SEO Practices: Search Engines Around the World

There is plenty of information and data out there about Google and its dominance as a search engine. But what about if your business is in China? What if you want to optimise for Russia or even that 21% of the USA that doesn't use Google? SEO practices and search engine dominance will inevitably differ across the world in varying degrees, whether it is Google, Yandex or Baidu in pole position. 

This post looks at those search engines that aren't Google, and I will be looking into what makes each search engine unique (if they are unique), why they function differently and what we can take from a more global perspective of SEO.

Source: Statista, 2018

Search in Europe (Google)

The key issue that Europe faces regarding SEO is language. The European Union alone has 23 official languages, and that is not even considering the vast range of dialects, sub-regions and so on. 

Along with these differences in language comes cultural differences in behaviour, which will inevitably affect online behaviour. The Spanish love a siesta, the French enjoy late evenings and the Germans are extremely time conscious - or so the stereotypes suggest. These may be stereotypes; however, they are a simple illustration of how cultural differences inevitably exist.

Therefore, we can not group the entirety of Europe together under the assumption that they will have a similar attitude towards online behaviour and SEO. This article by Search Engine Land takes a more in-depth look into why cultural differences in Europe needs to be a priority when planning your strategy.

Google is clearly dominant in Europe with Google’s search share ranging from 90.67% in Spain to 81.80% in the UK. However, Europe’s approach to SEO very much differs (Statista, 2018). 

Here in the UK, businesses, small and large, are increasingly understanding the importance of SEO and technical optimisation. As this article by Semrush suggests, SEO is still in expansion and adoption phase for the majority of Europe where its value is not yet realised.  Given the complexity of languages and cultures, international SEO thought leaders such as Aleyda Solis have addressed ways in which we can resolve this issue. 

Hreflang will continue to be essential to signal language and cultural differences, but this alone will not solve the complex issue of multilingual sites and content. Read more about Hreflang implementation with Alyda Solis’ article. Yoast also provides a great article about the complexities of multilingual SEO and how to tackle this issue.

Read more about handling different languages and cultures in Europe.

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Search in Japan (Google/Yahoo! Japan)

Yahoo! Japan is more popular than Google, however, not as a search engine. Yahoo! Japan is often used for its apps which includes Yahoo Answers, Yahoo Transit, Yahoo Weather etc. When we look at search engine use, Google still dominates with 69.25% market share. According to StatCounter, Yahoo! Japan holds approximately 22% of search engine market share.

So, should this influence SEO? As of 2010, Yahoo! Japan adopted Google’s backend algorithm, therefore, when it comes to technical optimization, treat them the same. Instead, consider your target audience. Are a different audience using Google compared to those using Yahoo! Japan?

On the note of considering your audience, it has been suggested that Japanese users have been found to prefer content heavy sites. Check out RWS’ post for more information about prefered web design in Japan.

We can use the example of Starbucks to illustrate this. Take a look at Starbucks.co.jp page:

Compared to Starbucks.co.uk:

Ultimately, this difference in preference comes down to consumer web psychology. The layout and formatting of Starbucks.co.jp, in the UK, would provide a poor user experience for customers. However, in Japan, the favored western sleek and simple look come across as unreliable - the more there is on a page, the more trustworthy it is. Evidently, this design works in Japan where Starbuck.co.jp receives 1.2 million organic sessions a month (according to Ahrefs, October 2018). 

Web Psychologist, Nathalie Nahai provides some great insights into web psychology and its importance, check out her Whiteboard Friday video to learn more about how user behaviour is reliant on the message your web design is conveying.

Another note that is worth pointing out is that Japan has four different writing styles, yes, four. Essentially, there are four ways that a keyword can be written. If you are attempting to expand into Japan be sure to work with natives as Google translate will only take you so far.

Search in China (Baidu)

China, with 772.98 million internet users, blocked Google as a search engine in 2010. China’s popular search engine is Baidu which adheres to China’s strict online censorships.

Unlike Yahoo! Japan and Google, Baidu and Google are two very separate entities.

So what are the key differences between Baidu and Google?

