In a country known for fashion, cars, and pasta, search engines are taken about as seriously as anything else in Italy. The Italians like to say, "La pratica vale più della grammatica" – in other words, "Experience is the best teacher."
Like Google, which endured a media nightmare with the recent Italian verdict holding the search giant criminally responsible for a video that was posted through YouTube, search engine experts need to experience the Italians more to really understand how to operate a search campaign targeted to this country.
Getting to Know You
Out of all of the Western European countries, Italy ranks fifth as one of the top 10 Internet countries in Europe, according to European Internet Stats. The most used search engine is Google Italy with an astonishing market share of 88 percent (according to Nielsen NetView, Search Market Share, Italy, June 2009), followed by Virgilio and Alice (one of the main Internet service providers) with 5 percent market share, Bing with 3 percent, and Yahoo with 2 percent. An honorable mention goes Facebook Italy, which has gained enormous popularity in Italy (although Twitter and other social media platforms haven't truly penetrated the market yet).
There are a few other Italian portals, including Tiscali.it and Libero.it. About 25 percent of Italian Internet users have an e-mail address through Libero. Libero uses Google as their search partner, which can be great for specific PPC campaign targeting.
What do Italians Search for?
- E-commerce in Italy is tricky if you're planning to use credit cards as a means for payment. Credit card usage is the lowest among developed countries, and even more so when paying online.
- Most Italians use Postepay, a debit card provided by the Italian postal service. If you want your e-commerce program in Italy to succeed, consider accepting and marketing it. It's as easy as setting up a PayPal account (which also accepts Postepay).
- Ideally, you should provide your Italian customers with a wider set of options when paying online – including wire transfer, which is still common for larger purchases.
Italians typically use search engines for e-commerce research and finding bargains. Influence is a huge factor, so blogs, forums, and social networks have a huge power over Italian audiences. A negative comment, true or false, may severely alter a potential prospect's mind.
Online travel is by far Italy's most successful industry on the Internet. That's not surprising with so many beaches, mountains, romantic cities, art, history, and culture. Gambling, electronics, clothes, and accessories are also popular.
Italian Search Marketing Best Practices
Italians go by the saying "Se vendo parlo la tua lingua, se compro tu devi parlare la mia," which means "If I sell, I speak your language, if I buy, you speak mine." Being successful online and building trust in Italy means you will have to have offline support (i.e., a local telephone number, an address, and/or a chat box). Remember, Italians aren't eager to learn English, so make sure you have someone who can speak and understand their language.
Localization is important. There are many cultural and economic differences between the South and the Center/North of Italy (not to mention the Italian part of Switzerland).
Seek local help if you can. Finding a well-established SEM/localization agency that knows how to properly localize the site will be to your benefit. A non-local site that looks like a translated version of another language's Web site doesn't typically compete with the locals.
Follow all of the common international SEO best practices, such as localized content, in-country TLDs, hosting, and local link building. Google is king in Italy, so you probably don't need to worry about some of the smaller search engines. However, it's important to consider that Italy has about 20 to 30 good directories (e.g., http://www.aziende.it) that provide a lot of link value. It's important to be listed there with the most appropriate and optimized Italian description and links.
Although you'll face local competition in Italy, the good news is that it probably won't be that much. Most businesses in Italy have been slow to adopt online advertising programs, let alone SEM. A combined multimedia effort, including TV, mobile, search and display, will yield the most success.
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