Ian Harris - Guest Blogger


10 more things you should know about European ecommerce

Last month I wrote a blog about the 10 things you should know about European ecommerce, but such a huge topic comprised of dozens of different markets can’t be summarised in just 10 points so here are some more things you need to know about Europe’s online retail industries.

France: €140,000 can now buy you the use of the .paris domain


  1. Fraudulent ecommerce vendors face prosecution in the Netherlands - This may seem like a pretty obvious claim, but until recently there was no law in place in the Netherlands that could lead to the prosecution of fraudulent online retailers. The country’s Minister of Justice has proposed a bill that will see those who purport to sell online products but then fail to deliver them to customer able to be prosecuted.
  2. Silver Surfers’ dominate Danish market - The Danes are big fans of shopping online, especially those over the age of 50 with these ‘Silver Surfers’ accounting for nearly two thirds of the country’s ecommerce last year. Ecommerce in Denmark now accounts for 17 DKK of every 100 DKK spent and 80% of consumer purchases start with the customer checking products and prices online.
  3. Finland’s digital industries survive economic problems - The digital media industry in Finland bucked a tough economic climate and grew to €237.6 million last year – digital advertising accounted for almost half of this. This along with the increase in investment in search engine marketing is a clear sign that the country’s digital industries are withstanding the nations’ economic problems.
  4. France has launched .paris - Companies can now use the .paris domain, however to do so will set you back €140,000 as part of an exclusivity set-up that lasts until autumn this year. After that it will be available for around €10 a year, the exact figure is yet to be confirmed.
  5. Swedish VAT could hit ecommerce sales - Previously VAT for ecommerce transactions has been paid in the seller’s country. This law meant that sites like Amazon have sold products from countries with low rates of tax like Luxembourg. The new VAT rules, which come into effect in the New Year, will reverse this, hitting consumers from nations with high VAT rights like Sweden (25% VAT) in the pocket.
  6. Tablet usage has doubled in Germany - Tablet penetration in Germany has reached 18 million, a figure that represents a quarter of consumers over 14. To give an idea of the increase in popularity, in 2012 this proportion was as low as one in eight. Germans between the ages of 30 and 49 are the most likely to use tablets, however usage drops off significantly in those aged 65 and above to just 10%.
  7. Italy has scrapped controversial ‘Web Tax’ - Under the previous government Italy had proposed to introduce a controversial ‘Web Tax’ that would hit large corporate businesses which were profiting in the country (i.e. Google and Facebook) and was estimated to raise up to €1billion in revenues. This has now been scrapped by Prime Minister Renzi, to much derision by the Italian public.
  8. Millennials in the Netherlands have surprising shopping habits - Recent research has found that 41% of Millenials (those born between 1980 and 2000) actually prefer to shop in brick and mortar stores rather than online. With the prevalence of online shopping in young people you would expect this figure to be much lower, but the study reported that physically inspecting their purchases is very important to this generation.
  9. Spain has Europe’s highest smartphone penetration - Two thirds of the Spanish population own a smartphone, making it one of Europe’s most mobile markets. Especially as four million of those smartphone users also own a tablet and video viewing figures from mobile grew 164% in the last year. Ecommerce is fast becoming a way of life in Spain, with just 8% of the population claiming to have never made an online purchase.
  10. Real-time bidding all the rage in France - The French have really taken to real-time bidding and this form of advertising now accounts for nearly a fifth of the country’s  €117display market. To provide some context in the UK this percentage is just 14% and in Germany 12%. Investment in real-time bidding is up 125% since last year and more strong growth is forecast for 2014.

Sources: Adformatie, Emarketer, ComScore, Journal Du Net,


 Other posts by Ian:

Keep reading

10 Things You Should Know About European ecommerce

Selling online internationally requires more than a one-size-fits-all global strategy, you need to localise your approach to each individual country and market. However before you attempt to market or advertise to these global audiences you need to know how they use the internet. For example a French consumer uses the web in a different way to someone in Germany, likewise China and Spain and so on. With that in mind here are10 things about global ecommerce that businesses which are looking to sell internationally should be aware of:

1. Mobile search is on the rise in France
Not only has tablet usage doubled in France in the last 12 months but a third of the population now owns a smartphone and this has unsurprisingly led to a steady increase in mobile search in the country. What is perhaps more surprising though is that 68% of mobile search takes place at home. The conversion rate for mobile search in France is just over a quarter.  

