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German SEO and Web Translation - 8 Steps to Success

The German market offers a great deal of potential to companies looking to expand into Europe. With 88% of its 84 million population considered active Internet users, Germany’s e-commerce market is a prime environment for potential growth. Research has shown that German customers are happy shopping on international sites, too. And with excellent year-on-year growth that shows no signs of falling, it is hardly surprising that companies are actively seeking to expand in this promising market.

Just as with any other business decision, tapping into new sources of potential customers needs careful consideration. A secure knowledge of the key differences in how German e-commerce operates is fundamental to securing your future success. Start by adapting your SEO strategy to take these differences – some large and some more subtle – into account, and optimise your chances of succeeding in this abundant market.

Let’s take a look at some of the principal elements to consider – and the pitfalls to avoid – in the world of German SEO.

1. Write in German

Unless you have a website like this one that’s specifically targeting subjects of interest to expats, then writing for a German market needs to be in German. While it is widely known that many German people speak excellent English, it is also proven that they prefer sites which are in their native language.

Let’s take a look at web.de, a popular German news site. If you compare a selection of German keywords that it ranks highly for and the search volumes for the English translations we see the following:



If web.de was in English only, then it would miss out on between 95.4% and 99.9% of potential traffic. Just because Germans speak English, it doesn’t mean they will enter English keywords into Google.

It is worth the extra effort localising your site, to make sure that subtle linguistic nuances are not lost, and the text has the impact you want. On the same note, don’t be tempted to carry out a quick translation of existing articles into German – it is really important that any content you present to a German market is written by a native German speaker. This benefits in several ways; firstly, the tone and any subtleties of language will be appropriate. Secondly, you can avoid any cultural misunderstandings or intricacies, and you should end up with a more polished, appropriate and professional result. Walmart is an example of a company who didn’t take culture into account when entering the German market. Their one-billion-dollar investment didn’t go well.

2. Translate keywords with SEO in mind

It is common knowledge that keywords play a crucial role in maximising your website’s search engine ranking and translating them into German needs to be done with considerable care. A direct and literal translation can easily go wrong and result in you filling your site with terms which will do nothing to help your search engine ranking.

When translating choose the closest equivalent keyword with the highest search volume. Sometimes you will find that even if a German translation exists, the English variant is actually the more common. This is particularly true for scientific words, which often have their origins in Ancient Greek. Many technical words, ‘Computer’ and ‘E-mail’ for example, are used in the English form (but with a capital letter!). Knowledge of the in-depth functioning of your market area within Germany is crucial here.

Investigating the most-used key phrases by native German speakers within your target audience will feed directly into your choice of keywords so you can ensure your site is fully optimised. Undertaking a review of the keywords used by similar companies will also help accelerate your SEO success. These two components require careful and strategic research as they really can make or break your entire venture into Germany.

Once you’ve identified the keywords, you can use them in one of two different ways:

  • >Provide your translators with a “translation dictionary” so they use the optimised keyword during the translation process (this is normally the most efficient way to complete an SEO translation).
  • Do a standard translation, then optimise the content afterwards.

Keywords can also be used to:

  • Identify the blogs with the most potential reach in Germany. This helps to identify which are worth translating and which you can simply ignore.
  • Incorporate into backlinks and guest posts (more on this later).

3. Keep metatags the right length

Often neglected, the metatags carry out a vital role in your SEO, because they appear in Google’s search results. They need to provide an accurate description of your page’s content, as they are one of the factors that help search engines decide how relevant your page is. As well as choosing the most appropriate words for your page’s metatag, don’t forget about the length: meta titles should be a maximum of 60 characters, while meta descriptions are truncated by Google at around 155-160 characters.

Bear in mind that words in German can be considerably longer than in English. They are often formed of multiple words joined together to create a new, compound word. The average word in the English language is just over 5 letters (5.10 to be precise), whereas in German it is 6.26, so you can see how sticking to the character limit might prove more of a challenge here. A quick and easy way to help keep you aware of how many characters you have used is the Excel formula LEN(A1) – this will tell you the number of characters in cell A1, for example.

4. Translate URLs

You’ve spent time and effort translating the content of your website and made sure your keywords are correct for your target German audience. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting the URL for each page on your site – they all need to be translated into German, too for optimal SEO.

