Okay, so I am basically French, I have a French passport, I live In France, I vote in France, sometimes I even blog in French... and therefore, I believe I'm entitled to political immunity for the terrible things I'm about to say:


France sucks!

(at least as far as SEO is concerned)


Seriously. I get asked time and time again to do some SEO for international companies trying to operate on the French market. I really appreciate the vote of confidence, guys, I do. But allow me to share some thoughts about SEO in France so you fully understand what you're up against...

Broken language

In English, things are simple: you search for "widget", or "buy widget" or "cheap widget" or "buy cheap widgets".

The equivalent in French would be (in respective order): "truc", or "acheter un truc" or "truc pas cher" or "acheter des trucs pas chers".

In case you didn't notice, there is a significant difference in length between "buy cheap widgets" and "acheter des trucs pas chers". It's a real pain for average Jean to type in that much text without mistakes (yes, Jean is prolly the equiv. of average "Joe" in France ;). So average Jean decides it's not worth the effort. Average Jean only types in "truc" ("widget").

The long tail searches are broken and everybody optimizes for the short head terms. Every freaking stupid noun is ultra competitive because of that!

And don't get me started on special characters like ç and é and è and ê and ë which are also a pain to type for many people. So you basically have to optimize for typos, which basically get searched more than the correct spelling! Now... try to make it look natural and legitimate to have all those typos on your web pages... :p

Spam like it's 1999!

Broken language creates a need to optimize for bad spelling... using "alternative" ways.

The complexity of the French language (I'm gonna pass on the details for now) is such a pain in the ass that even Google seems to have bailed out. All the automatic algorythms that can detect pig English produced from word shufflers or Indian contrators. All that stuff Google relies on to prefilter ultimate crap out of acceptable content. All that... is broken at google.fr... or maybe the French guys in charge were too lazy to even try to make it work in the first place. No matter what... spam gets through like when google.com was all young :p

The rough result is this: France is one of those places where display:none and position:absolute still rule the game!

There is an S word for that, but it ain't SEO :p

It's not just machines, it's people too...

So, if you wanna spam like there's no tomorrow, you don't need a French SEO anyways. Canned spam services are typically sold farther east. Please note I do not advocate this.

If you want to do some link building, then you need to actually talk to French people. You might even have to do some business with them in "one way or another". Good luck with that. There are cultures like the US, where people are very goal oriented and pretty much upfront about their intentions. There are also cultures like India (nothing against India in particular, just an example), where people never say "no", even if they have no intention of doing what you ask them to do, whatsoever. Well, all I'm gonna say, is that France does not have a goal oriented culture like the US...

So, you wanna know...

How *I* solved the problem?

Very simple: I don't do business in France!

In France, we have great vacation spots, great wine, awesome girls and more than 400 varieties of cheese! All these may be good reasons to live in France. "Gettings things done" mentality is not common practice though...

Here comes the kicker though: we have better broadband than in the US!

So, France goes like this: you live in a vacation spotand you do your business on the Internet, with better connectivity than most of the US. You don't do business directly in France. Period.

The only caveat is when the EUR/USD sucks balls like right now at $1.50 for 1€... But still, you find out that making $2 is quicker than making 1€. Rock on!

Are you starting to get the picture? ;)

Taxes? Very bad! Fiscal pressure is intolerable! -- Now, if you compare it to California, believe me or not... we're actually slighly better off! (I tried L.A., I know from experience).

Okay, I'm going astray, but I felt like I needed to explain why on earth I'd be choosing to live in France, yet staying away from the French market with a passion!

How to find a good French SEO?

Now, if you still want to get some French SEO done, how do you find a good French SEO?

I'd say, google.fr for "SEO" and see what you get! :p

Here's the craziest part though: SEO agencies here don't sell "SEO" to you. What they sell you is "referencement" ("référencement" if you want the correct spelling).

That means... wait for it... "registration" (roughly)! Yes! It means they're going to register your site with the search engines! Alta vista style all the way! Just what you need, right? Ain't that cute? Bleh... :/

Of course, most of them finally got the message that it's doesn't work that way anymore. That's why, nowadays, they register you with "5000" directories in addition to registering you with "300" search engines...

Oh no... I'm not sure whether I should laugh or cry about it, but seriously, we are (internet) lightyears behind the times out here!

