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Search in the European Union: A Different Perspective

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Many businesses looking to enter the European market believe that it can be treated as one audience, with one website that targets all residents. But this is a mistake.

One problem is that, unlike in the U.S. where English is the main language, there are 200 different languages to contend with in Europe! But there's much more to worry about than language.

Being the continent with one of the oldest civilizations, there lies a lot of history in Europe. And that history is important for you to keep in mind when optimizing for Europe.

There are several other issues you need to take into account when it comes to optimization in Europe. We'll look at four: currency, taxes, legal issues (laws), and culture.

Currencies

Europe has the European Union. Within the EU there are 27 members -- 17 of which use the euro as currency.

Unfortunately, that means 10 members of the EU don't use the euro. So you have to worry about multiple currencies.

Another issue is that not all countries in Europe are members of the EU. So you'll need to take a good look at which countries use the euro.

But the biggest issue with the currencies is that you can see different prices for the same products in different countries using the same currency. So be aware of price differences between the countries!

Taxes

Do you know why Google's head office in Europe is located in Ireland? Because the Irish have a special tax system that allows big companies like Google to pay a lot less in taxes than others. Therefore all the official money lines go through Ireland.

When you're targeting Europe you need to keep in mind that the different countries have different tax regulations. In one country you might pay more taxes than in others.

The EU has tried to get a grip on this, but it's complicated by regulations within the individual countries, plus not every country is part of the European Union. The EU Tax Policy Strategy, for example, states that, "Member States are free to choose the tax systems that they consider most appropriate and according to their preferences."

Legal Issues

Twenty-seven countries, 27 ways of interpreting laws, and 27 ways of making new laws. Every country has its own rules and laws and you need to be aware of that if you target different countries.

Germany, for example, is talking about making Google Analytics illegal. If that really happens (not highly likely, but not impossible), that would mean a lot for what you can or can't store on a website. After all, if analytics is illegal, many other products might face the same issues.

Cookies are another issue. They are trying to regulate the use of cookies within the European Union.

The first idea was that everybody would have to confirm that they would accept cookies every time they visit a website. In most countries they won't go that far. But there lies the issue: the EU has set boundaries of rules, which every country can than implement themselves in whatever way they want.

Cultural Matters

One really underestimated element of optimizing for the different countries in Europe is the cultural aspect. Not every country responds the same to what they see online.

For example, the Germans have a history when it comes to privacy matters. You have to be a lot more careful with what you do in Germany than in the U.K. or the Netherlands. The origin of these privacy concerns lie in the cultural history of Germany, where there have been a lot of issues with privacy (or better: not having any privacy) dating back to the World Wars and communism.

But other countries also have cultural histories that you should keep in mind. For example, colors. In the Netherlands, the color orange stands for the Royal Family, its national football team and partying; in the Ukraine it stands for revolution.

Finally, the most important cultural element to keep in mind: even though some countries speak the same or a similar language, you can't treat them all the same. A German speaking Swiss won't buy from a German website, for example. And the Dutch and Belgians may speak the same language, but they have different needs and don't want to be addressed in the same way.

These are just a few takeaways for optimizing in Europe. More to come at SES London, where I'll be speaking on the "Marketing to the European Union" panel next month. Experts like Andy Atkins Krüger, Mikkel deMib Svendsen, Ciaran Norris and Kristjan Mar Hauksson will also share their insights on the EU.


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