Local seo e50da72
Myriam Jessier

Cognitive Science Meets SEO: Why True Localization Matters

The author's views are entirely their own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Edited by Emilie Martin

There’s a global disconnect, and this is why one-size-fits-all international SEO strategies fail.

Cognitive science reveals that people crave familiarity when making decisions. This presents a significant gap for companies applying blanket SEO tactics across multiple regions. Read my colleague's recent publication on the Moz Blog: Decoding the Mechanics of Brand Familiarity to Futureproof Any Brand.

When brands don't adapt SEO efforts to align with local culture, context, and language, they miss huge opportunities to connect with audiences.

In this article, we'll delve into the concept of a "multi-local experience," exploring the elements and strategies that blend cognitive science with local expertise to appeal to audiences.

Leverage familiarity bias in SEO for a multi-local experience

Cognitive science suggests that we humans have a "familiarity bias," meaning we are more likely to engage with what we find familiar. In an SEO context, this could mean leveraging keywords, images, and content types that resonate with local tastes and expectations.

So, how do we leverage this familiarity bias?

Create a multi-local experience

The multi-local experience isn't about duplicating the same strategy across different regions; it's about customizing the experience based on each region's specific needs and preferences.

Localizing each part of the buying experience means considering local laws, taxes, currencies, payment methods, social media, and customer support, along with many other aspects of e-commerce.

To create a true multi-local e-commerce shopping experience, you must treat each market differently. This means that multilingual countries like Canada, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the United States should be considered as multi-local targets.

Leverage familiarity bias in SEO strategy

Familiarity bias is a human tendency reflected in how search engines operate. People prefer to interact with known entities. Brands can employ this by incorporating local idioms, symbols, and even folklore into their content.

For example, an American fast-food chain could include fresh pineapple and haupia pie along with apple pie in Hawaii to suit the people’s tastes and preferences in that locality/region.

Google search result answer box answering the question “Does McDonald’s in Hawaii serve pineapple?” by quoting KHON2’s answer “Some Hawaii Mcdonald’s locations sell fresh cut pineapple.”

Incorporating local flavors and ingredients into the menu is a common practice for McDonald's in various regions around the world. It helps the chain adapt to local tastes and cultural preferences, making it more appealing to the local population while also offering something distinctive to visitors.

This is something that I know pretty well as an ex-resident of the island of Oahu. But it’s also something that I am familiar with in Paris, where I come from originally. In Paris, there is a Croque McDo sandwich, and they sell mediocre beer.

Google search result answer box answering the question “What beer does McDonald’s serve in Paris” by quoting The Thillist’s answer, “Some Hawaii Mcdonald’s locations sell fresh cut pineapple.”

In our case, we will be going beyond menu items and diving headlong into the SEO aspect of things.

Key factors that impact SEO performance across regions

Key factors that impact SEO performance across regions

1. Localized content

Create locally adapted landing pages and blogs tailored to each market's interests, cultural references, and language nuances.

A North American e-commerce website could have specific blog content on US and Canadian trends, one article for each country.

Here is an example I have come up with:

  • Insights and trends for Canada
    • The 90s are back: 90s bike shorts, 90s dresses, etc., are back in fashion.

    • Tight, short black dress, tight pencil skirt, tight mini skirt. People are looking for tight dresses.

    • Sheer black tights, low-rise tights, high-waisted tights.

    • Black Friday Canada clothing, Black Friday clothes deals, Black Friday deals Canada clothes, Black Friday women's clothing sales. Black Friday is a big deal in Canada.

  • Insights and trends for the US
    • US Sunday best attire, Sunday best attire female, Sunday best clothes shop, Sunday best clothing, Sunday best clothing store, Sunday best dresses, Sunday best outfits

    • Comfy work-from-home clothes, work-from-home shorts.

    • Babydoll dresses are trending in the US.

2. Multilingual and multi-region sites

Develop sites that can deliver localized experiences to users based on their geography and language preferences. An example of this is to have a strong catalog management system that can keep track of availability and pricing across states or provinces. We can name a few brands that are very strong at this approach:

  • Ikea,

  • Amazon,

  • Airbnb,

  • Duolingo,

  • Revolut,

  • And Netflix, of course!

3. Location-specific image assets

Use images containing local scenery, symbols, people, products, and other visual elements that feel familiar.

Olymel website banner announcing “European sausages” with a visual that has “miam” which is a French onomatopoeia that no English speaker would understand.

Image Source: Olymel

Let’s dig into this: “miam” means “mmmm” or “yum” in French. This is a French Canadian company, and it shows on their anglophone website.

