SEO Tips for Expanding into the German-Speaking Market

So, are you ready to get into wheat beer, sausage and potatoes?

I have good news for you!

With its large and affluent consumer base, Germany is an attractive market for many businesses.

But there is a small problem: you need to localize.

What is localization, you ask?

Well, it has a lot to do with adjusting your messaging to match local cultural standards.

While this includes language first, it also includes tradition, humor, market expectations, and more.

Whether you’re looking to expand into Germany or other countries, you must understand your audience’s unique needs 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 adapting to German SEO is not just a translation job.

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

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

To be successful in the German-speaking market with SEO, you must develop a German SEO strategy from scratch.

In this article, you will learn:

Why German market expansion is worth it

Although localization requires extra effort, Germany is a major market definitely worth investing in. The reasons are as follows:

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

Important notice: When expanding your business into the German market, working with native speakers to develop your SEO strategy is critical, as this is your direct route to understanding local messaging requirements.

Developing an SEO strategy based on the needs of your target market can help you create quality content that resonates with your audience.

It can even give you a first-mover advantage, especially if your business is in a new niche.

How to Develop a Successful German SEO Strategy in 6 Steps

At first, learning how to get along with Germans at Oktoberfest can seem daunting and challenging.

But with a few key steps, you can create a German SEO strategy that can greatly impact pipeline growth in this emerging market.

6 steps to building a successful SEO strategy in the German market

Localize your business strategy Prepare your website structure Find your German competitor
Do German keyword research Localize your keyword map Localize your content

1. Localize your business strategy

Let me give you a concrete example of a real business that recently sought help in the DACH area.

As the US and UK are their main markets, the international market ranks second in terms of investment, but still needs to introduce a high level of new business.

After browsing their website for about 30 seconds, I found a major problem:

While their website is translated into German (emphasis on translation, not localization), their chatbot is only available in English.

I try to type in German in a chatbot. no reply.

It’s been trying to force me to make an appointment with someone in the US

Then I wrote: “Does this person speak German?” in German, but again no reply.

Now imagine the scenario of a potential German customer for this business.

They came to the site from Germany, read the site in German, and now, do you think they’d be willing to make an appointment with an English-speaking salesperson in the US?

I can tell you with all my heart that it’s a big no.

This is why it is not enough to translate existing content into German.

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

Crucially Localize your entire business strategyotherwise, your target audience will continue to choose competitors who provide the buying experience they expect.

2. Prepare your website structure

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

Before creating any content, you first need to check if your website is set up in multiple languages, this is usually done through the URL structure.

There are two options:

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

Whenever you have options in your CMS (content management system) and technical infrastructure, always choose the subfolder approach.

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

It is also important to use href lang tags on your pages after setting up your site structure.

This way, you can assign a page to each market. By doing this, you are more likely to appear in search results for German users looking for content in their language.

3. Find your German competitors

For competitors, localization is again a major factor.

While you probably already know which sites to compete with in your local market, it’s important to understand that they may not be your organic search traffic competitors when you enter the German market.

Let’s say you’re a marketing automation software company looking to expand into Germany.

SEO Earthquake is a useful plugin for comparing SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in different languages ​​and countries.

The main keyword you want to rank for in English-speaking markets might be “marketing automation tools”.

Here is the US English SERP that SEOquake showed me:

screenshot from search [marketing automation tool]Google, June 2022

Now see what I get when I search [marketing automatisierung tool]the German equivalent of this English term, in Germany:

German SERPs using SEOquake's screenshot from search [marketing automatisierung tool]Google, June 2022

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

As you localize your keywords and content to compete with local SERPs, you can position your SEO strategy to generate leads and sales using localized high-purchase-intent keywords.

Just rinse and repeat this strategy for your main keywords, and you’ll start seeing trends about who your top German search competitors are.

But make sure to follow up with these readers by giving 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 your keyword research.

Keywords are at the heart of your outreach strategy because that’s where you connect your content to the high-purchase-intent keywords I mentioned above.

To help you with your keyword research, try these steps:

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

Example of Semrush's keyword overview tool for German keyword researchScreenshot of Semrush, June 2022

Step 2: Enter German keywords using Semrush’s keyword magic tool.

I always recommend starting with a vague header keyword, because then you can see the entire cluster of related keywords in one list.

Example of Semrush's keyword magic tool for German keyword researchScreenshot of Semrush, June 2022

Step 3: Then choose here long-tail, search intent-matched keywords that have search volume and may fit into your strategy based on the content you want to create.

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

One caveat: Semrush can be somewhat limited for German SERP data, so if you plan to use SEO to expand significantly into Germany, it may be worthwhile to buy an SEO tool with a more robust German database, e.g. sistrix.

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

While just translating content can easily lead to content that is never even read, the process I describe ensures that your content production resources are focused on localized keywords that have a chance to rank and influence your leads and sales in Germany.

5. Localize your keyword map

Once you’ve done your initial keyword research, it’s time to build a keyword map.

This means crafting German keyword clusters with search intent and making sure your German keyword map reflects the needs of your target audience across the sales funnel.

Here’s an example of how my team and I typically lay out in Google Sheets:

Keyword Map Using Google SheetsScreenshot by author, June 2022

Doing this will also allow you to determine what content of the original English site can be translated (translated and localized using specific keywords), and which new pages should be created in German.

Some English pages don’t even need to be translated into German if your keyword research shows that it’s not relevant to the German market – this is the main reason why localization is more laser-focused than pure translation.

6. Localize your content

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

For each piece of content you plan to develop for a German audience:

Do your research.

Find out what Germans search for online, the type of content they engage with, and the messaging they’re used to. A simple example is that German is generally much more formal than American and British English.

Repurpose your best performing existing content.

If your existing English content is performing well, consider translating it into German if the topic is also relevant to the German market.

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

Write new German specific content.

Creating new original content is especially important if you are targeting Germany as a foreign market, as there will be elements in Germany that do not exist in the US and UK markets.

When you show your German audience that you know them by investing in content that is particularly relevant to them, this is an important trust builder that brings them closer to buying.

Track your progress.

Use similar tools to track how your SEO strategy is performing in German-speaking markets samlash (As shown below).

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

Example of Semrush's German Keyword Position TrackerScreenshot of Semrush, June 2022

Efficiently expand into the German market with SEO using proven processes

Expanding your business into new markets can be a daunting task, but also an incredible reward.

When you break out into new territory, you open up a world of opportunity for your business.

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

More resources:

Featured image: Stanislaw Mikulski/Shutterstock

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