SEO Tips For Expanding Into German-Speaking Markets

So, are you ready to expand into the land of wheat beer, hot dogs, and potatoes?

I have good news for you!

With a large and well-off consumer base, Germany is an attractive market for many companies.

But there is one small problem: you need localization.

What is localization, you ask?

Well, it’s a lot about adapting your messaging to match local cultural norms.

And while that involves language first and foremost, it also covers lore, humor, market outlook, and more.

Regardless of whether you are looking to expand into Germany or another country, you must understand the unique needs of your audience and how to reach them before you can successfully market your business to them.

So, before you start translating your English content strategy directly into German, you should know that German SEO adaptation is much more than just a translation job.

German consumers have different search habits, preferences, and intent than English speakers.

Simply translating your existing content strategy is only about 10% of real German market expansion.

To succeed in German-speaking markets with SEO, you must create a German SEO strategy from scratch.

In this article you will learn:

Why is expansion into the German market beneficial?

Although localization takes extra effort, one of the key markets worth investing in is Germany. Here’s why:

  • The German-speaking DACH region (Germany, Switzerland and Austria) is a booming consumer market. Thanks to every great country GDP per capitathey have a high standard of living – which means that consumers have more money to spend on new products.
  • The DACH area contains a file 93% Average internet penetration, which means that there are 94 million internet users in the market. In short: universal access to the Internet + a higher standard of living = more money for your brand.
  • In Germany, 91% of Internet users rely on Google for their search needs. This makes SEO in particular a powerful tool for reaching German consumers.

important noteWhen expanding your business into the German market, it is essential to work with native speakers to build your SEO strategy, as this is your direct line to understanding local messaging requirements.

Developing an SEO strategy based on your target market’s needs helps you create quality content that resonates with your audience.

It may also give you a first mover advantage, especially if your business is in a new, niche industry.

How to craft a German SEO strategy in 6 steps

Learning how to hang out with Germans at Oktoberfest can seem intimidating and difficult at first.

But with a few key steps, you can create a German SEO strategy that can greatly influence the growth of pipelines in this booming market.

The six steps to building a successful SEO strategy in the German market

Localize your business strategy Set up your site structure Find your German competitors
Do a German keyword search Localize your keyword map Localize your content

1. Localize your business strategy

Let me give you a concrete example of a real company that was recently looking for help expanding into the DACH area.

With the US and UK being their main markets, international markets are a close second in terms of investment but are still required to generate high levels of new business.

After searching their website for about 30 seconds, I noticed a huge problem:

Although their website was translated into German (emphasis on translation, not localized), their chatbot was only available in English.

I tried to type in German in the chatbot. no answer.

He kept trying to force me to book a call with someone in the US

Then I wrote, “Does this person speak German?” In German, but again no response.

Now imagine this scenario for potential German customers of this company.

They came to the website from Germany, read the website in German, and now, do you think they would feel comfortable booking a call with an English-speaking salesperson in the US?

I can tell you with all sincerity it’s a big “no”.

That’s why it’s not enough just to translate your existing content into German.

You also need German-speaking salespeople and customer service representatives who can interact with buyers in their language.

It is important Localize your entire business strategyOtherwise, your target audience will continue to choose your competitors who offer the buying experience they expect.

2. Set up your site structure

Now that we’ve got the commercial stuff out of the way, let’s move on to SEO.

Before creating any content, you first need to check that your website is set up for multiple languages, which is often done with URL structure.

There are two options for this:

  • Option 1: (subfolder policy).
  • Option 2: (subdomain policy).

Whenever you have the choice within your CMS (Content Management System) and technical infrastructure, always choose the subfolder approach.

This helps transfer the DA (Domain Authority) from your main .com domain to your German website, which means you will be able to rank for German keywords faster.

Once you have set up your site structure, it is also necessary to use href lang tags on your pages.

This way, you can customize a page for each market. By doing so, you will be more likely to appear in the search results of German users searching for content in their language.

3. Research your German competitors

When it comes to competitors, localization is again a key factor.

While you may already know which websites they are competing with in your home market, it is important to understand that they will likely not be competing for organic search traffic when you enter the German market.

Let’s say you are a marketing automation software company that wants to expand in Germany.

SEOquake It is a useful plugin for comparing SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) in different languages ​​and countries.

