As the world’s 4th largest economy by GDP, and the 4th highest disposable income per capita, Germany is a powerhouse that many international companies are looking to expand into. But how should you go about your German SEO? To answer this question, we spoke to Nina Sattler-Hovdar as part of our iSEO video series.
Key statistics – Germany
Germany is home to 84 million people with an urban population of 77.7%. Over 93% of the German population use the internet, with 87.5% accessing the internet via mobile devices. On average, Germans spend 5 hours and 22 minutes online every day.
Right now, Google has a 90% market share, which is great for us SEOs used to optimizing sites for Google. Bing has about 5% of the market share, and Ecosia is there at 1%, however, you can probably expect Ecosia to grow in the German market as being eco-friendly is really important to Germans (but we’ll touch on that in more detail in a bit).
German SEO isn’t just Germany
It’s really important to remember that German SEO doesn’t just include Germany. A handful of European countries, including Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Belgium are home to German speakers. When you’re dealing with German SEO you need to take into account the fact that you are dealing with different markets, all of which come with their own unique complexities.
And with this, comes the question of different language variants. When you’re dealing with German in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (the DACH region), you will come across a fair number of examples where vocabulary changes in each locale.
Some examples of such differences are shown in the table below:
This is why it’s so important that you do keyword research for each German speaking market, as a simple word like breakfast could make or break your content.
Payment models – unique for Germany!
Let’s explore e-commerce in Germany, as you’re likely to come across some very unique payment options you’re unlikely to find in the rest of the world. To set the scene, in Germany, only 52.5% of the population have a credit card, but e-commerce is thriving with 67% of the population stating that they made a purchase online within the last year.
If you take a look at this payment footer below from popular retailer Peek & Cloppenburg, you can see that their payment options include invoice, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard, and Klarna. How invoicing works is that you’ll get an invoice, and while the product is being shipped to you, you’ll have usually have 14 days to pay for your products – which goes to show that trust is massively important in Germany.
German SEO & the importance of privacy & security
As we mentioned above, trust is really important in Germany, and you’ll see this as a recurring theme throughout Nina’s presentation. 40% of Germans worry about how companies use their data, 49% decline cookies and 39% use ad blockers. As discussed, these numbers seem to underestimate the situation in Germany, as Germans are highly sensitive to personal data being used and worry a lot more than say US consumers about being tracked etc.
This impacts German SEO because:
- You can’t rely on using cookies for tracking data because so many consumers will block them
- If you have a complicated cookie notice that doesn’t make it easy to block cookies, Germans will often leave your website
- You really have to take GDPR seriously in the German market
- If people don’t trust your company, they won’t buy
Learning more about German consumers
Although we’re generalizing, German consumers generally dislike:
- Cookies, and will only allow basic ones
- Pop-ups and aggressive messaging
- Pushy CTAs
- Complicated cookie rejection options
Tip – when creating CTAs for your German SEO, instead of having “book a call now”, adapt your messaging to something like “book a no-obligation call here” to help German consumers feel more at ease.
Don’t worry, there are plenty of things that Germans do like, and by implementing these into your German SEO, you’re going to really boost your chances of success:
- Germans prefer shopping in German
To gain trust, you should also make sure that you offer German-speaking customer support and use a .de domain. If you use machine translation in Germany, people are going to assume that you don’t care, which will really put people off.
- Germans will buy cross-border if they trust the website
Make sure that you’re offering the options we mentioned above, plus having a return address in Germany is a big plus.
- Consumers are very return-happy (14 days legal requirement)
In Germany, consumers love returning products, and it’s very normal for them to buy products, try them on to see if they like them, and return them if they don’t. Legally, e-commerce stores have to provide a 14 day return policy, but many companies offer longer than this to build trust with German consumers.
- Responsible consumer trends are a must
Germans are very environmentally conscious, so good keywords will include ecological, vegan, green, organic, fair-trade, recycled, and second-hand. The German government has even committed to increasing sustainable consumption to a 34% market share by 2030.
- Design and price are still important
Winners in the world of German e-commerce will be companies who combine fair and sustainable production with great design and price.
Love a brand = trust a brand
We’ve mentioned it before, but we have to mention it again – if your brand wants to succeed in Germany and have German SEO campaigns that really work, consumers need to be able to trust your brand before they can love your brand.
