I just returned from a week in the Nordic region of Northern Europe speaking at conferences in Stockholm Sweden (SMX Stockholm) and Oslo Norway (SEM Konfrensen) which became the 35th country where I have given a presentation.
While I am more well known across Asia, I really like attending these events from time to time. One of the best is the Reykjavik Internet Marketing Conference in Iceland every March which not only has great content but an adventure weekend after. These events tend to be smaller, which gives you more time with the attendees, local speakers and businesses that are thirsty for knowledge.
So, what did I learn this trip?
Search Engines In Scandinavia
As you might expect, Google is the dominant search engine in the region, with a significant majority over 85% in all markets except Sweden, where they have a 93% share. There is some usage of Yahoo and some interest in Bing, but most of the advertising goes to Google.
In both Stockholm and Oslo, I learned of a site that was a key competitor to Google. The site, Finn.no explained to me as “Craig’s List on steroids” and is a leading online classified sites.
Finn.no sells everything from automobiles to vacations on the site. Everyone raved about how easy it was to interact, post and buy from the site and the place to go for many household appliances and outdoor products.
Digital Market Size & Opportunities
The Internet population of these markets is relatively small compared to the US or China, but all have Internet usage penetration of over 85% which creates a lot of opportunity.
Due to the size of the local markets, many companies export their products and have been very active in multinational SEO and PPC. This gives them an advantage over many western companies that only target the US or other English speaking markets.
Many of the site owners I spoke to are interested in targeting the US, especially those with ski and other outdoor products, so the speakers received a lot of questions about the US market and ways to leverage search and social to target them.
I also learned that Scandinavians tend to search less frequently than US users and use shorter keyword phrases. Nearly 85% of all of the searches done in Norway and Sweden are single or 2 keyword phrases supported by Search Query Length research from Keyword Discovery.
Talking with Anders Willstedt of INMA (Norway’s IAB) he indicated that Norway’s advertisers have one the the regions largest share of marketing budget (as a share of total marketing budget) with 26% of the marketing budget being spent on digital advertising. The largest activity with over 1.2 Billion NOK ($211 Million USD) being spent on display advertising.
I could not get any official numbers from anyone, but the estimates of the Paid Search market were around 700 Million NOK ($120 million US) which is a significant amount for a market this size.
Recent Norway Online Market research from INMA shows Paid Search spend increasing by 16% year over year in Norway and digital up 11% for the first half of the year
In Sweden, I also spoke at a private event of over 150 digital marketers organized by my former co-worker Sara Andersson to help bridge the areas of online, traditional, search and social.
The audience was very receptive and agreed that breaking out of the silos and integrating best practices to intersect consuers in any medium is the way of the future. I have spoken to this type of audience previously, but never had this much enthusiasm about the integration of these disciplines.
In all the markets, the larger focus seemed to be on paid search rather than SEO. There were a number of SEO’s at these events and I found them to be quite experienced, savvy on the latest information and most curious about advanced techniques. They seemed very interested in the more advanced techniques that don’t get much play on English blogs.
They wanted to know about schema optimization, AJAX and managing SEO in a multinational environment. Most of the questions I received in my “Diagnosing Problems” session were fairly advanced which was refreshing and should be a reminder to conference organizers to add some meat and deeper thinking to their events.
I spoke to a few SEO’s in Norway and they indicated SEO, while used, is not that popular for a few reasons. First, it is easy to do paid search; second, due to the size of the Norwegian market, there may not be a lot of competition in ranking.
Lastly, a reason that surprised me: a local group has developed some strict standards for SEO best practices and companies are afraid they or an agency might violate them.
Mobile Search In Scandinavian Countries
Mobile is alive and thriving in Scandinavia with nearly all of the conference attendees using either an iPhone or HTC Android phone. This is futher supported by research that shows IOS responsible for over 74% of the mobile page views in the region.
There were a lot of tablets and iPads present in the sessions and by people in coffee shops. While on a tour of Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, I saw two different women using their iPad 2′s to take pictures of the sculptures.
In conversations with attendees and Google representatives (none had a firm statistic) all expected Mobile search to surpass Web search as early as the end of this year. The only market where that currently happens is Japan.
Mobile search and access to content via mobile devices has been growing significantly. Mobile page views in Sweden and Norway have increased by over 150% and early predictions from the INMA show it already up 300% for this year.
Notably, I was told the largest mobile site in Norway, a newspaper named VG Mobile, receives more visitors than all of the TV news websites together.
So for companies looking to test or refine their mobile strategy, they should condsider Norway or Sweden as the place to do it then bring those learnings back to other markets.
Searcher Characteristics & Cultural Sensitivities
A word of advice for non-local speakers is to try and do some homework on the market before you go. For example, I made a mistake with a local chef that could have been avoided by understanding more about the behavior and culture of the local markets.
After the conference in Oslo, I has the privilege of attending an amazing dinner with a few of the other speakers and the organizers at a top Italian restaurant. The meal and wine parings were perfect with the chef and sommelier explaining each dish and its accompanying wine.
Once dessert was finished, we were again visited by the chef to make sure we enjoyed the meal with him explaining more about their focus. They only use fresh local ingredients, a great combination of complimentary flavors and wine and an amazing atmostphere. Listening to his passion for this approach to dining and how they care about every element of the meal was amazing.
Putting on my Social Media/Search Marketing Strategist hat, I suggested he do a quick video for the site to let others experience his passion and approach. He seemed surprised that I would make a suggestion like this. He did think a video might be good and the Internet a great way to market his restaurant. I later learned that that would not be a good Norwegian thing to do since that would seem boastful and make him sound “better than others.”
Our host explained in more detail later, but the point to me was that all cultures are different and what works or is expected on one market is not always the same for another.
Another key point was that part of the allure of the restaurant is that if it were full every night, it would not or could not be the same expereince as we had.
It’s a hard lesson for a consultant to learn that not everyone wants to outgrow their niche but a good humbling reminder that we all still have a lot to learn about going global.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.