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Thursday, Jun. 28, 2007 at 5:34 pm

Do French Canadians Search Different?

By Melissa Burdon
June 28th, 2007

Oh, CanadaI’m not French Canadian; I’m English-Montreal Canadian. Born and raised in a city with a large French Canadian population, Montreal’s culture feels more European than it is similar to any other Canadian or American city. I would go to school in the morning and kiss my friends on both cheeks. We’d go for coffee every day after school. A social and laid back environment was the norm. Working from 9am to 5pm literally meant that people went home at 5pm.

After reading this article about French Canadian search behavior, several questions popped into my mind.

First of all, no matter what culture you come from–and no matter what language you speak–if you’re going to get relevant results from search engine, you’ve got to use words that describe your motivations and intent. So, I wouldn’t expect that French Canadians would use more or less words in a search engine when performing a search.

Still, 85% of respondents described that they were satisfied with the primary search results. Knowing the French Canadian culture, I know that people would be much more relaxed about their expectations. Therefore, no matter what the search results were, they would likely be satisfied. Maybe not ecstatic, but satisfied. It’s just very laid back and there’s little reason to disagree or be unsatisfied. It’s sometimes entertaining to go for dinner with Americans in Montreal because the service seems horrible. You wait for a long time for a table and then you get little to no attention from your waiter!

My hunch is that French Canadians are experiencing the same problems online that most of us are experiencing. I’d even go out on a limb and make the assumption that they might even have a worse experience due to the fact that there are limited French websites that can provide them with the answers to their questions, whereas we have a much larger pool of English websites that the search engine spiders are crawling through to find the most relevant results for our search.

What are your thoughts?

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Comments (7)

  1. Put two persons in the same situation and their attitude and satisfaction level will be conditioned by their personal experience. Your point about the limited number of websites is absolutely true and in the long run, might affect the expectations about finding qualified results. However, this assumes the person can only speak/read French, which is becoming less frequent as bilingualism is increasing (or at least, can read and grasp enough of a webside content). So in the end, French speaking people might actually have more sources of information, not less! :)

    S.Hamel
    http://blog.immeria.net

  2. With a background in sociology and ethnology back in the early 80s, I am suspicious of articles such as the one you point out. I will not deny that culture plays a big part in many aspects of life, of course (I did research in those days proving that even businesses were not organized the same way depending on the cultural environment), but I think we would need much more than a satisfaction survey in order to determine how cultural factors, let alone language, influence search behavior.

    I think search result quality/satisfaction is linked to the available content, and that content depends on how “productive” a culture/country/group of so-and-so language locutors are. One is not dramatically limited by the fact one does not read English. But true, English is the major source, due to the fact that so many non-native speakers can be content contributors.

    It is interesting to see the number of articles by language on Wikipedia. As a reader of Japanese, I know there are tons of online content in that language (1 billion books printed a year, true half of them manga, but that is a small country with an incredible content churn out. Literally everything is translated in that language), and I am quite sure a Japanese speaking searcher finds a lot on Google Japan. But what attracts my attention is the number of articles in languages such as Swedish and Polish: they seem to rank much higher in Wikipedia than their “natural” rank in terms of numbers of speakers. What explains it? The level of information technology penetration (Poland?), levels of education? number of get-a-life geeks willing to spend all their waking hours writing entries?

    Your post is also interesting because it seems to link satisfaction to cultural characteristics. True, Quebecers seem to be people who dislike face-to-face confrontation and arguments (a culture of consensus, very much like the Japanese; interstingly, both were isolated for a long time in their history), but I would suggest that they would not hesitate to express their dissatisfaction in a survey. Also, we would need to compare that with speakers of other languages.

    Finally, what if they are satisfied because… the results were good and relevent? In a world where 70-80% of searches are performed in Google (which is pretty good with French and Japanese content, languages I know), one is forced to believe that that search engine is pretty darn efficient, since nothing has come up in the market for years to take its place.

  3. Very interesting responses, valid points and great insights. Seems that we have some new layers to add to what affects our visitor’s buying behavior when they perform a search.

    I did some research at wikipedia and it noted that 25% of Canadians speak French. 17.7% of Canadians are bilingual which leaves 7.3% French Canadians who don’t speak English. This is a large portion of a population of over 33 million people who are searching only in French.

    My concern isn’t whether Search Engines are doing a good job at efficiently spidering through French content. I’m more concerned about the limited amount of French content that is available for these spiders to search through. The search engines are only as good as the content that is published.

    Does anyone know what the numbers are for English Searcher Satisfaction so that we can compare?

  4. Hi Melissa,

    Not that I want to start a debate on demographics, but “7.3% French Canadians who don’t speak English”?? No; there is a much larger part of the French Canadian population who is French unilingual. You are assuming that all bilingual speakers are amongst the declared (i.e. Stats Can) French speaking population.

    Also, I believe there is a lot of content in French on the Web (as well as Japanese, Spanish, German, and more and more Chinese). What I wanted to illustrate was I suspected that content online is somehow on scale with the content volume one finds in a language (books, magazines, etc.), and also with the level of Internet usage in the countries where that language is spoken. But, true, there is more content in English, obviously.

    I suspect that an English Searcher Satisfaction survey would show about the same level of satisfaction. Of course, if there was a big difference(say 10% +) either way, it would be quite interesting to explain it.

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  6. It is possible that most French Canadians have difficulty in searching.But those who are good at English will not be in such a trouble.

  7. It is reported that the French canadians who learn English as the second language do not have problems in searing.

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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