To help win the trust of German consumers, you can:
- Show readers you understand them by using and addressing:
- Their language
- Their pain points
- Their user journey
- Their payment preferences
- Make it easy for them to interact with you (in German)
- Show that you’re committed to bringing a positive change to the environment
- Be consistent with your messaging and come across as honest, authentic, and transparent.
Worry free is key
When optimizing your German site for SEO, you need to make sure that your copy removes any potential concerns that consumers might have.
Here you can see an example where they’ve clearly labelled all of the potential concerns German consumers might have, which helps to build trust.
You can also see that a US store has included a pop up which says that for all of their German customers, all taxes, customs and returns are still free. This is really important for companies in the UK to include as Brexit has left German consumers worried about things like high shipping fees and import duties.
However, there is a simple change that they could make to make this pop-up clearer and more inclusive. Consumers in Austria are automatically redirected to the German website (which they’re used to), but the text” is misleading. Does “German customers” mean “all customers speaking German or only customers living in Germany?" Austrian consumers will wonder. So, by changing the wording to “for our customers in Germany and Austria”, the seller could build more trust and make it easy for their Austrian customers to shop on their site.
German SEO musts
For the next part of the interview, our very own Sarah Presch walked us through the world of German SEO based on her experience managing numerous German SEO campaigns.
In Germany, nowadays the main channels people use are pretty similar to the English-speaking world, with WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram as the four most popular channels. This has changed a bit from the days when Germans used ICQ instead of MSN – and you can see this with LinkedIn being used by 15.7% of the population, compared to Xing’s 12.3%. Xing used to be a lot more popular than LinkedIn in the DACH region, but it is still worth having a presence there if you are doing business in Germany.
SEO in Germany is thriving
In Germany, companies really see the value of SEO. As trust is so important, consumers actually prefer it when a company invests in SEO because it’s seen as a channel where companies have to put a lot of effort in to rank, unlike PPC where you can pay to be at the top of the SERPs. This is why German SEO is a really good idea compared to investing in PPC, as SEO helps build trust.
Keyword research in German
Translating your keywords from English into German really doesn’t work. German keywords usually long-tail as Germans prefer much more detailed search queries than their English counterparts. To really be successful in Germany, you need to create a strategy around more specific keywords, rather than targeting lots of top of the funnel keywords.
You also need to make sure that you’re doing separate keyword research for each of your German-speaking markets, especially if you’re a B2C company. As we showed you above, there are differences in vocabulary between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, so make sure that you’re using the right language to help you look like a local.
One of the biggest mistakes we see when doing German SEO is using just de hreflang tags. If you’re looking to target the DACH region as a whole, that’s fine, but if you have separate sites for each of the DACH countries, or you can only service Switzerland, for example, you need to make sure that you’re using the right hreflang tags.
You need to keep in mind that German has lots of long words and is generally complex in terms of grammar rules, so meta titles and descriptions often have to be completely rewritten in order to fit character limits. For URLs as well, you need to make sure that when you see an umlaut you adapt them correctly.
Inclusive writing is another important factor when working with German websites. Ensure that your texts are as inclusive as possible, which is tricky as German is a gendered language. Plus, you need to make sure that you’re using formal/informal language correctly.
We couldn’t do this article without touching on Nina’s specialty, so to wrap up, let’s take a look at what transcreation is and how it can help you and your German SEO efforts.
How transcreation works is that it combines two services – translation and copywriting. What transcreators do is hook the target reader by making them feel like the texts were written specifically for them and not just taken from another culture. In a nutshell, transcreation means better brand engagement, growth, and retention. It also entices people to explore what you do, driving lead generation, conversions, and sales. Plus, it also leads to trust (which is vital for German consumers) and loyalty.
We hope you enjoyed exploring the world of German SEO with us and have plenty of new ideas into how you can improve your German copy and campaigns. If you’d like support with anything DACH-related, please get in touch.
Nina has a master’s degree in translation & interpreting, and over 30 years’ experience working in both translation and market research. She has also written several acclaimed books on transcreation, and on top of speaking regularly at industry events, she also trains people in transcreation and how to expand into the German market.