impossible to optimize to value. However, we have taken a major step into solving the offline-online equation in that we can now measure traffic flows in physical locations and optimize to that dimension. It is a major break-through and a major competitive advantage as illustrated by Bose’s 50% increase in store-visits. If you are click-and-mortar and not already in that game, you need to move now. Learn from the data and trust your guts when you see the story they tell.

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Once Were Vikings: Search Marketing In The Nordics /vikings-search-marketing-nordics-192208 /vikings-search-marketing-nordics-192208#respond Fri, 13 Jun 2014 14:30:23 +0000 http:/?p=192208 And the winner of this year’s European Search Personality award is… Kristjan Mar Hauksson! With Kristjan being from Iceland, it seems the time is due for a focus on the Nordics. Those who know the region may be thinking fjords, mountains, forests, lakes, volcanoes, kings and castles. Or perhaps you’re thinking about small search volumes, […]

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And the winner of this year’s European Search Personality award is… Kristjan Mar Hauksson!

With Kristjan being from Iceland, it seems the time is due for a focus on the Nordics. Those who know the region may be thinking fjords, mountains, forests, lakes, volcanoes, kings and castles. Or perhaps you’re thinking about small search volumes, higher than average CPCs (compared to other European markets), and high conversion rates?

Ever since I expatriated to France, I have been observing with interest the search marketing landscape in my home country of Denmark and its Nordic neighbours. And I had great opportunities to further my understanding recently, both as Chair of SMX Stockholm last year and while attending the RIMC conferences in Iceland earlier this year.

Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark

Viking Search Marketers
Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark

The Nordic market primarily consists of 5 countries in Northern Europe: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland. Sweden is the largest, with approximately 9 million inhabitants; Denmark, Norway and Finland have approximately 5 million inhabitants each. In total, the Nordic countries boast around 25 million inhabitants.

(Note: Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Åland Islands are often counted among the Nordic countries as well; however, they are not specifically included in any of this article’s data.)

Attractive, But Difficult

Being highly digital economies with some of the world’s highest incomes per capita, you would expect the Nordic region to appear high on international digital marketers’ priority lists.

In fact, according to a recent report published by PostNord, E-commerce in the Nordics 2013, over 14 million Nordic consumers bought goods online in 2012 (with over 1/3 doing so at least once per month) to the tune of around €10.9 billion. This means that the region comes in on a European top 4 if taken as one single entity.

But when you start addressing the region as a single unit, you run into some difficulty. Three of the countries are part of the European Union, but the other two are not. Some of the languages appear very similar, but they are not the same. Some have a land connection between them and some don’t. Yes, they all once were Vikings — but can you really consider this as one region?

In online marketing, you will deal with 5 different languages and a need for localised messaging, as users are demanding and online behaviour is sophisticated.

As Kasper Hove, an ex-Googler now heading search at the Nordic flight booking engine Momondo, explained during a presentation at SMX Stockholm 2013:

An ecommerce site in Norway with a customer service number in Denmark will get a much lower conversion than a site with a local Norwegian phone number.

Within Momondo they have organised their online marketing department in a centralised hub where junior “country managers” (natives of each individual country) have been trained to manage the most important acquisition channel, Paid Search, and then evolve to manage more channels and have a say on the localised country sites.

Kristjan Hauksson, who runs a cross-Nordic agency, added his vision to this in an email to me:

However similar they may seem, the languages are not the same. Written Norwegian and Danish appear similar but are in reality much further from each other than you might expect. Finland is then a very different beast, as their language is not related to the other Nordic Languages whatsoever.

In The Nordics, Everybody Speaks English… Right?

Oh yes, the Nordic populations pretty much all speak English — as their second language. And the reason for it is pretty much Hollywood. See the cost of dubbing a movie is quite high so for small populations you will simply subtitle films — at least that was what my childhood looked like.

Nowadays the same thing is happening in video games. The English language is everywhere. According to a report released by the European Commission, “Europeans and their Languages,” an estimated 86% Danes and Swedes speak English, and around 70% of Finns do.

Source: Special Eurobarometer 386 / Wave EB 77 . 1 Specia l Eurobarometer

Source: Eurobarometer 386

So here is a quick win, right? Well, perhaps not….

Do They Also Search In English?

With such a high language proficiency, perhaps searches are done in English? For many years that was the case for myself — I would look for information in English and naturally would search with English keywords.

But then, something happened. A couple of years ago, Google decided that people based in France with a French language browser should be served French search results. Today, it is difficult accessing the British or American search index, even using English search terms. I am served French results only, and then given suggestions to correct my wrong spelling. The same goes for the Nordic countries.

A further complication is the high penetration of English words into the Nordic languages: computer, printer, internet, email, search marketing, and SEO are all more or less fully absorbed into the current Nordic languages. So the search query may look English, but it is in fact Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.