2. French consumers are discerning
Purchasing products online is not some knee-jerk, rapid process for French consumers. Instead they spend a long time comparing what’s on offer and reading reviews before actually committing to a sale. The result of this is that France has one of the lowest return rates for ecommerce purchases in Europe at between 10 and 15% - much lower than Germany’s 20-25%.

3. Mobile is king in the Middle East and Africa
More than nine out of 10 internet users in the Middle East and Africa use their phones to go online. This is the highest rate of mobile internet access on the globe.

4. German consumers like choice
Payment methods and which to offer is one of the critical criteria to get right when entering foreign markets and it’s no different in Germany. Research has shown that by retailers offering a choice of payment methods they can actually increase their sales. Paying by invoice is the most popular method of paying, with just under half of Germans preferring to part with their cash this way, followed by credit cards and then PayPal.

5. The Dutch love to shop online
When you think of global ecommerce the Netherlands is probably not one of the first nations that spring to mind – however the Dutch are keen internet shoppers. In 2013 80% of internet users in the Netherlands made an online purchase, while the nation also boasts an extremely active elderly population when it comes to Ecommerce with eight in 10 65-75-year-olds accessing the web regularly for this reason. It’s not just the more experienced consumer getting in on the act though. The Netherlands is home to Europe’s highest rate of social media users – a figure that stands at 98% for 18-24-year-olds.

6. Smartphones are big in Sweden
In 2013 Sweden’s smartphone usage was more than double the European average, while the country can now also claim to being the eighth largest online marketing market in Europe. In other Swedish news the nation’s consumers are fond of content marketing, with eight in 10 marketers believing that it is an effective method to enhance a business’ brand.

7. Italy’s Ecommerce is surviving country’s economic problems
As a nation Italy has not had the best of it economically recently, yet despite these difficulties ecommerce continues to grow. Internet sales were up nearly a fifth at the end of last year, and as many as 14 million Italians now use the web to shop.

8. Norwegians are much more likely to buy via desktops Norway’s Ecommerce spend was considerably up in the second half of 2013, however of these purchases the vast majority (86%) were made via a desktop. Sales through tables accounted for less than 10% of transactions and mobile was even less at below 5%.

9. The Danes are fond of foreign retailers
A disposition to shopping from foreign retailers is quite common in global ecommerce. Take Russia for instance, a lack of trust in domestic sellers has caused consumers to cast their gaze further afield. Denmark is one such nation that can be relied upon to buy from non-domestic retailers and in quarter four of 2013 almost one in two Ecommerce purchases were from a foreign business.

10. Spanish consumers are nervous about online fraud
Despite Spain being fourth in terms of Ecommerce billing in Europe the country’s online market is still plagued by inherent trust issues, especially surrounding online fraud. In a recent consumer survey 54% of Spaniards admitted they were still nervous about giving their details out online.

Sources: eMarketer, MarketingOnline, t3nMagazine, Fevad, FDH, elperiodicodearagon.com

Read another blog post by Ian Harris:

How to Successfully Run Multilingual Campaigns

Creative Content - Key to Successful Content Marketing

Keep reading

Creative Content - Key to Successful Content Marketing

If you have attended any digital marketing or SEO conference this year then you will no doubt be familiar with the term ‘content marketing’. You’ll probably be more than familiar with it in fact – sick of hearing it is likely a more apt description.

Whether you’re a brand or an agency everyone in the industry – me included – is beating the same content marketing drum. Search engine web spam updates are the main driver behind this shift from the dark ages of SEO to the industry becoming more in line with what could be considered ‘proper marketing’.

Preaching content marketing is one thing, but how do you actually go about creating relevant, interesting copy that is going to not only pique your audience’s interest but instigate a reaction from them (link/social share)?

Research, research, research

The first step on the journey of a thousand links is research. You must know what your website’s audience is interested in, and also what they’re not. Easy, right? If your website sells holidays then it’s logical that your audience will be interested in content on hotels.

But do you know why type of content your audience reacts to? Are they turned on by list articles and turned off by longer, more in depth prose? Will they share content incorporating videos and ignore infographics?

These are all questions answered by research, and to some extent trial and error. Asking the opinion of ‘influencers’ (people with large social media followings, popular bloggers etc.) is the most effective way to conduct this research.

You can do all the research in the world but if you do not host the content on your website your success is going to be severely limited. Having the content on your website ensures that any links from third party websites will point to your site, and therefore make sure all the SEO authority flows to your page and on through to the other pages on your website.

What’s the big idea?

When coming up with the idea for your content there is the temptation to wait for a world-changing idea to manifest itself on your computer screen. While big ideas are not to be baulked at simple ones can also be very effective.

If absent of your own ideas, simply ‘borrow’ others. News hijacking is a tried and tested content marketing practice. Morrisons excelled at this twice during Wimbledon this year, taking advantage of Andy Murray’s victory.

This is something we do at Search Laboratory as well. For example, at the start of the summer there were murmurings in the media about the danger of the tree disease Ash Dieback. Recognising that this topic was relevant to one of our client’s audience and anticipating that this story would only become more prevalent, we interviewed a university professor, who was the leading expert on this topic and created a blog post for the clients. Subsequently this post was picked up and linked to by regional media, environmental websites and the Huffington Post.

UK Supermarket Morrisons renamed itself 'Murriwins' after Andy's Wimbledon win - a fun example of news hijacking  

Think of the reader, not links

Thinking of links and not the reader when creating content for SEO is a shortcut to failure; the content must add value to the audience otherwise it’s pointless. This is not a complicated brief – you are yourself a reader, so just think what interests/excites you, what gets you tapping your colleague on the shoulder and pointing to your screen and try and emulate this.

There is interest buried within even the most seemingly mundane of topics. A good example of this is one our clients, a company that sells vehicle tracking devices. On the surface this is not a topic that appears to lend itself to mass media coverage. However, through its devices the company had masses of data on Britain’s roads and what speeds their vehicles were driving on these.

We worked through 7m individual data points to compare the distance travelled during rush hour with quieter periods during the day. This analysis allowed us to identify the slowest roads in the UK, which we then made into an interactive map that was hosted on the company’s website.

There is news buried in the most mundane topics as Search Laboratory demonstrates with the 'UK's slowest roads map'  

Don’t be shy

Once you’ve created your content don’t neglect to market it. Get back in touch with the influencers you spoke to during your research and point them in the direction of your post, explaining why it may be of interest to them. Look to see who else is talking about similar topics, set up Google alerts and monitor social media mentions.

The interactive map of the UK’s slowest roads is a perfect example of this. The map is a great piece of content but without us – and the company’s external PR agency – working to bring attention to it, it would have had minimal impact. Instead through our outreach it was picked up throughout the mass media, including the Daily Mail, ITV, The Sun, Birmingham Mail, MSN and the BBC.

A buzzword yes, but content marketing as both a term and a practice is certainly here to stay and by following the above steps your content should

The above guide is by no means a guaranteed path to success. Not every piece of content you devise will be a roaring success but research, a decent idea and a good outreach plan will ensure you triumph.

Read another blog post by Ian Harris:

How to Successfully Run Multilingual Campaigns

Keep reading

How to Successfully Run Multilingual Campaigns

Multilingual search engine marketing can be a minefield, with countless hidden pitfalls that can bring down your campaign at any time. But for those with the expertise to successfully negotiate these dangers the rewards can be extremely lucrative.

Rather than your ecommerce, B2B or information website being restricted to customers only in the UK, multilingual search marketing can open up your company to an international audience where growing markets offer fantastic business opportunities.

In theory search engine optimisation in France, Germany or Spain does not differ from the UK; the techniques are the same: authoritative, natural links gained via high quality, relevant content. The same goes for pay-per-click adverts; the basic techniques don’t differ from region to region.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? But while the basic practices remain the same a UK campaign can’t merely be replicated in France or Germany for example – with another language comes another variable, and ultimately more scope for failure.

So what are the pitfalls that you need to avoid in order to run a successful multilingual SEO or PPC campaign?


