Hello world! There is no Europe!

Tue 29 December 2009 14:00, Editors

Hello world! There is no Europe!

In the guestpost series Mikkel de Mib Svendsen off course could not be left out. This Danish SEO is one of the most influential SEOs in Europe. His post "Hello world! There is no Europe!" about SEO in Europe was right on the mark.

Hello world! There is no Europe!
Originally posted on June 25th 2009

If you visit a search conference for the first time and you spot a guy in a red suit running around don't be surprised. It's probably Mikkel de Mib Svendsen. This "Danish Dynamite" is one of the most talked about SEO's in the industry. And not just because of his red suit.

Mikkel is known for the humor he puts in his presentations which at the same time are always right on the spot. It's almost 100% sure you will pick up something new in his presentations. Mikkel is doing a lot of different things. He is amongst others director of deMib.com, founder of Joblr and host of the podcast Strikepoint. And he listens to his new book being downloaded from his website...

Hello world! There is no Europe!

When I speak at conferences in the US local business owners often ask me how they can market themselves best in Europe. Europe? I ask. There is no Europe and there are no Europeans!

There is a politically united Europe. There is a geographical Europe. There is a dream among some that we will one day get a United States of Europe. But from a marketing point of view the fact remains that there is no Europe and there are no Europeans!

We (in Europe) don’t speak the same language, we don’t hear the same music, we don’t have the same laws, we don’t follow the same norms, we don’t laugh at the same jokes and we don’t share the same religions. 

There are no Europeans! There are Germans, Italians, Belgians and Danes to name a few. Hardly anyone feel “European”. We feel German, Italian, Belgian, and Danish. And basically most of us still hate each other. 60 years of peace just doesn’t heal hundred of years of wars. 

In other words: There is no way you can market to “Europeans”. We simply have too little in common. If you try to focus on the few things some of us share, you will only reach a very small fragment.

Europeans do not speak “European”
Let’s say you chose to market your business in Europe with a site in English. That should be cool, right? After all, all European kids are taught English in Schools and should know how to read and write it. Wrong!

Most kids do have English in Schools but even though a high number of young people in Europe speak English fluently the fact is that the far majority of consumers prefers to deal with online business in they own native tongue. 

Even here in Denmark where you can easily talk to just about anyone you meet on the streets in English most people still prefer to deal with sites in Danish. The far majority of all online sales in Denmark go to websites in Danish. 

So your first step in marketing your online business in Europe is to communicate in the language that your target audience speak. And no, Google Translate won’t do it! In fact it’s a bloody insult to serve a Google translated web page (or any text for that matter) to anyone.

This really shouldn’t be such a surprise to anyone. Everyone should know this. But apparently they don’t! At least I keep getting the same kind of questions when I am abroad based on the same wrong assumption that there is a Europe and Europeans to market to. And I keep seeing US online businesses that totally fail at reaching European consumers.

Pay respect to local law
But let’s assume you get the language issue right and make a proper translation of your site for each country in Europe you want to target. That should be it then, right? No, wrong again! 

First of all there are different laws in all of Europe’s countries. If you translate your website to a local European language and actively market yourself to people here then you officially have to comply by most local marketing and consumer protection laws. If you have a small US firm you probably won’t get prosecuted if you don’t follow them by the letter. If you have a large company – such as Google or Microsoft, you won’t get away with it for long. 

But even if you can legally get away with not fully complying with local laws I really don’t recommend you try! European consumers are very aware of their rights and if you don’t live up to them most people just won’t deal with you. 

And there is more …

Understand the local culture
Besides language and legal issues our ethics and cultures are also very different. In general you should tone down your voice from what you are used to in the US. Don’t speak so damn loud! 

We can read words even if they are not very large, bold and red. Trust me, we can! You also don’t need to repeat everything 10 times and add a summary at the end. We do get it the first or second time around! Doing so just makes you look stupid. You don’t appear serious and it doesn’t create trust. 

Depending on what you are selling and how you are selling it you may also need to make other local adjustments. Even countries – such as the Scandinavians, that seem very much alike have important differences that you should understand. 

One example is a few years old from back in 2000 when I was managing Scandinavians biggest search engine in Denmark: Kvasir. In the Danish branch we made some promotion lighters once. No big deal. Everyone do that, right? Well apparently not because when the executives at the head office in Norway heard about it they got furious.  

We where told back then that in Norway no one gives out promotion lighters. It’s like telling people to smoke and considered highly unethical. Even we Danes growing up so close to the Norwegians did not know this!

And this is just one example between two countries. There are literally millions of similar local issues around Europe.


Don’t be as arrogant as Yahoo!
Back then Yahoo had a pretty strong presence here in Scandinavian. Not as strong as us, at Kvasir – with a competing directory and search engine, but a good number 3 or 4 (as I remember). They had the first mover advantage.

