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Cultural Influence on Search Behaviour and Why It Matters for SEO

Search behaviour is not always the same all over the world. People search differently depending on where they live and their culture, and this can have a huge effect on a brand’s marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) efforts.

The search engine algorithms that power Google get constantly updated in an attempt to try and understand what impacts search behaviour. In this article, we’ll explore how culture affects search behaviour, why it matters for SEO, and what you need to know about it when optimising your site for different cultures.

In this post:

What the literature says

You know us: we like to study the theory and research behind the topics we write about. So we’ve been checking what the literature has to say about culture and consumer behaviour.

For years, it was believed that culture only influenced consumer behaviour in relation to environmentally sensitive products such as food, where international companies are forced to respond to the nation’s different tastes (Keegan and Schlegelmilc, 2001). However, culture is pervasive and influences much more than what we eat.

There are lots of research papers analysing how consumer behaviour varies across cultures and a few that analyse online search behaviour in particular. We’re sharing the two most relevant ones below:

The impact of culture on travel behaviour

A study by Xu et at. (2016), for example, explored the role of culture and its impacts on the travel behaviour and attitudes of two different nationalities of undergraduate students from the United Kingdom and China (two culturally diametric countries taken to represent values from the Western and Asian cultures).

Findings indicated that culture considerably influences travellers’ behaviour. While both groups enjoyed beach holidays, placed importance on having fun and relaxing after their studies, were motivated to discover somewhere new, and preferred to eat the local food of the destination, they also showed significant differences. For example, the Chinese students thought it more important to see the famous sights and learn about other cultures and history, while the British were more concerned to have fun, to socialise and enjoy the challenges of outdoor adventure.

The role of culture on online search behaviour

Another study by Michopoulou and Moisa (2016) confirms that these findings also apply to how users search for information depending on their cultural background.

The study concluded that Chinese travellers regard other travellers’ reviews as a very trusted source to plan their own trip—and this reflects in how they search online. Considering the fact that China is a collectivist society with a score of 20/100 on individualism on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (2001), it is not surprising that Chinese users value online communities where everyone can contribute their opinion.

What does this mean for marketing and SEO?

Understanding the influence of cultural differences on search behaviour is critical for a brand’s global marketing and search engine optimisation. These differences can lead to vastly differing attitudes that will influence how people search online, what they look for in a website, the content they are more likely to share or endorse with others (such as reviews), and their expectations of which platforms provide trustworthy information. Brands should adapt their marketing strategies accordingly.

How to categorise target markets

One of the most popular definitions of culture was given by Hofstede: ‘Culture is the collective programming of the mind, the interactive aggregate of common characteristics that influence a human’s group response to the environment.’ (Hofstede 1980).

According to Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory, culture is a broad, collective pattern of cognitions that varies across countries with respect to five dimensions. These dimensions represent preferences for one state of affairs over another; you can think about them on a continuum, and they are:

  1. Power distance
  2. Individualism vs collectivism
  3. Masculinity vs femininity
  4. Uncertainty avoidance index
  5. Long- vs short-term orientation

Example: Marketing for individualistic vs. collectivist societies

One way of looking at societies is how they interact with themselves, that is, their social and behavioural tendencies. These trends can help label societies as either individualistic or collectivistic (Hofstede’s third dimension), which will inform a brand’s marketing approach and SEO strategy. Variations will still happen from country to country even if they share the individualistic/collectivistic category, but the basic behaviours will remain the same.

Search behaviour in individualistic societies

When marketing to an individualistic society—which prioritise self-sufficiency and self-reliance—, a brand should consider that consumers strive to stand out from the crowd, be unique, and stay on top of the latest trends. Individualistic societies usually take more risks, welcome innovativeness, show less brand loyalty, and indulge more in pleasure products/services (Milner, Fodness and Speece, 1993).

Customers from individualist societies tend to spend more time searching for the best value products based on price rather than quality—a culturally aware SEO strategy, therefore, will optimise content to rank higher for keywords associated with price, best value, trendiness, pleasure, innovativeness, and uniqueness.

Search behaviour in collectivist societies

When marketing to collectivist societies—which emphasise cooperation and conformity—, on the other hand, a brand should consider that consumers are more likely to search for information on brands and products before making their purchase decision. A culturally aware SEO strategy will optimise content around building trust by providing testimonials from satisfied customers and targeting long-tail keywords in question form of the type that is likely to appear on forums, where users can join in discussions with other people about their interests or needs.

How SEO translation can help get cross-cultural marketing right

A crucial aspect of any global marketing strategy for multi-regional and multilingual brands is how they approach multilingual SEO, i.e., search engine optimisation in different languages. This includes things like hyperlocal SEO techniques, market research, product-market fit, website hosting and domain structure, multilingual ads, reverse SEO, and, very importantly, content and keyword localisation.

SEO Translation is the aspect of multilingual SEO that you assign to translators. SEO translation specialists help businesses do a better job at reaching their target audience, and that goes beyond search engine rankings. It extends to understanding varying international preferences through cultural sensitivity.

We examine things such as local search behaviour, cultural influence on searching habits, preferred local brands, language use, user experience, localisation strategies, etc. For example, German customers tend to shy away from calls to action such as ‘buy now’, while Chinese customers tend to accept them better. We then optimise content for each target market, which translates into higher rankings, more traffic, and more sales.

Think about it this way: a website with its sole focus on SEO optimisation is the equivalent of a robot – frigid, stale, and lacking a certain ‘human’ touch. If you’d like to know more about SEO Translation, you can refer to the blog we’ve written about it or download our ebook The SEO Translation Bible.

Take-home message

Cultural influence on search behaviour is an important factor to consider when executing a search engine optimization strategy. Searching habits vary from culture to culture and marketers must take this into consideration if they want their SEO efforts to be successful.

This article has introduced the role of culture in search behaviour and why it matters for SEO. We hope you have found this information useful. Don’t forget to share it!

Maria Scheibengraf Crisol Translation Services SaaS Translation Services

Author: Maria Scheibengraf

Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.

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