Google tends to offer the richest experience when you’re using it in English, and no wonder. Over half of internet content is in English – although language diversity is improving online. This means Google tends to have a wider content resource to draw on. It’s also got a larger base of users from which to draw data. Whether you’re doing keyword research or trying to find a local pizza parlour, you will find the best experience if you’re using Google services in English.
The data-based tools Google offers now seem pretty essential to daily life. But when it comes to smaller markets, English-speaking or not, Google doesn’t always offer the same service that customers in larger markets have come to expect.
A few years ago residents in the sparsely populated Faroe Islands ran a well-organised petition to get Google Maps implemented for their islands. The locals won their campaign, but smaller markets like these aren’t always lucrative enough in terms of ad revenue for Google to supply all the services it offers bigger markets.
When there’s an additional language complexity at stake, Google services often won’t achieve the same standards as they do elsewhere. If you’re a business trying to market yourself online in a market such as Finland or Kazakhstan, you’ll find Google services are less helpful than you might expect in a larger market – particularly an English-speaking one.
More data, better results
Perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that this data-driven organisation works best when more data is available to it. Google’s not always managed to completely master tricky languages in smaller markets.
For many years, South Korea was in the fairly unique position of having a search engine that wasn’t Google as the dominant search engine. Local rival Naver just did a better job of understanding Korean.
The result of this is that search engine marketing remains a complex challenge in this market. If you use the same strategies here that you do with Google SEO, you may fare poorly.
Your brand will benefit from gaining an understanding of Korean culture and language if you’re seeking to make yourself visible online here. But with high internet penetration, sizable GDP and a significant population, many brands find it worth engaging with the challenges.
Finland is a much smaller market with an equally tricky language, yet Google dominates here with over 97% market share. Search volumes on a key term such as ‘car insurance’ (a real money spinner in the paid ad market) are 100 times lower here than in the UK. That means there’s less information available to Google to build a strong picture on local search habits.
If you’re trying to manage a search strategy in Finland, you may be dismayed at the quality of the SEO tools. You’ll need to put in a bit more legwork to research who the key competitors are and add Finnish language keywords so that you can track them over time. In a small language market like this one, you need to research a lot of related keywords and long-tail search terms in order to get a better sense of local traffic volumes.
The Kazakh challenge
Google’s got a particular challenge in Kazakhstan. This language is unusual because it has no alphabet of its own but has instead relied on the scripts of other languages over the years, including Arabic. In the last century, years of Soviet rule means Kazakh has generally been written using Cyrillic script.
But Kazakhstan’s leadership announced this year that a new script based on the Latin alphabet would be used instead, in an attempt to be more Western-focused.
The only problem is that not all the sounds in the Kazakh language are easily rendered using a Latin alphabet. Kazakhstan’s solution is to employ apostrophes to denote these sounds in written form. This causes a major challenge for search engines and is likely to disrupt Google searches for many Kazakh words.
But with only nine million speakers, Kazakhstan isn’t really a big enough market for Google to invest in solving this problem. If you’re active in this market you may find this a challenge and have to be more resourceful as there’s little information available on how Google plans to overcome the issue.
Google dominates in English-speaking markets and it’s also the biggest search engine for many of the world’s most-spoken languages. It has around 95% of the Spanish language search market, the dominant share of the Portuguese market, in major Arabic-speaking nations and in India, where Hindi is spoken by a large number of people. But it has no effective presence in China, the world’s largest language population.
Google’s been excluded from China’s colossal market since 2010, although it seems to have serious ambitions to return there.
It’s not just trying to penetrate China’s search marketing landscape but also to assert itself in key markets such as AI and cloud computing as well as exploring the option of a censored search platform in China. And anyone that has done keyword research in China has seen first hand how the keyword ideas are much more relevant when using Baidu’s rather than Google’s Keyword Planner.
China’s search landscape has changed in Google’s absence. Baidu certainly holds a strong position there but it has many local challengers including WeChat search, introduced just last year.
Much has changed in the search industry since Google’s defeat there in 2010, and Google would have much catching up to do to achieve a solid position in this market. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares. In a market this large, it’s going to be worth Google’s full efforts to engage in capturing this audience. This probably means offering the full range of services that aren’t always available in smaller language markets.