But Yahoo made one crucial error, as many other US companies have done before and after them: They did not listen well enough to their local teams! After years of loosing money Yahoo finally decided to close down its operations in Scandinavia entirely in 2004. They lost the game. 

Yahoo had a great team of editors back then. Fantastic people. Later some of them have told me that they did tell Yahoo what they should do to compete here in Scandinavia. They could also see what worked for the rest of us local sites. But Yahoo’s management in USA did not listen. They where arrogant enough to think that they could work it all out from Silicon Valley. They could not! And don’t think you can either!

Is it really worth it?
It may sound like it’s not worth bothering with Europe at all. That’s not true. Not at all! In fact because so many companies outside Europe don’t understand how to market themselves well enough here its much easier for you to compete. With less competition it’s easier to dominate more and with a greater dominance comes great rewards. 

I have consulted local clients here in Denmark with Danish websites that gets well over 1 million organic search visitors per month – in Danish! How many get that on their global English websites? Do you? One of the Danish websites I have a share in currently gets 3-400,000 organic search visitors per month. I think that’s pretty good. And this is 100% white hat quality websites with only very basic SEO done.

In conclusion
There are a lot of great opportunities in Europe – not the least in search engine marketing. If you do it well the returns can be really good. But you have to do it right. If you do not adapt well enough you will end up like Yahoo in Scandinavia. 

The raw translation of your website is actually the easy part. The hard part is complying with local laws and cultures. The only way to get this perfectly right is to involve some local people and listen to them! If you are just a small business you may not need to employ a full time local team for every single region in Europe you want to sell in but you should at least consult with some local folks to help you better adapt.

Comments (21)


    • Yoshimi

    This is so true, here in the UK one of my biggest annoyances is that the only concession american sites make when coming to the UK is changing the $ to £. Listen up people, just because we speak the same language, doesn't mean that we share the same culture, or that we expect the same levels of service. The one that will turn me off a site instantly, when they don't change the american spellings to english, shows a complete lack of respect for the audience, and makes it seem like coming to sell in the UK is an afterthought to make you a little more cash. (and if any US marketers really want to understand how different each European country is, I suggest a night watching the Eurovision song content, it is a lesson in culture!)

    Do 25 jun 2009, 11:01

  • Great piece of work Mikkel, and spot-on. We are not the same, and although politicians wants us to think we are very badly, we are not. We don't think alike, we don't act alike. We are influenced by culture, laws and regulation, economics, local politics, etc. And all those things make us and our countries (and Europe beautifu), but on the other hand a pain in the .... when it comes to market businesses.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 11:10

  • Hear, hear! I had to struggle so hard to get proper translated versions of the US corporate site done here in Europe. They had French and German covered so they thought they were fine. Took me years to get them to build an Italian site, and they never really bought the business case for a Spanish site. The US bosses just don't realize the importance of marketing locally.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 11:17

  • Well said, Mikkel! Great article!

    I spent the last 6 years trying to explain to our US friends that there is no such thing as Europe or European, while the respect and understanding of local culture (campaign localization, not translation) is a must for those who want to succeed on the European market(s)!!!

    Do 25 jun 2009, 14:05

  • Great post, Mikkel!

    You really catch the essence here of why Europe is a hard and different "market" to target.

    But you also highlight an important thing: when the fragmentation and adaption to the local markets/cultures is done right, you can have a huge succes!

    Do 25 jun 2009, 14:08

  • Spot on Mikkel, when will the colonials learn that it is a big world and each market needs it own attention.

    Companies will spend millions to enter a market traditionally but on the web will offer 1/10th of a web resource to make changes to the website to make it local friendly.

    The root of many of these problems is that many people making these decisions don't even have a passport and have never been out of their hometown let alone visited and spent and real time in the country they are targeting.

    I think the web has made us lazy as marketers and assume we throw up a site and everyone will come rolling in which will never be the case.

    My recommendation is if you want to target a local market get on a plane and visit. Walk around and talk to people. Go to an internet cafe, a coffee shop or someones home and see how people access the web, how they shop - the funny thing is they are friendly and they will talk to you and tell you what the problems currently are and use that to craft your plan for success.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 14:11

  • Great comment and important points, Bill!

    - Why spend so much on off-line adaption and only 1/10 on on-line?

    - Visit the countries you target!

    - Don't be som damn lazy about it :)

    Do 25 jun 2009, 14:17

  • Love the article? Sphinn it! http://sphinn.com/story/119325 (I did ;) )

    Do 25 jun 2009, 14:46

  • Of course, U.S. marketers who target New York City the same way as the Mississippi Delta are equally guilty...plenty of regional differences exist withing countries too.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 18:16

  • Spot on, Todd!

