SEO in smaller non-English speaking markets

Written By: Boris Katsarov
Edited By: Clint Butler
Published On: December 15, 2023 

What is the SEO in the smaller markets? The direct answer to what smaller markets present is that it is somewhat easier to rank a site, updates hit less, and many of the black hat and grey practices still work.

Definition of a smaller market

Let's first define what a smaller market is. Bulgaria has a population of 7 million people. It's in Eastern Europe, meaning the economy is relatively small, with few companies. That is why the Bulgarian SERP is not as competitive, even if Google's algorithm is as advanced as it is for the English SERP. Bulgarian language is a specific language; in this respect, the algorithm is certainly not as advanced as in English.

What works and what does not

What works and what doesn't? I would best define the Bulgarian SERP by comparing it with the English SERP from 2-3 years ago. Many things that worked a few years ago in the English SERP but now don't still work in Bulgaria. A case in point is that in early 2023, a  lorem ipsum page was ranked for a highly competitive keyword, similar to Kyle Roof's page. This page ranked position 5, using Surfer SEO and using a Bulgarian website with Dr 55. The page stayed in the SERP for about two weeks before it started to drop. After the page went to page 2, the lorem ipsum content was replaced with actual text and some additional enhancements. The page went back to the first page.

Google updates

With Google updates, two distinctive factors are noticeable: First, when an update is rolled out in the English SERP, in the Bulgarian SERP, it is not seen immediately, there is a certain delay, and the second is that we have observed sites in English that are hit, but similar sites in the Bulgarian SERP are not hit so hard. As I explained, this is because the market is not very big, and the results would be messed up if so many sites were downgraded. If that happens, sites with lower quality will rank higher. In this sense, the updates don't hit that hard simply because the sites have nothing to be replaced with.

Of course, there are also niches in Bulgaria, such as casino games, where the difference from the English SERP is minimal because even in Bulgaria, the competition in this niche is very high. This and several other niches are similar to the English SERP, but still not in the total sense of the word.

Content vs. Backlinks

This is for keywords that are highly competitive according to the Bulgarian standard. When it comes to keywords with lower competition, things happen even faster. For example, newly created sites can rank as soon as they are launched within 24 hours on the second or third page for keywords with searches between 10 and 100. This shows that for the Bulgarian SERP, Google relies much more on the content and less on the backlinks.

Link building is not well-developed

And since the market is small, the concept of natural link building in Bulgaria is challenging. Natural link building occurs with big media sites or big eCommerce sites. That's why link building in Bulgaria is not that developed, and we suspect that the algorithm is designed to prioritize content before link building. This is why content and on-page optimization is highly emphasized in Bulgaria. However, sites that do link-building campaigns have a significant competitive advantage over those that do not.

Recap

In exploring SEO within smaller, non-English-speaking markets, it's evident that these arenas present unique opportunities and challenges. Defining what constitutes a smaller market, exemplified by Bulgaria's comparatively limited population and economy, sheds light on the reduced competitiveness within its search engine results pages (SERP) compared to its English-speaking counterparts. While Google's algorithm sophistication matches across languages, nuances exist, especially in languages like Bulgarian, where the algorithm may lag behind its English equivalent.

The Bulgarian SERP showcases a few distinctive differences from the English SERP. Particular outdated black and grey hat practices may still yield results in Bulgaria.

Interestingly, Google updates exhibit distinct traits in these smaller markets. Updates rolled out in the English SERP don't immediately impact the Bulgarian SERP, experiencing a noticeable delay. Moreover, while specific niches in Bulgaria, such as casino games, align closely with the English SERP's competitiveness, overall, updates' impact on Bulgarian sites differs due to the market's size and the potential disruption caused by mass downgrades.

A notable divergence in the Bulgarian SEO landscape is the emphasis on content over backlinks, especially in less competitive keyword segments. The swift ranking of newly launched sites within 24 hours for lower competition keywords shows Google's reliance on quality content over backlink strength in the Bulgarian SERP.

The challenges of natural link building persist due to Bulgaria's market size, posing hurdles for organic link acquisition. Consequently, the algorithm seemingly prioritizes on-page optimization and content quality over link building, though sites engaging in effective link-building campaigns gain a competitive edge. The nuanced interplay between content, link building, updates, and the distinct SEO characteristics in smaller markets like Bulgaria highlights the opportunities and complexities inherent in optimizing these markets.

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