Language and Culture

You won’t be surprised to learn that language plays a critical role in multilingual search marketing, but you may be surprised to read that translation does not. Yes, if you’re running campaigns in France then your keywords must be in French, likewise your Bing ads, however these should not be converted from English by a translation company.

For example, a UK car hire company is planning to expand into Europe and is beginning to explore its search terms for its major products. From its experience in the UK market the hire company already has a list of English terms its customers use in search engines:

  • ‘Car hire’
  • ‘Vehicle rental’
  • ‘Automobile lease’
  • ‘Charter motor’

When expanded these four terms make up 16 possible combinations (‘vehicle hire’, ‘car lease’ etc.) which would all retrieve similar SERPs. But if the car hire company was to hand these search terms to a web translation company, or use an automated translation tool themselves, then it’s almost certain these 16 combinations would be reduced to just one or two. This is because translation companies are trained to convert the meaning of the words, not try and interpret the search tendencies of a customer.

To avoid this problem use search-trained mother-tongue linguists in all aspects of your multilingual search marketing. Not only do native speakers have a first-class knowledge of their language but being free from the shackles of the translation process, the search expert can expand ideas and find all relevant keywords in that language.

Remember those HSBC adverts that highlighted the different cultural faux pas around the world and how an innocent gesture in one country could be deemed offensive in another? Well the same applies to multilingual search marketing. Copy that reads linguistically perfect may actually contain culturally offensive phrases that translation companies and tools are unlikely to pick up on.

A good example of this is when our in-house French mother-tongue linguists rejected copy that contained the phrase ‘did you know’ on the basis that it would alienate a French audience, who would find the suggestion they were not already in possession of all the facts patronising.

On a similar vein you must be careful to ensure your website’s images also abide cultural nuances. A photo depicting jovial American retailers in a shop will not fit in with a site that is aimed at some of the more reserved European countries.

Again mother-tongue search specialists will be able to pick up on these cultural discrepancies and help with the overall localisation of your campaign and website.

When looking at expanding internationally a lot of companies ask us to point foreign ads at English landing pages, in order to test the market. This tactic simply does not work. Customers searching in a foreign language and clicking on foreign adverts do not expect to be directed to an English language landing page and this will succeed in only producing an extremely low conversion rate. Your landing pages should explicitly be in the language you are targeting, with a separate one for each country.


Most companies assume – 81% according to our research – that it’s important to have a locally registered internet domain in each of their overseas markets. This is not necessarily the case and going with a locally registered domain when a subdirectory is more appropriate could be the difference between the success and failure of your multilingual expansion.

At Search Laboratory we can advise, in certain circumstances, our clients which have .com domain extensions to create specific subdirectories for each new market. So in Germany this would be .com/de or .com/fr in France. By choosing this option the localised subdirectory benefits from the wider site’s overall SEO value as it remains part of a much larger, centralised website.

Also, for retailers expanding into several countries subdirectories can allow for automated updates and modifications to business logic to be applied simultaneously to all markets via a centralised dashboard.

However, the choice of locally registered domain versus subdirectory must be driven by the local market or industry your business is attempting to sell in. For example if your company sells automotive parts then your target audience is going to factor in speed of delivery so it’s advisable to go for a locally registered domain rather than a subdirectory, which may infer to the customer that you would dispatch the tools from abroad.

Whether you choose a locally registered domain or a sub directory it will make little difference if you forget to translate your URLs. It may sound simple, but it’s a very common and very harmful mistake a lot of companies make in their campaigns.

The SEO friendly URLs, which include strategic keywords, taken from your English site will often be neglected in the process of localising to your target foreign country. This causes two problems: they’re no longer SEO friendly as the keywords are in the wrong language for that market, while they’re also likely to alienate the local customer, who will be put off by the presence of English URLs on a site they had visited under the pretence that it was French or German for example.


  • Use mother-tongue linguists to work on your campaigns, not a translation company
  • Point multilingual Bing Ads at a landing page in that specific country’s language, so French ads at a French landing page
  • Choose whether your international website(s) have a locally registered domain or a sub directory based on your business’ local market and what is best for your SEO – don’t automatically assume you need a locally registered domain
  • Don’t forget to translate your URLs



Keep reading