Local search? Who wants a bite of the apple?

Users of google.co.uk will be familiar with the choice to trim results from 'the web' to 'pages from the UK' when searching. For those of you who aren't, it's just an option to refine your search from the google.co.uk page- the default is 'the web', but there is the option just to search UK pages:


The results this modification bring in are notoriously arbitrary at the best of times although, to the uninitiated, they may seem the most obvious way to find the most relevant search results to their query.

According to Clear Site Marketing, “stats indicate that something like 50% of all visitors use the 'pages from the UK' option”. This seems a bit high to us, but we haven't found any stats to contradict it. Regardless, it's likely to be a volume worthy of attention. So what does it do? What's the attraction?

Running a few searches for queries that might ideally return a local result didn't reveal anything of great interest. A search for 'coffee shop' on google.com, google.co.uk (the web) and google.co.uk (pages from the UK) gave the following results: (I've highlighted all replicated results so you can track it more easily).


These results are more or less what you'd expect. The short-tail input means there's very little chance of turning up a specific 'local result', in the sense of a coffee shop that you can physically visit, in any of the variations. It's interesting to see how the wikipedia result has been moved off the page for the UK pages, even though its tld is .org rather than anything more incriminating (such as .com). In contrast, a .net made it in the UK pages results. The reason for this may come to light (or at least come a bit closer to the light) with a look at some other search terms. It certainly gives an indication of what's to come....

Changing tact a little, searching for 'ipod' from these three starting points brings much meatier results.


'ipod' obviously has a much stronger online brand than 'coffee shop' and it only refers to one thing. So what is the differential? (Yes, I did feel a bit like Dr House then).

Well, the most immediate thing to jump out is that Apple has no presence whatsoever in the UK pages results. This caused much debate in the office and you can look forward to a dedicated post on it soon.

The second point to notice is that the two sets of results from .co.uk are very similar if you take away the top three slots on 'the web' results. Imagine they're not there, and just bump the results up three places- it's like seeing double (well, nearly). Optimisation efforts across .co.uk and .com don't mirror each other this closely (ie. if you move up two slots in .com that doesn't necessarily mean you move two places in .co.uk, or vice versa). This implies that although there is some difference across the two .co.uk algorithms, the results are essentially the same, but with different filters in place.

Did you already know that? I didn't. I thought a .co.uk (UK pages) result would deliver pages that had specifically optimised for local results. According to Rand's whiteboard Friday video on the subject, there are several different methods for this.

Surely one of the best ways to appear prominently in a UK pages result is to host your site in the UK? So how come the top result www.ipod.org.uk is hosted in Belgium? This implies that efforts to locally optimise a page aren't that effective on their own, but what ranks in 'the web' ranks in the 'UK pages' as long as it has a .uk somewhere in the tld (a domainname.com/uk just won't cut the mustard), right?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. If you look back to the 'coffee shop' results, there are four .com's and one .net in the top ten 'UK pages' results. If you can't get hold of that crucial .uk, then it seems the alternative is to host your site in the UK. *

I think that's pretty harsh for all the UK based businesses that happen to have a .com tld and want to host outside of the UK- they're essentially missing out on a large percentage of google.co.uk searches.

It must be pretty cool for these guys though:


* That works up until the last result www.holylochcoffeeshop.com – a website with a .com tld and an ip address that's hosted in Germany- your guess is as good as ours!

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