  • Different weighting for metadata, canonicals, H1s and page titles
  • Meta descriptions and meta keywords are considered as a ranking factor
  • Incorporation of paid ads into search results, unlike Google’s clear(ish) divide
  • Baidu does not understand hreflang
  • Baidu struggles to function with flash or javascript
  • Language optimisation: Baidu favors simple Mandarin where simple characters get priority over complex traditional characters
  • Strict regulations and censorships: hosting your site in China will help you get past The Great Firewall of China

Check out Builtvisible’s post about SEO for Baidu.

...Hang on, Google wants to enter China, again?!...

Yes! Google, well aware of the huge potential China offers, is planning on launching a censored version to adhere to China’s regulations. This will present SEO challenges given The Great Firewall of China. Moreover, this proposed version of Google has raised ethical concerns. Google will essentially blacklist sites and terms that relate to human rights, peaceful protests, religion, differing political opinions, free speech, sex, news and academic studies. 

This censorship will not only be restricted to general search results but will be pushed out to Google images, spell check and suggested search. On one hand, Google will be able to tap into and benefit from a colossal audience. However, on the other hand, in oppressing the ability to search freely, Google is going against its values and mission; “our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google, 2018).

Read more about Google’s expansion plans in China.

Search in Australia (Google)

The US and the UK are Google’s largest English speaking markets, setting the status quo for SEO practices. How does this then affect countries that use English but do not have a strong preference for British English or American English? Let’s look at Australia.

Australians are keen users of Google, so technical SEO does not differ. However, this difference in language use has an impact on the use of keywords for both organic and paid search.

Source: Hitwise

Generally, Australians prefer British spellings over American spellings, but it can not be ignored that the gap in preference is too close for it to be conclusive. Take a look at the share of search of key terms, a classic British vs American battle!

If we look further into demographics, those who have a preference towards American spelling tend to fall into the 18-24 age category. This could be down to the influence of popular culture and social media. Therefore, this variation in spelling preference may pose as an issue particularly for brands that rely on intent. For example, a paid ad featuring the word “pants” could very well target two different audiences, and potentially different intents too.

This not only applies to Australia but also other English speaking countries. Therefore a page, keywords and ads should take intent and demographics into consideration when choosing between British and American spelling subtleties (although, they should choose British because it’s better).

Read more about keyword research:

Search in Russia (Yandex)

Google, with 38.98% share of desktop traffic, falls behind Yandex. Yandex has approximately 67 million active monthly users. Like with Yahoo! Japan and Baidu, the fundamentals of technical SEO are very similar where it values good quality content and penalises the overuse of keywords. However, Yandex does not go without its variations.

In comparison to Google, Yandex:

  • takes time indexing sites
  • allows for longer page titles
  • looks for and favours meta keywords, 4-5 are desirable
  • Uses algorithms that are not to the same standard as Google’s making Yandex easier to optimize for

Although Google is lagging behind for desktop search, when it comes to mobile, Google surpasses Yandex. Before we all start praising the powers of Google, note that this gap is slowly changing. Yandex filed against Google for anti-competitive behaviour as Google was pre-installed on Android phones. A “choice window” was then introduced allowing the user to decide which search engine they want to set as default - this has resulted in Google losing mobile share and Yandex gaining.

So it seems that Yandex has a strong holding in Russia and with its ability to understand Slavic and Turkic languages as well as recognise and read Cyrillic and Latin character means Yandex could expand into Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkey etc.

Check out these articles for some in-depth Yandex SEO:

Takeaway

It can be very easy to assume that we all use the internet in the same way. That we all search for advice, information, ideas and so on. It is, however, important to note the variations. These are the differences in both search behaviours and search engine dominance. SEO practices and search engine dominance will inevitably differ across the world in varying degrees but whether it is Google, Yandex or Baidu the user is the driving force. Our practices in SEO rely on an understanding of the user’s intent, location, knowledge, behaviours etc. So do ensure you are optimizing for the dominant search engine, but more importantly, ask yourself - are you optimising for the user?

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About the author
Arpun Bhuhi

Arpun Bhuhi

Arpun joined the team at Distilled in September 2018 after spending her summer interning here. Arpun studied French and Management at The University of Sheffield and spent a year studying in Bordeaux. As a recent graduate, London was calling her...   read more