Consider this: If using the wrong country code for a customer service number puts consumers off, how do you think speaking to them in the wrong language will do for you? If you do not have a very powerful brand, an unbeatable price, or an outstanding service offering, you might not be able to outcompete a local (or localised) competitor if your site is in English.

I have run into the question many times in Europe: “Should I translate my website, my ads?” The answer is yes.

“But that’s expensive! Maybe I can do that once I have some revenue!” That certainly looks better in a business plan, but could be harmful for your brand.

The question you really need to know the answer to is this: “Is there demand for what I sell?” You could easily reach the conclusion that there is no market because you wasted all your advertising on a message that did not come through.

Organic Search In The Nordics

Looking to organic search, surprisingly, the Nordic markets differ from the English-speaking markets also. Marcus Tober of SearchMetrics showed evidence at last year’s SMX Stockholm of a different ranking pattern in Google than what they published for the US market.

Interestingly, ranking factors seemed to reflect an earlier stage of the algorithm where Anchor Text in links are still important, and where keywords in the domain name have do not have reduced importance. In Stockholm, I heard someone whisper, “…probably because nobody speaks Swedish in the Search quality team.”

A special practice has been seen in the region, namely that of building massive amounts of backlinks from websites in other languages and in other locations. Risky business. Do not try this at home!

This is perhaps a reaction from local players to their international competitors. These large competitors often launch local websites with powerful backlinks profiles already in place (usually from their other websites), driving good ranking almost from day one.

Local competitors still seem to have a hard time ranking against major US players who have launched localised sites, despite a much stronger local popularity. A flaw in the algorithm? Something else to strike the SERPs in coming months, perhaps? Maybe an International Penguin?

It is in part a consequence of the entire region looking to the US. With the exception of some local players like in Norway and in Denmark, the Googles, Facebooks Ebays and Twitters have little local competition. Google’s market share throughout the region is 85% or higher and Facebook penetration so high it is the number 1 media in the region reaching an audience of 13 million people (source: Facebook internal data based on inferred and reported date, August 2013 [presented at SMX Stockholm 2013]).

How You Can Address The Nordics Efficiently

According to Kevin Gibbons, who is working across the region from the UK, a “hub and spoke” model for international content marketing, rolled-out across the region, has proven successful for his company  (Blueglass UK) and their clients.

In recent projects, Blueglass UK has built a unique data set of user behaviour in the tourism segment and then built multiple localised versions of the content before distribution within each market. As he noted during a presentation at SMX Stockholm 2013:

It is important to synchronize the roll-out in the Nordic markets as there can be an information overlap between the countries as language, culture and media behaviour are quite similar.

In an email to me, Magnus Nilsson of Redperformance in Norway gave similar advice:

Consider the countries as separate markets. Of course with regards to language, but also do your homework regarding differences in market maturity of online shopping, risk aversion, and for example how important (or not) discounts may be.

Final Thoughts

The Nordic markets present an attractive opportunity for online marketers willing to make an investment in the region.

These countries have many common characteristics — but if you don’t address them individually, you will not reap the benefits of your investment. The ideal approach when entering that market seems to be the establishment of a Nordic hub with natives from each country gathered into one team, allowing for a centralised yet local management of the region.

Let’s round it off with a word from Kristjan: “Research, research, research, and do not generalize your findings!”

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Bienvenue En France: How To Do Search Marketing With A French Flavor /bienvenue-en-france-a-top-search-market-166228 /bienvenue-en-france-a-top-search-market-166228#comments Fri, 26 Jul 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http:/?p=166228 A while back, Rand Fishkin of Moz visited Paris for the SMX conference held there. One of the things he mentioned to me was how surprised he was at some of the misconceptions that exist. “Paris doesn’t live up to any of its stereotypes,” he said. “There’s dog crap on the streets. Service folks, even […]

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A while back, Rand Fishkin of Moz visited Paris for the SMX conference held there. One of the things he mentioned to me was how surprised he was at some of the misconceptions that exist. “Paris doesn’t live up to any of its stereotypes,” he said. “There’s dog crap on the streets. Service folks, even at busy restaurants, are incredibly friendly.”

A few weeks prior, I had made a presentation at the International Search Summit in London entitled, “Excuse my French” — not that I think I have anything to excuse my wife for, nor my friends or colleagues in Paris – more as an attempt to illustrate the immense cultural gap between two countries.

Most French actually don’t understand the expression and most anglophones don’t really consider how rude it really is. “Excuse my French” is described in Wikipedia as: « … a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising profanity as French. ». Woo, that hurt…

I hope I didn’t let out a secret that will cause sabotage on the Eurotunnel or cause someone to fly a drone into the Big Ben (the French are way above sacrificing themselves and pretty advanced engineers)!

