Why Europe Kicks America’s Butt (Guestpost)

Fri 19 June 2009 10:30, Editors

Why Europe Kicks America’s Butt (Guestpost)

If you visit a conference and Judith Lewis is there it's hard to miss her. This outspoken woman goes around conferences like a whirlwind. She doesn't hold back in her talks, which make her talks always more interesting. One tip: if she steps away from the mic: don't tweet or blog what she says ;).

Judith has been in the business since 1996 so she can tell very well what things have changed over the years. She works in London as Search Director for i-Level. Originally she is from Canada and now living and working in London. This makes her one of the perfect persons to talk about the differences between Europe and the US.

Why Europe Kicks America’s Butt

The unthinkable has happened.  It’s been happening silently for quite some time but I’m here to drag it kicking and screaming out in to the light.  Too long has it been slinking in the shadows – it’s time it was exposed.


Europe kicks America’s butt.

I can hear the incredulous comments already “No way.” “In what way?” “How could you ever even think such a thing?” “Well, maybe at rugby union but nothing else…”

“Prove it” is likely to be the most oft voiced comment.  I’ll explain a bit about what I mean and how it related to search.  Yep, I’m talking about search.  Europe performs more searches than the US according to comScore (2009 figures).  OK… we have more people but not by much.  While Google was being developed in the US, Europe has been quietly developing other kinds of search experts.

Europe is a large but diverse economy and often the non-English speaking parts are ignored or dismissed by the non-European English-speaking world.  No, not all of it, just a lot of it.  While being ignored like that might irritate some countries, Europeans simply used it as an effective cover behind which to lead the world in search knowledge.

Sure it may seem unsophisticated on the surface but consider the technology and knowledge that has to go in to developing an algorithm that deals with the multitude of ways people search in Finland who perform the highest number of searches per person.  They have so many ways of referring to something, they need to optimise in creative and imaginative ways.  There Europe has been forging ahead in semantic relevancy to help searchers overcome that problem.

The UK, Germany, Spain and France each have an extremely developed online presence with those four countries accounting for huge numbers of searches and internet penetration.  After the UK, Germany has always been top of the list as an internet retailer as a target. It’s the first language I’d invest in translations & staff for.  They are, in Europe, the main country competitor for retail in my niches.

In Europe we are able to think globally because we have to transact business across several currencies, cultures and levels of internet sophistication.  We have to adapt quickly and be nimble, adopting new technologies to make our busy and complex lives run more smoothly.  We work across several timezones and we adopted SMS like nobody’s business. We’ve had to be agile what with changing political structures and we’ve adapted well to the new web 2.0 era.

Europe has some of the foremost leading experts in search.  While the US does have a number of experts and “superstars”, Europe has Mikkel de Mib, Dave Naylor, Jason Duke, Rob Kerry, and a number of other experts and superstars, so much so that people from the US regularly attend UK conferences to keep ahead of folk in the US.  SMX London 2009 saw the whole beginner track removed so it could focus on intermediate to advanced tactics.

We’re innovators in search here in Europe. We have discovered algorithm changes early, found our own ways around the system and been leading lights in… errrr… creativity in implementation.  While we may not broadcast our achievement outside the pub/café, we’ve been working hard to deliver the results we need to in the SERPs.  Many innovative search results are the results of Europe’s tireless efforts.

In Europe, the development of the algorithm for each country differs and as such SEOs have had to adapt to the different environments.  Often, brands may release a website across multiple countries and languages and as such, SEOs in Europe have had to become experts across a number of different algorithms.  Each country, each search engine has a different way of calculating rankings it seems and as such search professionals have to master multiple algorithms in multiple languages.

Paid search also presents a unique set of problems depending on the country.  A business in Switzerland may wish to target people both in English and the languages spoken in the country - being Italian, French, German and Swiss-German.  This multi-language targeting also happens in Belgium where Flemish and French may be used along with English to target website visitors.  In paid search, getting smart not just with match types but negatives, ad delivery, language and landing URLs is as much an art as a science.

We face many diverse political, language, monetary and targeting challenges in Europe.  This combined with a different algorithm for every country means search professionals have had to learn more, be more dynamic and nimble and really rock search.  That’s why in Europe we’re attracting people from the US to our conferences.  Because Europe kicks America’s Butt : - )

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