Having ranted enough, let's focus for a moment though: there are exceptions! They are just very hard to find and they are infinitely busy already. Most of the good people I know here (including myself) don't have any resources to take on any new client. (heck, we couldn't care less about our websites either :p)

Where do you find new talent now? I was hoping trade shows would be an answer... so I went to "e-Commerce Paris 2009" recently. Absolutely laughable. So, I asked SES when they'd run another "SES Paris" event. They're not sure they're gonna do it again! So, what's left? Some say "Le Web" conference. I'm afraid it's very "VC" oriented though. Not as technical as you'd need to attract hard core SEO guys.

Unfortunately, we don't have advanced technical events in France any more (I miss the Networld+Interop times...) and the people who do advanced tech are already overwhelmed.

Now, any French guy prove me wrong! I have work for you! Tons!

PS: There's some interesting French SEO blogs though I gotta check out when I have more time. There has to be some good people in that community ;)

PS2: No, France doesn't really suck. I'm just a drama queen.

Comments from long ago:

Comment from: boudin

Google.fr does suck! and SEO tools can’t cope with accents/seo/france - so I’m going to agree with you on this one - as the French didn’t invent the internet (preferring Minitel!) they go about everything in a very “can’t be bothered” kind of way . . . so yes, moi aussi, enjoy the women, the wine, the beaches, the je ne sais quoi of France and French living - but until Google.fr get their act together, spam away, black hat all you like!

2010-03-06 00-12

Comment from: Ths

I would like to agree with you about spam to improve ranking, but how could you explain this to a company which hire you ? Also, most french SEO doesn’t spam with black hat tools or anything else, because clients want to see what was done, how, etc… and they don’t just care about the result… as you said, french people aren’t very Goal oriented, but it depends of North /South ;) All the best from France ! :)

2010-04-26 21-45

Comment from: alex de @registration

No SES, but you have SEO Campus (2009 & 2010) http://www.seo-camp.org/category/seo-campus

2010-06-16 10-50

Comment from: Missing name

Nice article. I laughed a lot, you drama queen!! too bad to hear that SES do not plan to come back to Paris…perhaps they should think about doing it in Cannes ;)

2010-06-17 15-55

Comment from: Refschool

hi François, was nice to meet you yesterday. Concerning the lag of french seo practice vs US, i can tell you that only the low end agency do spam like hell the directories. Most of the people you met yesterday are savvy seo and some are pretty good marketers (i do not include myself among them). You definitely can’t apply the same US marketing techniques in France, it will simply suck ! In France you need to find a balance between genuineness and hard selling, in a word do it the french way ! So despite your rant, i do feel that you’re likely to do biz in France ?

2010-06-24 11-20

Comment from: Zai

I could relate to your comments. But if not France, where do I find a good down-to-earth competent French SEO? I have lots of pages to drive traffic. But need to do SEO in French on French properties to get traction.

2010-12-09 18-27

Comment from: referenceur

Les temps changent on dirait… Pas d’accord ?

2011-04-12 01-06

Comment from: informatique Grenoble

are you serious guy ?

each language is different so SEO is different for french SERP !

you say that cause you’re hiring french people :D ?


2011-04-12 07-22

Comment from: SeoVavavoom

I know this post is old now, but I too am french working in SEO (abroad…) and I too have been working on the french market…and I too could have wrote a post highlighting the same issues now in 2012…This is why I created my blog about “french SEO”, to give people who don’t speak english access to the (multiple!!) resources available from english speaking countries (i.e. USA and UK…) Have a look: http://www.seovavavoom.com/

Thanks guys and “vive la France”…sometimes…

2012-02-01 14-51

Comment from: Quentin

I guess It is all about what you are interested in. If a prospect asks me about doing a seo campaign on a subject I have no interest, I will prefer to say no

2012-04-26 18-26

Comment from: David

“Here’s the craziest part though: SEO agencies here don’t sell “SEO” to you. What they sell you is “referencement” (“référencement” if you want the correct spelling).

That means… wait for it… “registration” (roughly)! Yes! It means they’re going to register your site with the search engines! Alta vista style all the way! Just what you need, right? Ain’t that cute? Bleh… :/”

Your article made me laugh AND CRY and, because our little US-based web services company is now blessed (cursed?) with our first French client, beg you to answer the following question:

Is there a technically better term, in French, for what SEO really is, in France? Our client uses this term too and while we’ll make it clear that SEO is so much more than search engine “registration” work, we’d like to know where we can point them (some educational write-up for french clients on: what IS real SEO, its importance, and the combination of tasks their SEO agent, if they are good, will be doing for them, on-site and off) to be appropriately “schooled”.

Thanks so much!

2013-09-06 16-22