Search Marketing In France

So, what does all this have to do with Search Marketing? Well, everything. We are deep into keywords and cultural frameworks. Understanding the words is not enough — you need context.

GDP, ecommerce & online population in France, Germany, United Kingdom

Market characteristics for France: 2nd largest population in the EU, 5th GDP
in the world, but a little lazy in e-commerce.
Image copyright Aznos

I believe the French market is probably a difficult one for search marketers to access from the outside. I am working within that market and it can be a challenge to understand a context you are in the midst of.

But then, I believe I have a unique perspective. As a Dane, I come from outside of the market — but I have lived for many years in France, and I have had the chance to manage Search Marketing at the European level for clients and agencies. This is what inspired me to write this article.

Why Is The French Market So Difficult?

I have asked this question to a number of International Search Marketers with experience doing Search in France, and they have agreed to share their thoughts.

Language Issues

a comma is not a comma

Image copyright Aznos


The first thing that comes to mind are the challenges with character set and accents. See, in French, you can put four different accents on an “e”:

  • é
  • è
  • ê
  • ë

An E is not an E.

But really, character sets and accents are things you will sort out once and for all when you launch a website or build a campaign. And these days, websites, content management systems and keyword-based advertising have now come around managing this challenge quite well.

Not like in the old days when SEO copy writing would need inclusion of both singular and plural versions and then accentuated and non-accentuated versions in the same phrase. That was not so funny.

So, we are past the days when accents would be a major obstacle. Language-wise, French is not such a big challenge anymore; it is a major world language, spoken by 200 million people . It is also an attractive language with a beautiful ring to it. The English language has even borrowed many words from French. All of the words in the word cloud below are French words used in English, and you probably know them all.

French words in English

Image copyright Aznos

However, what seems to be a challenge in paid search copy writing today is getting the message across. As Global Head of Search at Cheapflight, Shahid Awan, puts it: “The French language is quite complex, and time spent on ad copy is critical. It is a lot more difficult to come up with short and catchy ad text — words are long and there isn’t any way to get words shorter like in the UK.”

Translation Issues

Most of the people I have interviewed agree that you can’t simply translate search campaigns, whether Paid Search or SEO, into French. This is certainly true of automatic translation, but it applies to using translators as well. David Henry of Monster UK puts it like this, “In my experience, you can’t translate a campaign from another market. You can translate and modify a search strategy, but you need a local partner to help bring it to life.”

Alan Boughen, Global Head of Search at Havas, agrees, “Local is best to cope with language nuances. But it can be done with native speakers from another country e.g., French Canadians.”

When you are using a local partner or have the teams in house, you don’t need to worry so much about the quality of your local version anymore: keyword selection, accents, calls to action, character set — all set.

Cultural Mindset

GMT + 1

Image copyright Aznos

David Towers of MEC addresses the question of the mind set, “Working with French clients while maintaining an Anglo-Saxon mindset can be challenging!”

Marc Poirier of Acquisio, who set up his company’s local operation in France, gives a bit more nuance to this, “From my experience, doing business in France is a very lengthy process, and the amount of time that passes from the initial “let’s make a deal” to the closing of a contract is much longer (and somewhat more painful) than it is here in America.”

I have actually seen American companies try to launch in the French market in the past only to give up a few years later, so what Marc explains is no surprise. The process is somewhat lengthy and with quite some paperwork before getting to an operational deal. Perhaps, in a French mindset, working your way through the process is just as important as finalising a deal.

So Why Should We Care About The French Market?

Well, the French search market is really just playing hard to get. It is a very attractive market. The French economy was the 5th biggest GDP in the world in 2011. Online penetration is high, and France represent the 2nd biggest online population in the EU, behind Germany but ahead of the United Kingdom.

From the figures, the French do significantly fewer searches per month than the British, and e-commerce is quite far behind. This in turn may be one of the reasons why click prices in paid search seem to be lower than in the UK.

CPC & Searches in France, Germany, UK

Image copyright Aznos

The result is a lower cost-per-click. Now, let us not get carried away — if the CPC is lower in France than in the UK but on the other hand the CVR is higher in the UK, your ROI is not going to be mechanically better, and your entire online marketing approach will have to be different.

In summary, the French search market is probably a top destination to think of in International campaigns. A strong economy despite the present downturn, a big population, pretty well connected, using just one language, and where Search Advertising is still cheaper than in certain other markets. The challenge you are facing is to do business with the locals; but hey, to cite Marc Poirier again, “Business in France often revolves around fantastic meals and a few drinks, which I found to be quite pleasant.”

Bon appétit!

Everything you need to know about Search Marketing in France

Image copyright Aznos

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