Search Engine Supplement: Don't View Europe as One Market

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Does an Internet shopper in France surf the Web differently from his or her British counterpart? Yes. Throughout Europe, online behavior varies widely.

According to the European Interactive Advertising Association, 35 percent of Europeans shop online. Of the five main European markets, consumers in Britain and Germany tend to spend the most on online purchases: More than 52 percent spend between $180 and $1,800. In France, Spain and Italy, shoppers spend a little less, with around 40 percent spending in the same category.

What accounts for these differences? One explanation lies in e-commerce adoption rates. In Spain and Italy, the transition from dial-up to broadband occurred later than in other countries. On the whole, Internet users in these countries are less Web-savvy, which is reflected in their tendency to type generic keywords.

But these are growing markets. And early adopters of the Internet, who are more likely to buy online, are also typing in more specific keywords. Consumer behavior dictates the advertiser's media buy, and, understandably, most advertisers tend to bid on generic keywords.

However, as volume for specific keywords may be relatively low, this presents an opportunity for advertisers that are quick to bid on specific terms and take advantage of potentially lower prices. One example is "Cheap Holiday in Barbados."

It also is important to understand user intent, which dictates search patterns. User intent in search is analyzed by looking beyond the keywords they type to ensure they receive the most relevant ads. Naturally, user intent varies from culture to culture.

For example, we did not let a leading Britain-based online florist bid on the generic word "shopping," since it was determined that searchers entering "shopping" are not usually looking for a florist.

But in France, e-commerce adoption is very advanced, which means that users tend to be comfortable looking for various services - especially local ones - over the Internet. For this reason, we let a major online dating service provider bid on city names, like "Lyon" and "Marseilles." This type of city name bid won't work elsewhere in Europe, so we would not let a London-based dating service do the same.

What's clear is that it is crucial for bid systems to reflect "real" user behavior and their search intent. Only by researching and understanding a population's online and offline behavior can advertisers reach the diverse European community.

For more articles from The Direct Marketer's Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing, visit

A PDF of the guide is available at:

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