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How to Optimize Your Site for Canadian SEO

Canada is a market we see popping up quite a lot in our line of work, which is why we had to pay it a visit on our iSEO video series tour. That's why we had a chat with Myriam Jessier, a Canadian SEO consultant, and took a look at the nuances of Canadian SEO, and what you need to know to succeed.

Isn’t Canadian SEO the same as SEO for America?

One of the biggest misconceptions people have when it comes to Canadian SEO is that Canadians just speak English. What many companies do is that they think it’s a case of using their US campaigns and checking keywords to see what the search volumes are like. But in reality, it’s not quite that simple.

In Canada, people speak Canadian English, which uses the British way of spelling. If you’re doing keyword research and see some different variations showing up, it could also be because Canada is home to lots of immigrants from the Commonwealth, who bring their dialects of English with them.

Then, it’s important to remember that in Canada, you also need French. As Canada has two official languages, it’s important that you also use French, especially if you’re doing business in Quebec. But we’ll touch on that more in a little bit!

Plus, if you’re running campaigns that are aimed at immigrants, remember that they may not be proficient in either English or French, so you might have to look at Chinese campaigns, for example.

Does this mean Canadians are bilingual?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Some francophones speak English, and some anglophones speak French, but that’s not always the case. According to statistics, only 20% of Canadians use both languages, which shows that English by itself is not enough.

And then there’s Quebec…

As the main language of Quebec is French, there are a number of laws in place that state “all businesses must be able to serve the public in French”. But it doesn’t stop them from serving a customer in their native language, like English.

This has led to a number of brands not showing their websites in Quebec to avoid having to have a French website, which is extremely frustrating for consumers who then have to use a VPN to get around the fact it’s blocked for their location. That’s also why you might see some strange locations appearing when you look at Google analytics!

What does this mean for Canadian SEO?

If you’re investing in Canadian SEO, there are a number of different steps you can take to ensure that your website is going to rank well.

  • Make sure that you separate your language versions

No one likes seeing a website with both English and French on the same page, and that’s the same for Google bot too. Make sure that you have separate versions of your website for French and English.

This is also important because you need to specify which pages are for which language/location as Google has trouble working out when to serve your .fr, .ca, .com websites. This is also a must if you have different products available in different regions, or if you’re unable to ship to certain locations. This is why it’s so important that you use the right hreflang tags for your Canadian SEO efforts.

  • English PPC campaigns for Google’s Canadian French SERPs are a no

It might seem like stating the obvious, but consumers looking at Google’s Canadian French SERPs are not going to be impressed if they see your English ads showing up, so make sure if you’re targeting French speakers, you have French ads.

  • Don’t use geo redirects

There’s nothing more frustrating than being redirected to the .com website because the website assumes you’re in the US. So when you’re dealing with Canadian SEO, make sure your site visitors have the option to choose which version of the website they’d like to visit.

French – isn’t it all the same?

Back to languages, Canadian consumers can tell when you’re translating your content from English, or if you’re translating your Canadian SEO content using French from France rather than Canadian French. This is why it’s really important that you localize your content for Canadian French so that you’re giving your French-speaking customers a real local experience.

This is also really important when you’re doing keyword research for your Canadian SEO, as very often the same word means something very different in Canadian French and standard French. Brands have had some very embarrassing fails, like doing PPC ads for chariots instead of cars, by using French from France in their campaigns, just because they optimized for what seemed like a very normal keyword.

As French is very influenced by English in Canada, you can use Google trends to see if consumers are searching for the English or the French term, then optimizing or using whichever comes up as most popular. An example could be Black Friday, which is Vendredi Fou in French.

Acronyms

Canadians also love their acronyms, so don’t be surprised if you see searches come up for things like Loonies, Tim’s, and MTL (Montreal).

What matters for Canadian consumers?

Just like anywhere else in the world, there are a number of things that are really important for Canadian consumers. So by addressing these in your Canadian SEO copy, you’re more likely to convert a visitor into a customer. This can include things like:

  • Are your products really suitable for extreme temperatures (-40 in winter, +40 in summer).
  • Will I have to pay duties if I purchase this from you?
  • Can you deliver to where I am?

Incorporate different holidays into your Canadian SEO strategy

Another common misconception is that Canadians celebrate the same holidays as their neighbors in the US. While you won’t find Canadians celebrating thanksgiving at the same time, you could make the most of action de grace in Quebec, or look at Canadian federal holidays. Plus, there are a number of different provincial holidays too, so looking at a holiday calendar for Canada can be really useful.

So, to finish things off, we hope we’ve inspired you to deep dive into Canadian SEO. If you'd like to know more get in touch, we’re here to help. As you can see, there’s a bit more to Canadian SEO that first meets the eye!

Watch Myriam's Episode 

About Myriam

Myriam Jessier is the co-founder of PRAGM, an SEO consultancy and training company. She has more than 15 years of experience, has spoken at many events, and explained a few things on podcasts and in publications. As a polyglot, she cares deeply about the human and technical aspects of localization.