    Now, if you US marketer won't target the Manhattan metrosexual the same way you would target the macho Texans, the conservatory target in Ohio, the soulish audience in Mississipi or the Chicanos in California - how do you think you are going to set up a campaign that targets not only the italian, Spanish, English, Swedish, Danish, Germans ets....

    But mostly how do you think you are going to target the Italian from the countryside, those from Rome, those from Milan, the spaniard from Madrid, the Catalans from Tarragona (not the metrosexual catalans from Barcelona), the Londoners and the Ghouls (search that), Swedish from Sthm or from Lula............... shall we set up a "European" PPC campaign? =)

    Do 25 jun 2009, 18:31

  • Great post Mikkel and superb comments Massimo. Its so easy these days to paint everyone with the same brush - at ones peril - and the effort to spend time profiling, understanding and localising campaigns is always worth its while.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 21:42

    • Mikkel Andersen

    @Todd & Massimo.

    That was exactly my thoughts whilst reading Mikkel Guestpost. I assume, that you in certain areas in the US will see, that a english version of your website will have absolutely no effect. You´ll probably need a spanish or a chinese version to get in touch with your (potential) consumers.

    However, Mikkel Demib does raise a very important issue to any company trying to enter a foreign market. Off course you need to get hold of norms and habits and off course the legal issues. Even in tiny Denmark, you´ll will find that your marketing efforts are percieved very different if the reciepients are modern metropolitans or more traditionel people from the rural area.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 21:51

  • It's not an easy task. Just look at how many difficulties Apple have had rolling out iTunes to the European countries. And apparently they gave up on the movie rental/selling entirely.

    And even if localization might be the easy part it will set you back quite a few bucks if it has to be done properly.

    Do 25 jun 2009, 22:40

  • I left out a few paragraphs in my article - it was getting too long, including one that adress the reply I often get from the US when I bring this issue up: "Oh yes, thats like in the US - each state here is very different too" ... But it's not!

    Europe is not just like the different states in the US. The differences between European countries are much bigger.

    In other words: Even though local state-to-state adjustments may be good for business in the US you can still reach a much greater percentage in the US with just one website than you can in Europe. Thats for sure :)

    Do 25 jun 2009, 22:52

  • Definately true Mikkel, in Europe we have different countries, with its own cultures, language, economics, politics, and WITHIN those countries, we have regional differences too. So, double the trouble. Its nothing like the US.

    Vr 26 jun 2009, 09:33

  • Really good blogpost Mikkel, I recognise many of the points made as well. Being a Scandinavian workin in the UK I often get approached by people wanting to target "Europe" like it's a suburb in London or something. The language differences is just the top of the iceberg, behaviour, cultural and so on is just as important to consider when marketing to audiences in different countries. And Massimo you make a very valid point that even wihtin countries you have different traits, in Norway people from the far north and let's say the west of Norway can barely understand eachother.

    Search marketing is very much dealing with words, but words makes up meaning, creates feelings, how you interpret this will vary, somtimes vary considerably. I've been living in London for 10 years but I still struggle with the English humour of taking the piss out of people you know and being polite to people you don't know. In Norway it's completely the opposite. When a Norwegian orders a pint from the beer, he simple says "beer" and if he wants to pints he says "2 beers" no "thank you, please" and so on. But it's not considered rude at all in Norway. (hmm how does it always come to beer with my examples)...My point is that search marketing is a lot more than technical amends, as I wrote in my first blogpost on Searchcowboys, it's becomming "online anthropology http://www.searchcowboys.com/columns/283"

    Anyway, really enjoyed reading this blogpost.

    Vr 26 jun 2009, 12:50

  • hi is a good and inserting blog.

    Za 27 jun 2009, 11:46

    • Pete Hewitt

    I always thought the best example of lazy marketting was when Coca-Cola launched their Dasani water in the UK and just copied and pasted the .com site onto .co.uk

    Now if you are trying to suggest the water is full of fun and makes you energetic than yes, in the US you can say it's "full of spunk"

    But in the UK, where spunk means seamen, the caption, along with a woman looking utterly delighted with her water, became a laughing stock.

    Za 27 jun 2009, 13:45

  • Very much informative article. It will surely help in understanding the market and marketing for Europe.

    What I have understood is that same strategy do not fit all in Europe.

    Ma 29 jun 2009, 06:20

    • Ghazanfar

    informative research, good for thinking..

    Ma 29 jun 2009, 15:17

  • I would summarize the great points and solutions thusly (and noted earlier in the comments): Get your bum out of the chair and get some real market data.



    Di 7 jul 2009, 06:06


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