SES Toronto 2009: Canada Specific SEO & PPC Issues

We're here in Toronto and wouldn't it be fitting if there were a session on Canada specific issues we face in our SEO and PPC endeavors? Why yes, it would be fitting and yes, we'll be discussing such a session

Many SEO matters are common around the globe, but Canadian companies face some unique issues, which our panelists will discuss.

Heather Dougherty, Research Director, Hitwise

Everyone loves stats, so lets start off with some numbers:

  • 80% of searches are taking place on Google
  • 60% of which are on and 18% on (the remaining on other international properties)
  • Yahoo! takes around 8% of the cake with MSN and other properties, such as filling in the rest
  • A challenge with Yahoo! and MSN is that their search is fragmented between many different properties - MSN Live, MSN Search, Bing, Yahoo English and Yahoo French etc...

How's Bing Doing?

  • Bing, in its first week became the 9th most visited site (out of 62,000 sites Canadian's visited last week)
  • Are people just testing? Curious as to how Bing results differ from Google results?
  • Bing's search volume was higher in Canada during first week of launch when compared to the US, where it was 17th overall
  • 3rd most visited search engine of last week

How do Canadian's Search?

  • 52% of queries are 1-2 keywords in length
  • Canadians, much more so than their American counterparts, use search to land on specific pages:
  • Top search term in Canada is 'Facebook' - people use search for navigational purposes, rather than bookmarking frequently visited sites.
  • Another example: When banking, people will search 'TD Canada Login' to land on their online banking page
  • Canadians are becoming savvy and will tag 'Canada' onto their queries in order to find relevant Canadian content - keep this in mind when choosing keywords!

What Engine Provides Optimal Results?

  • None!
  • Wasn't that easy? - No single search engine is delivering optimal results, with satisfaction rates hovering around 70-74% across the board

Competing with the US

  • International Competition is one of the biggest challenges facing Canada
  • Government, Banking/Finance are local - fairly easy to rank for and capture traffic
  • Entertainment and Social network on the other hand, are predominately American properties that drive lots of traffic (YouTube, Facebook)
  • So What? Well... depending on the competition, you can look at SEO or PPC
  • As an example, if you search 'Wedding Dresses', there will be a good mix of local and international retailer in the organic results - however, all the Paid Search ads are international - in this case, SEO might be more effective then PPC.

Key Takeaways?

  • Google Canada captures the largest share of searches, but there is also significant activity on and international search properties - don't ignore these
  • Audit search results for competitors outside of Canada that are bidding on your keywords and evalutes costs to capture that traffic - worth it? Can you contact American counterparts that are advertising in Canada, but don't actually serve Canada? You can help save them money, and also eliminate some competition.
  • Monitor the relevancy of your keywords, even simply adding 'Canada' or 'Canadian' can help boost success rates and CTR

Ari Shomair, Director of Marketing Optimization, henderson bas

What are the Issues we Canadian's are Facing?

  • Canada has two official languages - need to optimize both SEO and PPC for both
  • The majority of Canadians speak the same language as Americans - this is rare for bordering nations. What this means is that we are competing with a market that is much, much larger than ours
  • Canadians regularly visit US visits
  • Not all Canadian websites are physically hosted in Canada
  • Many Canadian companies have US offices - by PageRank alone, the US will always rank higher than the Canadian

Top 5 Canadian SEO Tactics

1. IP Location / whois location

  • Use server IP location and or domain registration details to signal location
  • Sub-domains can have separate ip addresses, and therefore resolved to different locations
  • Whois info can only be set at domain level

2. Google Webmaster Tools

  • Set Canada geographic target in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Can only be set at domain or sub-domain level

3. Domain Extensions

  • Use a .ca domain extensions

4. Canadian Centric Link Building

  • having links coming from Canadian websites will tell the engines you're canadian

5. On-Page Address Listing

  • List Canadian address on your site - must be machine readable (text or image with alt tag)

The key takeaway here is that you MUST make search engines aware that you are Canadian.

Marc Poirier, Co-Founder and CMO, Acquisio

Paid Search! So, What Challenges Do We as Canadians Face?

  • What's So Different in Canada? The SIZE of the MARKET!
  • USA Online Ad Spend in 2007 was 21B
  • It was 1.2 B in Canada
  • Our Population is 10x smaller then US and our ad spend is 20x smaller!
  • We have two official languages - 60% English, 23% French and 17% Other

Some Suggestions:

  • This is marketing - simple translations do not work - get translators who know the language and whatever you do - do not use Google Translate
  • Using language targeting at the Campaign level within AdWords has severe limitations - Use AdGroups with French Keywords and Ad Copy rather than simply targeting both English and French within the same campaign
  • Content network and Site Placement is great for experimenting with language targeting

What About Our Currency? Loonie vs Greeback:

  • With Google, you can buy traffic in Canadian dollars - thumbs up Google!
  • Yahoo and MSN deal in US dollars - thumbs down Yahoo and MSN
  • Yahoo also throws in a curve ball with their French (Quebec) property, where you can in fact invoice in Canadian dollars
  • This can become not only an accounting nightmare, but when measuring performance indicators, you must convert currencies so you're making decisions based on similar data

How About Some Solutions?

  • Stick to Google AdWords only - of course, this is only if you're lazy
  • Otherwise, ensure that you're managing US and CAD Campaigns separately, and...
  • Use currency conversion data, such as to convert your dollar values to ensure you're measuring everything on an equal playing field.

Canadians - The Victims of the Giant Next Door

  • Canada is a great source of arbitrage traffic to be resold in the US
  • Many US companies accidentally advertise in Canada, which increased competition, and of course, your costs - don't you love inflated costs?


  • We have to work much harder to serve 2 languages, 2 currencies on 5 engines, with a market 5% the size of our American counterparts
  • So what does this mean? Its simple, it means that Canadian's the the WORLD'S BEST Search Engine Marketers!

Guillaume Bouchard, Co-founder and CEO, NVI

Tips for Quebec?

  • 73.5% of Quebec population are using the internet regularly (May 2009)
  • There are 4 million active users
  • For eCommerce sites - keep in mind that Canadian's like to, and want to pay with debit. We Canadian's are not as comfortable paying with Credit Card online as our American counterparts. In Quebec, this is especially true.
  • Within major areas, such as Montreal we see a language breakd down of 60% French, 40% English and changing to 70/30 as we move outwards
  • Rural zones are 90% French - segment you campaigns into rural vs urban
  • MSN is twice as strong as Yahoo in Quebec
  • With that said however, it has been found that Yahoo will provide the best ROI in Quebec
  • Quebec leads Canada in Social Media penetration at 87% - look to build social media into your strategy
  • Look to Francaphone marketers while building your strategy (translations etc...)
  • Ensure that your website is bilingual

Thanks to Andrew Goodman for moderating this great session, and to Ari, Marc, Guillaume and Heather for providing some great insight into the issues Canada faces when it comes to SEO and PPC.

About the Author: Tyler Calder

Tyler is VP of Client Strategy at Search Engine People Inc., one of Canada's largest and most trusted internet marketing companies. He also teaches a 12 week Search Engine Marketing course at the University of Toronto and the intensive 1-Day SEO and PPC courses for the IAB.

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