Sephora French hero banner with a “hot on social media” tag that few French speakers would understand.

Image Source: Sephora

Here, you can see that it’s the opposite: an English banner on a French website.

4. Localized linking

Link out to regionally popular sites and influencers to establish local credibility. If you want to post about reviews, advice, or information, it should be done with local considerations.

Learn more about localized link building:

5. Regional competitors analysis

Research how competitors are targeting keywords and gaining visibility in each locality. Understanding the distinct local preferences and choices of your target audience is important when working with or countering the familiarity bias.

If you don’t know who your competitors are, try out Moz’s free SEO Competitive Analysis tool. It’ll show you your top competitors, along with keyword gaps and content opportunities.

Here are some things you should keep in mind when tackling local competition, according to Billie Geena from Uptake agency, an international SEO agency:

  • These competitors play a significant role in shaping the local landscape and, subsequently, influencing your brand's overall visibility, conversion rates, and reputation.

  • Conduct a thorough competitive analysis for each region/market. It is essential to gain a firm grasp of the landscape and opportunities. Tailoring your content to address unique customer needs can give you an edge.

6. Keyword Research

You have to understand each market. Conduct in-depth local keyword research to understand what your audience is searching for.

Once you’ve discovered what those users are searching for in their specific localities, try Moz’s Keyword Explorer tool for free to investigate those keywords further.

investigate those keywords further with Moz Pro

Look at reviews, user interviews, and odd keyword patterns.

  • Cultural norms: customs, values, behaviors, and expectations should all be considered.

  • Customer path analysis: purchasing habits and decision-making processes vary.

  • Local partners can help you gain insights and credibility to establish yourself in a new market. Native speakers know the lay of the land.

  • Feedback channels: engage with your potential customer base through social media, surveys, etc.

Chima Mmeje says "Keyword Explorer's grouping feature take s away the manual work and make it easier to create only as much content as I need"

Enjoy this hidden gem by Eli Schwartz: he recorded a webinar with Moz on this very topic.

7. Local search engine optimization

Tailor title tags, meta descriptions, H1s, and content to rank for locally searched terms.

Here’s an example: I discovered that by tailoring the above elements to local tourists, using keywords that were highly sought after but not leveraged by aggregators such as booking.com and TripAdvisor, helped position a 4-star hotel in Mont-Tremblant.

8. Local reviews and mentions

Get reviews, testimonials, and local press from region-specific publications. Sephora has French product reviews. It is obvious to a native speaker that these reviews are not automatically translated reviews from other markets.

Sephora France website screenshot showing French reviews.

Image source: Sephora

9. Compliance with local laws and regulations

Adhere to geographic nuances in laws regarding privacy, accessibility, promotions, etc.

For example, GDPR in Europe has specific requirements around data collection that might not be applicable in other regions.

Another example provided by Nicolas Steenhout, accessibility consultant and podcaster, is the status of accessibility legislation in Canada. Each province does things slightly differently, and the Federal government can also do things differently. It's sometimes hard to figure out who has precedence.

In Ontario, there is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which basically says your website must be accessible (conform to WCAG). There is a new law at the Federal level that says more or less the same thing, but only for specific entities.

Knowing which regulation you must follow can be difficult. Given this is a global economy, it pays to follow the stricter legislation.

10. Contextual on-site elements

Include addresses, contact info, operating hours, shipping regions, and other details specific to each locale. Microcopy matters: don't overlook the more minor elements like meta descriptions, image alt-text, and even button text. These require the same level of localization as your main content. Let’s look at subtle elements

WP Rocket French homepage team testimonial section with English content in it.
WP Rocket German homepage team testimonial section with English content in it.

As you can see, the happiness score and support message illustration on the right are in English, regardless of whether we are on the French or German version of the site.

11. Localized customer support

Provide region-specific support for your channels, language abilities, and staffing to serve local users.

Example: WP Rocket offers customer support in multiple languages, which has been a tremendous advantage for the company. “Nowadays, our team is made up of 18 people across several countries and regions.” It was one of the differentiating factors that enabled this WordPress caching plugin to become a worldwide brand.

Bet on local holidays

Many holidays are deeply woven into a country's cultural fabric, celebrating historical events, honoring traditions, or representing core values that bind society.

Countries formed by multiple ethnic groups often celebrate various cultural traditions passed down through generations of immigrants, forming the national identity. The United States has holidays like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year, and Juneteenth that underscore its history as an immigrant melting pot.

Here are some local holidays marketers should be aware of if they are going global:

  • Singles Day (China) — Falling on November 11 every year, this is the world's biggest 24-hour online shopping frenzy, minimizing Cyber Monday.

