Anyone who has studied German in school or later on in life will know that it is a language that can be difficult to grasp. We see those difficulties replicated in SEO. Not only is this a subject that takes a thorough understanding of the language to grasp its many detailed nuances fully, but the risk of getting it wrong is also often underestimated.
Suppose you and your company are looking at expanding to Europe and you want to take advantage of one of the largest language groups in Europe. In that case, you will need to have a deep understanding of a variety of subjects. As you will see, what works in nearly every other language; will likely need to be done differently in German.
Much of this has to do with geography, grammar, and how social media is used. However, as any SEO company in Germany will tell you, backlinks are considerably more challenging to implement correctly.
Do I need a .de domain to rank well in Germany?
The first question many people have when entering the German market is do I need a .de domain name?
The short answer is "no". There are pros and cons of using a sub-domain, sub-folder or .de domain name, but one is not necessary better than the other.
The 2 essential things to get right are:
- Do not use a sub-domain or sub-folder if your main domain targets a different country. So, if your main domain was indigoextra.co.uk, using de.indigoextra.co.uk would not work. This is because the .co.uk domain extension tells Google and potential visitors that you're targeting the UK. It's therefore bad for both SEO and user-experience.
Do country specific keyword research
The German language is one of the oldest, most spoken languages in the world. More than 130 million people speak it daily; it is spoken as the first language in 6 countries and a minority language in 10 countries.
These numbers certainly lend credibility to ensuring your website caters to this massive group of people. It is also the first pitfall that you would experience when writing German content for your website.
To optimise a website for a particular keyword, you must include it in the:
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- h1 title
- Body content
While synonyms and semantically related keywords should be included in the body, it's simply not possible to include more than one keyword in the main titles and URL of a page. This is where keyword research comes in.
Most of the free keyword research tools track keywords from the USA. This means they're not useful when planning your German SEO strategy. We therefore recommend using a keyword tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, as both allow you to see where your website ranks for a specific country with a few clicks. These tools also provide suggestions for other keywords, showing you the search volume, how difficult they are to rank for, etc.
The name for a train ticket in Germany can be Zugfahrkarte, Bahnfahrkarte, or Bahnticket. These would all be recognizable by German speakers, however, any Swiss website visitors would not search for this term. They would be searching for the word Billett, which has French origins.
When deciding which synonym to use on your website, checking search volumes shows "Bahnticket" is the clear winner, with 22,200 monthly searches. This would be the logical term to use when referring to a train ticket, as it will resonate with the most visitors. That said, it would be wise to optimise a page for "Billett" or even "Zugfahrkarte", as these have far low keyword diffulties, and would therefore be easier to rank high for in Google's search results.
How grammar affects German SEO
There are hundreds of grammar rules in the German language. We're not going to bore you with all of them; however, there are a few that you will need to understand to get a grip of how the language works.
Now, even most native speakers do not know all the grammar rules of the language. However, it is crucial to get the basics right. This brings us to why correct spelling and grammar are important to SEO; Google monitors how long people spend on a website and how many pages they visit using numerous methods. One of the main ones being that so far in 2021 60% of people in Europe use the Google Chrome browser. If your web page is full of grammatical errors and your spelling isn't great, visitors will spend less time on your site. Google will notice this and use it as a red flag that your site isn't credible or worthy of top search engine rankings. Over time your page will go down and down in the rankings.
This is one reason user-experience and SEO have become more and more closely related. A site with great user-experience and engaging content will gradually go up in the rankings.
Note, if your website uses slang or grammar that reflects how your visitors speak, that's absolutely fine. If it will work for your visitors, it will work for Google.
Compound Nouns and Meta Titles
One of the more complicated and possibly the most difficult aspects of the language to master is nouns. In German, words have genders. There are three different cases to choose from: masculine, feminine, and neutral.
Nouns in German SEO are essential to get right. Missing one or getting it wrong could change the meaning of a word, render the keyword useless, and, more importantly, make your website look unprofessional.
Compound nouns pose a particular challenge for SEO. Germans like to combine words to create a new word, so instead of "Clothing store", you have "Bekleidungsgeschäft". This poses a challenge when writing Meta Titles, as they are restricted to 57-60 characters. It's also a consideration when putting text over images or allocating space in your web design for title text.
Take Arbeiterunfallversicherungsgesetz, for example, which is an occupational accident insurance all employers have to have. If you're designing a website to be translated into German, you need to build sufficient space for a 33 character word in your translated content.
As a general rule when writing Meta Titles, priorities the following (in order of importance):
- Limit it to 60 characters, as excess characters will be cut off.
- Write with good spelling and grammar.
- Include a keyword after correcting any typos and adding any accents.
- Focus on the benefits of your product/service, rather than the features. For blog pages, you can still focus on the benefits. What will your reader gain by reading a specfic blog page?
Not sure of your grammar? Check out some of the more advanced rules of German grammar.
Which Social Media sites are popular?
"Social media is the same everywhere, and we won't change our social media strategy when we roll out in Germany."
Companies that say this will not have been alone, and like the others, they are incorrect. The social media landscape is vastly different than other European countries. Even amongst other German-speaking nations, there are differences in how social media is used.
Unsurprisingly, most locals feel that their data is not safe online, which is why Facebook enjoys significantly less market share (64%) than in the UK (73%).
Another example and an essential tool for many companies is Twitter. In the UK, Twitter is a popular social media platform with a market share of 45%; in Germany, this number drops to a mere 22%. The reasons behind this are many, but one explanation is that words can often be too long to express anything useful in 140 characters.
Building German backlinks
Now that we have got our geographic, grammar, and social media aspects under control. Let's focus on another key factor for SEO in general, link building. Google has made clear that link building in itself is an essential tool for sites to rank high:
"Webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages."
Now, this doesn't only mean external links; internal links are vital as well. Google's search algorithms seem to be stricter on German backlinks than they are elsewhere. Your German link building portfolio must be built through an organization that already has a well-established base and emphasis on quality platforms.
Some things to look out for when building German backlinks:
- Are the backlinks from German language websites?
- Do backlinks come from a range of sources, including guest posts on related sites?
- Do websites have a high Domain Authority?
- Do websites have a high Majestic Trust Flow?
- Do websites have real organic traffic going to them?
- Do a healthy proportion of them come from .de domains? It's not essential that all do!
Checking your results
If you're an English speaker and search for a German keyword in Google then odds are you will see results that are wildly different from what people in Germany will see. This is because the country and language a backlink is from plays an important role in determining where a website ranks in the results. So, if you're in the UK and have default search set to English, you will tend to see English language results, or websites that have lots of links to them from UK based sites.
To check your results you can do either of the following:
Change your location and language in Google.
On the bottom right of Google's search page, click Settings, then click Search Settings.
Scroll down to the Region Settings and click Germany. This changes the Region Google will show results for.
Next, click Languages on the left and choose Deutsch (The German for German).
Use Google Analytics
Google Analytics lets you see how many people are actually clicking different keywords from different countries, as well as the Click Through Rate and your current position for each keyword.
German SEO agency with over a decade of experience
As you can see, many aspects affect how your SEO strategy will change when you plan to implement this in Germany. There are few European countries where a hands-on and knowledgeable partner makes more sense for any successful SEO strategy.
Indigoextra is a company capable of guiding you through the entire process. From designing a webpage, creating new content, taking your current content and translating this from English to German, and setting up a reliable backlink campaign.
As an SEO agency, we have over 12 years' experience in the German market. We would be delighted to discuss your project with you and provide recommendations on the best SEO and backlink strategy free of charge; get in touch for a free quote.