On a basic level, the URL can create a succinct first impression of what there is on your webpage. The URL does so much more than this though. The translated URL will appear in the search results themselves and will show your users in Germany that your site is available in German. This will improve your Click Through Rate, which will also help you rank higher in Google’s search results.

Most importantly having the URL in German contributes to your overall German SEO strategy. The algorithms behind search engine rankings will deem your site to be more relevant to your German audience if the URL is in German, and crucially, when each page has a different URL for each language in which it appears, Google will index a separate version for each. Whether you use separate domains, sub-domains or sub-folders is not particularly important. Google try and give each approach equal weighting.

5. Identify which blogs to translate

Blog posts have a huge amount of potential to attract visitors to your site. An interesting blog post has the potential to be shared and generate backlinks to your site. So, should you simply translate all of your blog posts into German? Simply put, no; it is worth taking a more sophisticated approach here, and first working out which blogs are the most important to your site.

Firstly, before you translate anything into German, measure which of your site’s blog posts attract the most traffic in English. You can identify these using a tool such as Semrush or Google Analytics. It might reveal a few surprises; perhaps a particular post is not attracting the traffic you hoped. In this case, a wise move would be to consider targeting them to different keywords and see if that generates more visitors. You could even spend time rewriting the posts with a new focus, or refreshing them to take into account any topical developments, before you have them translated into German.

Similarly, reflect on whether a different angle would be more appropriate to the German market you are targeting. A native speaker or agency with an in-depth knowledge of German culture would be able to advise you on whether you should spend time tweaking the angle for your German audience.

6. Ignore Twitter

While Twitter might be a popular and successful part of SEO strategies in the English-speaking world and other parts of Europe, it is a far less popular social media platform in Germany. In fact, there are just 5.45 million German Twitter users (which equates to just 7% of the adult population), compared to 16.7 million in the UK (around 32% of all adults). The reasons behind Twitter not being embraced in Germany have ranged from the character limit and those long German words again, to a cultural aversion towards expressing opinions on such a public forum. Perhaps it is hard to get to the bottom of the reasons behind its lack of popularity, but unless you have a really big budget, it is safe to leave it out completely from your German SEO strategy and focus instead on other social media.

7. Build backlinks from German websites

It is common knowledge that when another site links to your own, it is a great source of promotion, but backlinks are also especially important for boosting your authority with search engine algorithms. Getting your site high up the rankings with google.de needs additional work, however successful you have been in the UK or US thus far. To speed this process up, you could consider enlisting the help of a German ink building agency.

If you decide to tackle this yourself, begin by looking up your targeted keywords on google.de. Then, anytime a directory, a Reddit chat, a Quora post, or anything else which you can contribute to appears in the search results, engage with it. Write something engaging and original, and – crucially – include a link to your site. The more relevant backlinks you can create from high authority sites, the better.

8. Run a guest posting campaign

Running a guest post campaign is a highly effective strategy because the type of backlinks it generates to your site are those which rank highest with Google. Importantly though, you must ensure your guest posts feature on relevant, high-authority websites. It’s also essential that they are written in native German, with an awareness of the German audience who will read them.

Carrying out your research here will really pay dividends, and a guest post campaign can be an extremely fruitful source of web traffic, all the while pushing up your rankings thanks to those effective backlinks.

Guest posts are also a useful link building tool as they will be dofollow (meaning Google count the link towards your ranking) and are from an article with unique content. To find sites that accept guest posts, enter one of the following search terms in Google + a relevant topic / keyword:

  • Gastbeitrag veröffentlichen
  • Gastartikel einreichen
  • Gastartikel schreiben

There are fewer high-quality blogs in Germany than the UK or US, however a good guideline is to ensure that each one receives at least 1,000 visits a month (use a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs to check this) and has a Domain Authority of 25 or higher.

Expanding into Germany is often an excellent business decision, but mastering German SEO plays a huge part in your company’s success. While many considerations will be similar to those in the UK or English-speaking world, it is vital you tailor your website and German SEO strategy to take into account the subtleties and differences that exist in Germany. Once you’ve grasped those, the world is your oyster, or "Welt zu Füssen legen" as we say in Germany.

Article by Indigoextra Ltd. See https://www.indigoextra.com/german-seo-and-backlinks for more details. Image and graph from Indogoextra Ltd.

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