How Do Cultural Differences in SEO Impact Search Behavior?
The first aspect that we need to take into consideration is search behavior. The impact of cultural differences on SEO is visible not only in the types of keywords that users input into search engines, but also the type of content that they search for. This means that a proper strategy has to be adjusted to the norms and behaviors visible among the target culture.
In general, you can divide your potential target into two society types: individualistic and collectivist. Each of these searches for different qualities in products, and make purchase decisions based on varying criteria. Let’s take a closer look at these two groups:
🔎 Individualistic societies – Their members put value and uniqueness in relation to price over quality. They wish to be seen as innovative, follow trends and have a generally lower brand loyalty. Thus, price-related and trending keywords might be the best solutions to approach them.
🔎 Collectivist societies – The members of such culture groups like to do their research first – read about the brand and the product itself. They rely heavily on other users’ opinions when making their decisions. How to approach them? By using long-tail keywords and building up testimonials.
These two groups are only a generalization – the fact is that the impact of cultural differences on SEO can even be observed across user groups speaking the same language, but living in different countries. We can see an example of this among the search volumes for phrases related to SEO services in the US and in the UK.
As you can see, the phrase “SEO services” is often accompanied by “UK” in the United Kingdom. In the United States, on the other hand, keywords with “US” in them are barely searched for. This can be observed for various different types of other services, despite the same language used by both groups.
These tendencies apply further to a list of different aspects, for instance:
- Singular vs. plural keywords
- Infinitive vs. present tense
- Brand vs. non-brand searches
- Split vs. compound nouns
Thus, it is clear that culture affects search behavior significantly. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg when considering its impact on international SEO.
Choosing the Right Image
Another element that is affected by local culture are images. The reason behind this is simple: different cultures interpret visuals, graphics even small elements like colors, in their own way.
Let’s take a look at red. Think about it: what emotions does it invoke in you? What do you associate it with? Now see how it may be interpreted by members of various cultures:
- Post-Soviet countries – Red is often associated with communism.
- Middle East – Red usually evokes danger.
- Western countries – Red evokes excitement, urgency, love and danger.
- China – Red is a symbol of good fortune and happiness.
- India – Red is associated with purity.
- Latin American countries – Red is often connected to religion.
Via: Eriksen Translations
The same situation occurs with many other colors, objects, people, animals or actions. Thus, to avoid a possible faux pas, you need to research the target culture thoroughly. After all, you wouldn’t like to paste a photo of a cow into an article about preparing meat in India, or an image of hammer and sickle when discussing Polish craftsmanship, right?
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Cultural Differences in SEO-Related Communication
Communication is yet another aspect of international SEO affected by cultural differences. In this case, we need to divide it into two separate types – communication with client’s users and with clients themselves.
Communication with the Users
When it comes to communication with the users, you need to apply the same rules as with images – be culture aware. This means adjusting to the norms of the country or region that the recipients of your content come from.
For instance, in Polish, we often avoid addressing users directly – this is becoming old-fashioned, but when you target an older audience, it might still be advised. And, unlike English, in Polish you may capitalize the words meaning “you” or “your,” but it’s not a standard.
This gives you three ways of addressing your target readers when creating content, each of them unique and evoking different feelings. Such phenomena occur between most languages, so when expanding to a foreign market, or working with a foreign client, your content team needs to know them.
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Communication with the Clients
While working with a foreign client, you’ll also spot differences in communication. For instance, in some cultures, small talk is a must, so you should be prepared for it; in others, you won’t have small talk at all.
The best way to handle that is to do your research before meeting a foreign client, but often it won’t be enough – many of the elements of communication lie in what scholars call “deep” culture (if you’re interested in this topic, we refer you to Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Iceberg Model), something that we’re not even aware of, what we do subconsciously. Thus, often the best idea is to let your client be in the lead.
Translating Is Not Enough
Finally, the last aspect that we absolutely need to discuss – translation.
Translating is often not enough – you will only render the meaning of words, creating a text that ok, but nothing more. What you need to do is localize.
Localization is basically an extended translation, where the target culture is taken into consideration. It’s not always word-for-word, but it focuses on creating the same effect as the original text. And, when international SEO comes into play, there are two effects that you need to preserve:
The first one is simple to achieve – you need to conduct a keyword research in the target language, and prepare a glossary based on your findings. With the second one, it’s not that easy.
Simply pasting your texts into Google Translate or DeepL won’t do the trick. We don’t only mean the errors that will occur as the result, but the overall impact such texts will have on the users. This is why the role of professional translators in this process is significant.
An expert in localization will prepare texts tailored to the target users – taking all the differences between cultures in mind. This way, you will be sure that all the references to the source culture will be transferred to the target culture and any elements that are perceived differently (for instance: Germans don’t really like CTAs such as “buy now”) will be adjusted to evoke the same feelings. You won’t have texts that are simply translated, but ones that perform as well as their source.
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Let’s sum up the impact of cultural differences on SEO and how to handle it.
Firstly, you need to be aware of how cultures vary in search behavior. Secondly, you have to adjust your imagery to the norms and connotations in the target culture. Thirdly, you have to focus on communication, and the differences in it between the source and the target cultures. Finally, you cannot only translate – you need to localize.