  • Boxing Day (Canada) — The day after Christmas jumpstarts wild sales. Boxing Day is one of the biggest shopping days in Canada, with retailers offering post-Christmas sales even bigger than those on Black Friday. “Like Americans, Canadians also pause their traditional turkey feasting to indulge in a shopping frenzy. However, unlike in the US, where this occurs after Thanksgiving, in Canada, this happens the day after Christmas, a statutory holiday (why not?),” Samuel Lavoie, Canadian SEO consultant.

  • El Buen Fin (Mexico) — In November, Mexicans enjoy a special weekend-long sales from major retailers.

  • Diwali Festival Season (India) — During October and November, India's weeks-long celebration of lights and hope triggers nuclear-sized promotions, especially from online sellers.

  • Click Frenzy (Australia) — Wild 51-hour online discounts from hundreds of Aussie retailers reflect a Down Under version of Cyber Monday each May. “If you want to get your brand out there, this is the holiday to consider,” Sarah Crooke, Australian Analytics consultant.

Tapping into major regional shopping holidays like these is an effective strategy. Aligning promotions with these beloved local traditions maximizes attention and conversion potential.

Build familiarity across cultures: overcoming challenges

While globalization has connected the world like never before, successful localization requires more than surface-level translation. By aligning content with nuanced cultural insights, brands can overcome barriers to build authentic multi-local engagement.

In marketing, optimal familiarity may relate to the ideal level of brand recognition and consumer exposure to a product or service. Achieving optimal familiarity in this context means ensuring that your website and content resonate with and are relevant to the local audience in each target region.

Fight for alignment

Localization should reflect the local market's preferences, habits, and values. Prioritize organic search goals that align with business objectives. In order to capitalize on high-value SEO opportunities, you must test and measure initial efforts. Then, scale what resonates. Regularly refresh your audience and journey research to stay relevant as behaviors evolve.

Machine translator, human editor

Machine translation is an amazing way to scale your presence in various markets. However, machine translation often falls short of capturing nuances. Inaccurate translations can create a sense of unfamiliarity and distrust, undermining the brand's efforts to build familiarity. Your workflow should always involve local experts or native speakers to help ensure the end result provides a culturally-nuanced translation. An innocent phrase in one country can be offensive or nonsensical in another. In-depth cultural knowledge, sometimes even at a subnational level, is crucial for avoiding such pitfalls.

Internal search is a hidden threat to proper localization

If your website's internal search engine isn't localized, it can drastically affect user experience. Make sure to adapt the search algorithm to local needs. Brand names can vary; often, people will use a brand name instead of a product name to describe a product (Kleenex, Whiteout, Frigidaire). You must ensure that your internal search engine is able to return results for these queries; otherwise, customers may feel you do not carry them, and you could lose out on a sale. By adapting the search algorithm to local needs and considering variations in brand names and product terminology, you align your store with local, familiar customer expectations.

Be wary of promotions

Avoid blanket promotions that exclude certain regions. Restricting access to deals due to geographic limitations is extremely frustrating for customers.

Brands frequently run into this issue when running contests or offering coupon codes. Instead, segment promotions by locale to feature appropriate offers. This may require region-specific landing pages, geo-targeted emails, or personalized on-site messaging.

If regulations limit certain promotions, be upfront about eligibility to manage expectations. For example, limitations around Quebec's strict language laws are understandable if explained clearly upfront.

Set up tracking to monitor promo success by country and tweak based on response rates. Continually optimize to improve the relevance of offers for every locale you serve. Localized promotions require extra effort because you need to keep regional holidays, customs, color symbolism, and laws in mind, but they drive engagement. McDonald's is known for adapting its menu and promotional offerings to suit regional tastes and preferences around the world. For example, in Japan, they offer seasonal items like the "Teriyaki Burger" to cater to local flavors, while in India, they have a range of vegetarian options to accommodate cultural dietary preferences. But they go beyond that with their marketing strategy, adapting ads to various cultures worldwide.


Successful brands don't just translate their content; they transform it.

True localization transcends language to tap into the psychological drivers behind decision-making. While machine translation scales content globally, crafting resonance requires a multi-local approach.

To truly connect with local audiences, brands need to understand and incorporate local language nuances, customs, and preferences.. By integrating the principles of cognitive science into SEO, brands can develop a compelling, multi-local strategy that builds familiarity and trust across diverse markets.

About Myriam Jessier —

Myriam Jessier is a neurospicy keeper of the strangest SEO anecdotes and curator of arcane JavaScript knowledge. They travel around the world, love anything dinosaur or octopus related. If you need BigQuery training, get in touch!

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