While the German search market is growing, it also seems to work with its own rules.
Consider German government's love-hate relationship with Google, which was the topic of discussions during Search Engine Strategies Berlin two months ago.
Search marketers learned that the German government was taking a good look at Google Analytics, proclaiming it might be an illegal product.
Zeit Online reported that German federal and state government officials are convinced that Google Analytics is against the law in Germany and that it should be forbidden. The reason for the German opposition: the tool gathers detailed statistics on visitors without the explicit consent of the visitors. The Germans are afraid that, based on the analytics data, Google will create profiles containing all sorts of information up to medical, political, and other kinds of data.
The German reaction to Google Analytics doesn't stand on its own. In the past year, Germany has had a love-hate relationship with the search engine. All the incidents were related to privacy issues. Halfway through the year, Google got into trouble with Street View because German authorities opposed Google keeping the unblurred versions of images. Google agreed on anonymizing the original footage.
However, the biggest challenge Google faced in Germany was the battle of the books. The Google Book deal, made in the U.S., got more European countries on the barricades, but the Germans seemed most active in the battle against Google digitizing their books.
Just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in. During her weekly video podcast, she said the German government wants to protect its authors. Merkel said the Google book scanning was done "without any regard to copyright law," and Google couldn't "just go around scanning books."
This was one reason Google went back to the drawing board regarding the Google Book deal and came up with a new deal where the Google Books project will only hold books coming from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia. Books from Germany will be removed.
SES Berlin: A Roundup
So did the difficult relationship between Google and Germany have any effect on the way SES Berlin was held? Not really. Apart from the "funny" badge Google Country Director Lars Lehne received, the conference was friendly toward Google.
The conference opened with a keynote and discussion with Lehne and Stefan Weitz of Bing. They set the standard for the rest of the event: high. They also set the topic for the future of search: user intent. Both search engines are trying to figure out, in their own way, what users really want.
The user intent came back in different sessions during the conference. Bill Hunt, a keynote speaker, discussed it, as did many others.
The conference was mainly in German, which made it a local show with local issues. Yet it was also useful for non-Germans because they could learn some interesting local tips and tricks.
A couple of the German sessions stood out. The advanced link building tactics had some big German names on stage: Marcus Tandler, Ralph Tegtmeier (Fantomaster), Sebastian Wenzel, and Nina Baumann, moderated by Christoph Cemper. This packed session featured the right balance between white hat tactics and black hat tricks.
The Germans are, like many other countries, also trying to figure out what to do with social media. ComScore shows the German market is growing. However, the country's social media usage still trails the rest of Europe and the United States.
Germany doesn't have many flourishing social news sites (e.g., Digg) and local social media sites are leading the way in Germany. The biggest social network in Germany is SchuelerVZ, a community of students, and the most important German business network is Xing.
Several SES sessions focused on social media. The presentation by Mario Fischer stood out in the different sessions on the second day. His tips and examples helped lift the audience to the next level.
SES met the need for well-organized conferences in the growing German market. The Germans need it and want it. Even foreigners (though they needed to understand German) picked up some interesting information.
SES London (Feb. 16-19, 2010) should prove once again that a good conference in Europe is a must attend for everybody interested in search.