The keyword you want to rank for in the English markets might be “marketing automation”.

Here’s what SEOquake shows as US English SERPs:

Screenshot of search [marketing automation tool]Google, June 2022

Now take a look at what I get when I search for it [marketing automatisierung tool]the German equivalent of this English term, in Germany:

German SERPs Screenshot of search [marketing automatisierung tool]Google, June 2022

This difference is exactly where your opportunity to expand into the German market lies.

When you localize your keywords and content to compete against local SERPs, you build your SEO strategy for generating leads and sales with local high intent keywords.

Just rinse and repeat this strategy with your main keywords and you’ll start to see trends about who your top German search competitors are.

But be sure to follow up with these readers by offering them a buying experience entirely in German.

4. Do German keyword research

Once you have a list of your German competitors, it’s time to do keyword research.

Keywords are the heart of your expansion strategy because this is where you connect content to the high-purchase-intent keywords I mentioned above.

To help you do your keyword research, try the following steps:

Step 1: Set your keyword research tool (shown here with Semrush) to the German market.

An example of Semrush's Keyword Overview tool for German keyword researchScreenshot from Smash, June 2022

Step 2: Using Semrush’s keyword magic tool, type in a German keyword.

I always recommend starting with an obscure keyword, because then you can view the entire set of related keywords in a list.

An example of Semrush's Keyword Magic tool for German keyword researchScreenshot from Smash, June 2022

Step 3Next, select the matching long-tail and search intent keywords here that have search volume and can fit with your strategy based on the content you want to create.

Step 4The best way to determine where and how certain keywords fit into your content is to check the SERPs using SEOquake as I showed in the previous section.

One caveat: Semrush can be a bit limited to data for German SERPs, so if you’re planning to expand heavily into Germany with SEO, it might be worth buying an SEO tool with a more powerful German database, such as sisterix.

The key thing to remember during the keyword localization process is that you shouldn’t just translate keywords from your brand’s first language into German.

While translating content easily leads to content that has never been read, the process I described ensures that content production resources are focused on translated keywords that have the opportunity to rank for and influence leads and sales in Germany.

5. Localize your keyword map

After you’ve completed your initial keyword research, it’s time to build your keyword map.

This means crafting German keyword groups by means of search intent and ensuring that the German keyword map reflects the needs of your target audience across the sales funnel.

Here’s an example of how my team and I usually put this into Google Sheets:

Keyword map using google sheetsScreenshot from the author, June 2022

Doing so also allows you to decide which content from the original English-language website can be recreated (translated and localized with specific keywords), and which new pages should be created in German.

Some English-language pages will not need to be converted to German if the keyword search shows that they are not relevant to the German market – this is the main reason why translation is more laser-focused than pure translation.

6. Localize your content

The final step to developing a German SEO strategy is to localize your content.

For each piece of content you plan to develop for your German audience, do the following:

Do your research.

Understand what Germans search for online, the types of content they interact with, and the style of messaging they are used to. One quick example is that German is often more formal than English in the US and UK.

Repurpose existing, top-performing content.

If you have content in English that works well, consider translating it into German if the topic is also relevant to the German market.

Make sure it is optimized for local German keywords that have search volume and match search intent to give it the best possible chance of generating leads and sales.

Write new German content.

Creating fresh and original content is especially important if you are targeting Germany as an overseas market because there will be items in Germany that are not found in the US and UK markets.

When you show a German audience that you understand them by investing in content that is specifically relevant to them, it is an important trust tool that brings them that much closer to buying.

Track your progress.

Track the performance of your SEO strategy in German-speaking markets with a tool such as smrash (shown in the image below).

Use the data to find the best content opportunities in this market and continually update and improve your content plan.

An example of Semrush's keyword position tracking tool for German keywordsScreenshot from Smash, June 2022

Efficiently expand into the German market with SEO using a proven process

Expanding your business into new markets can be a daunting task, but it is also an incredibly rewarding one.

When you break through new frontiers, you open up a world of opportunity for your business.

So, don’t be afraid to venture into the German-speaking markets – with the right SEO strategy in place, you can see amazing success.

More resources:

  • How Hispanic Transcreation Drives Marketing Success in Global Markets
  • 5 ways to find new clients and grow your global business
  • A guide to local search engine optimization

Featured image: Stanislaw Mikulski / Shutterstock

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