Where To Look For Cultural Differences In Europe

It has been said many times before: optimizing for search and / or Social Media in Europe is more than simply translating a few pages from your US website. Not just because translating will get you in trouble with language differences all across Europe, but also because culture plays a major role in how successful your strategy will turn out to be in Europe.

But for many US companies it is difficult to find these cultural differences. Where do you look for them? Wikipedia? Or should we turn to history teachers who can tell us what we should be looking out for?

Of course, the best answer in these is to indeed get in touch with locals.

Find out what makes their country or even region different than others. Find out what makes them tick. But of course you can do a lot of research before that. Here are some takeaways on how and where to find those cultural differences in Europe.

Cultural differences can best be divided in three kinds: Norms and beliefs, Values and Traditions. We’ll take a look at all three of these.

Norms & Beliefs

Norms and beliefs can differ from region to region. In this case we are talking about for example habits, attitudes towards certain topics and etiquette. It’s about beliefs, attitudes and behavior within different groups within the society.

It is more than just language. It is also about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. In the US you can buy alcohol when you are 21, in many European countries that age lies at 18. But then again, where in the UK it is very common to buy and sell pills online, in the Netherlands you will find that people are more reluctant on doing that.

Another example is privacy matters. Where in Germany they are very careful with privacy issues, in Russia they care a lot less.

These are cultural differences in the category of “norms and beliefs” you will have to find out before you target a specific region. Otherwise, you might be selling something which nobody wants to buy.


Part of the “values” is the respect which people have for each other, how people interact. One aspect here lies in language differences.

A simple example here is the word “You”. In English, that can be used for both someone who is on the same ‘level’ or age as you are. You would say “how are you buddy” but also “how are you Mr President”. In most European countries, however, there is a difference in words between those you address with some more respect (like elderly people for example) than others.

In France, you will then use the word “vous” instead of “toi”, in Spain “usted” instead of “tu”, in Germany “Sie” instead of “Du” and in Holland, “U” instead of “jij”.

Another aspect is for example perception of time. When you are targeting the Netherlands you need to take into account that most Dutch try to have their dinner at about six o’clock. You won’t find many Dutch online at that moment, at least not when they have a family.

But when you go further south in Europe, ‘times change’. In France, dinner time is at about 8pm,while in Spain they can start their meals sometimes at 9pm or even 10pm, but then again, they will take a ‘siesta’ which will keep them offline during lunch time.

Especially with Social Media, but also in search, you therefore have to take into account at what time your audience will be online. Do not organize a webinar at 6PM in Holland or during lunch in Spain for example.


Finally, a very important cultural aspect is “traditions”. The word says it already: it is about how a region has ‘grown up’ to be what they are now.

In this cultural aspect, things like stereotyping, religious aspects and corporate culture play a huge role. The reason why many US companies have difficulties in Europe is because they forget to adapt to the cultures which are specifically European.

A good example of differences in traditions you should be aware of is color. Let’s take for example the color orange. If you think you can build a website with lots of orange elements, be aware of the following.

In the Netherlands, the color Orange stands for the Royal Family and the Dutch National Soccer team. For the Dutch that means: partying, both on Queensday, a national holiday, as with many soccer matches. The orange color will make them think about that.

However, if you go East towards the Ukraine, the color Orange has a totally different meaning. There, the color Orange stands for ‘revolution’ against the government. A completely different kind of feeling.

What Should You Do?

The bottomline, when optimizing in Europe and trying to figure out what kind of different cultural elements you should take into account, be sure to look at these three different kind of cultural differences. Divide them in these aspects and have a local check if those are cultural aspects which could influence your strategy.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Multinational Search


About The Author: is a Web/search strategist, international search specialist, trainer, and well-respected blogger. Bas is well informed about what's going on in the world of Internet and search marketing worldwide and especially Europe. Bas is the owner of Stateofsearch.com and also posts regularly on his personal blog.

Connect with the author via: Email


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://braddlibby.wordpress.com Bradd Libby

    “in Germany they are very careful with privacy issues”

    I just saw a presentation yesterday by Kristjan Mar Hauksson of Nordic eMarketing where he mentioned that, for a particular website he worked with, customers located in Germany took an average of about 1 minute to read a 200-word privacy statement. The average for other customers was less than 10 seconds.

    He didn’t show raw data to back that up (such as distributions of reading time, to show whether most German users take a minute, or whether it’s only a small portion of users who skew the overall results). But if he’s right, then his findings support your claim.

  • http://www.stateofsearch.com Bas van den Beld

    Hi Bradd,

    thanks for your comment. I was actually with Kristjan in a panel last week in London, not the same right? But I can really tell you the Germans are much more careful. Just look at the issues Google has there with Analytics and Streetview.

    Funny enough there were several Germans applying to have their houses removed from Streetview. Those same people then posed for a German magazine, in front of their house….

  • http://acuteaccent.com acuteaccent

    I cannot find anything useful in this concoction of stereotypes. Has the author ever worked in Spain (siesta) or the Netherlands (orange)?

  • http://braddlibby.wordpress.com Bradd Libby


    The presentation I was referring to was actually the Super Search half-day conference in Oslo on Monday, February 28. (This is a quarterly event, with the next meeting to be held in late May.)

    Your Streetview story sounds similar to the Streisand Effect, but not exactly the same. Very funny, either way.

  • http://www.stateofsearch.com Bas van den Beld

    Bradd, hope the presentation was good, I always enjoy Kristjans talks.

    @accuteaccent, sorry you don’t find it useful, I think if you ignore these cultural elements you will be less successful. And I am Dutch, an history graduate and an expert on Europe so my take is that I know what I’m talking about here :)


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide