The Great Geographic Divide – Google Splits New Zealand And Australia!

This could rattle a few cages out there!

I am about to give away a little secret which many local SEO exponents would probably rather I didn’t…

But here goes!

When you type in your business keyword into Google you are only seeing what someone in your immediate location will see. This can be as precise as your town or city.

So, you were given those amazing global search volume figures for your keyword but after a search engine optimization campaign you were left wondering where the thousands of new customers were…

I have a bit of bad news for you!

If you are based in New Zealand, you are more than likely only ranking in New Zealand. And if you are in Auckland you are possibly only showing front page in Auckland results. Even the websites you have visited have an impact on what shows up on your front page Google results…

but that is for a separate post!

If you are based in Australia, you are more than likely not showing anywhere else in the world… just Google Australia!

Why?

Geographic modifiers are a major influencer in search. If you are based in a particular country then it is way more likely that you will be trusted by people in your own market, culture, ethnicity than some one who is across the ocean.

Specific types of businesses will trigger a range of Google Maps results if they are deemed to be appropriate. So if your business is something which only local people could use – think retail, trades, professional services then there is less chance that you will show in another city’s search results.

This has led to a bit of an explosion in consultants around the world who have very little experience in SEO but plug in to a cookie cutter training system which, once completed teaches them how to offer their services to local businesses. The Internet marketing gurus who have charged high fees for this info are laughing all the way to the bank. And fairly inept marketers are selling their services to anyone who will buy!

Anyway I digress…

Can you actually rank in other countries? Without being a massive educational, governmental or reference site?

Yes you can, but it does take a fairly specialized range of techniques and it does take time depending on the competitiveness of the keyword you are chasing.

At the end of this post I will give you an easy way to see how you rank in other countries… No! Don’t go there now – this is important! Stay with me here!

Let’s look at how this all works!

Google has an entirely different range of searches for every country they operate in. Google New Zealand’s results are way different to Google Australia which are way different to Google US and so on.

An ethical SEO practitioner will give you search volume based on what the local traffic is. And will not mislead you with claims of tapping into masses of global traffic. They should also explain what  is necessary to rank in specific international territories and set realistic expectations.

OK, that’s got that out of the way.

The real purpose of this post is to discuss a really interesting SEO phenomenon which I have been observing which relates to the huge divide between New Zealand and Australian search results.

We consult to businesses based in NZ and Australia and some of them would like to rank in the other country.

You would think that this would be a relatively easy process as we are so close geographically, culturally and economically. With the amount of trans-Tasman business and the Closer Economic Relations agreement you would be quite justified in assuming that Google search results would reflect the closeness of the two countries. And that is without taking into account ANZAC and all of our history as mates! (and sporting rivals!)

My personal experience does not seem to confirm this at all.

I find that getting traction for a New Zealand business in the US search results is actually easier than getting results in Google Australia, particularly if the company does not have an office in Australia.

Why would you think this would happen? Surely the offices of Google New Zealand and Google Australia are aware of this anomaly?

I really don’t think so – as far as search is concerned New Zealand could be as close to Germany as it is to Australia!

The other interesting observation is that search results seem to favour UK based websites to some extent. Is there a colonial historic modifier in place here? :)

I would welcome input from any other SEO consultants who are also observing similar weirdness in Google’s geographic modifiers. 

The interesting and somewhat frustrating thing is that it is nearly impossible to get an answer from Google themselves. Google is like a fortress and any attempts to get information is met with redirection to forums populated by bored and sometimes condescending or abusive, anonymous self-proclaimed experts.

And this is exactly why search engine optimization is partially a theoretical science. 

It is essential to follow the SEO blogs, forums, and thought leaders to be able to keep up with the play and it is also essential to be constantly testing and analysing results. Keep in mind that Google changes the famous algorithm more than 500 times a year and several of the updates will have huge implications for a large number of websites.

They do not publicise these changes – the first we know of them is when we either see a shift in the results or we begin to hear the noise in the SEO communities as people who have massive testing campaigns in place share their data to assist others.

As promised here is a simple way to look at the results in another search engine.

If you would like to see the results in the US all you need to do is add /webhp to the end of the URL.

Like this http://www.google.com/webhp

Or if you would like to see Australian results:

http://www.google.com.au/webhp

Or http://www.google.co.uk/webhp

And so on… as long as you know the original Google search engine URL you can check the search results for that country.

Were you aware of how strong geographic modifiers are?

Have you noticed any strange search behaviour based on location?

Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

 

About Mike Morgan
Mike Morgan works with innovative businesses in New Zealand and Australia developing custom web marketing strategies integrating SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Optimisation. When not in front of his screens you will probably find Mike walking on beautiful Ohope Beach with wife Midge and doberman Cooper. Follow Mike on Twitter here and

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Comments

  1. Hi Mike

    Enjoyable as always. What’s your view on the importance of country level domains and impact on local SEO – eg having a .com address for a local NZ business. We recommend country specific domain names and hosting located close to the target market (ie in the country you are targeting) if possible.

    • Hi Sandra,

      I think it is an important ranking factor, but it is only one of many. If you have a .co.nz domain you will assist your local search visibility, absolutely! This is obvious for searches where someone is typing NZ in the phrase somewhere – it picks up the NZ in the domain (especially if the site is optimized correctly for NZ) but it seems to have less impact if a searcher types in New Zealand in full. Our site is .com and hosted at Hostgator (which I totally recommend) in Texas. More than 40% of our traffic comes from the US with NZ visitors second.

      A client of ours has a .com site and their traffic is more than 85% NZ. Our high US percentage is more to do with the large number of US people in our Twitter following and the amount of interaction we have with US based SEO and social media thought leaders and bloggers than to do with our choice of domain or hosting in my opinion.

      Thanks for visiting.
      All the best
      Mike

  2. really nice tips! i havent heard of the /webhp ending before, it is very useful for me, thanks for it. im new into the seo business and maybe i was worng before, i didn’t know that the geographic modifiers are so important.

    • Hi Klara,
      Geographic modifiers are hugely important! A couple of years ago I could target a keyword and get friends based in the US and UK to type in the phrase and they would find my sites on the front page in identical positions. This is definitely no longer the case. Welcome to the fascinating world of SEO!
      All the best
      Mike

  3. Thank you for these tips! Knowing this now, I can now search much reliably on search engine! Thanks a lot!

    • Good point,
      You may use various search engines for a range of reasons, not necessarily just for SEO purposes. Pretty helpful to dig down deeper if you want to get a feel for what is really going on in another country.
      All the best
      Mike

  4. Great tips! This is very useful for someone that is in seo business. Add now I know something about geographic modifiers. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Sabina,
      Pleased you got value from the post. Geographic is one of many factors taken into account but it is a powerful one.
      All the best
      Mike

  5. I didn’t know about “webhp”. There is also a Firefox add on called “Google Global” which does a similar thing. It’s really interesting to see how different results are in different countries

    • Hi Jason,
      Firefox has a lot of great plugins, and this very useful if you are targeting different countries. The days of having a low page rank, thin content site and ranking on Google all around the world are thankfully over. This has become very competitive and geographic modifiers may assist in local marketing but they also make it harder to compete internationally.
      All the best
      Mike

  6. The google local and geo stuff still seems like a little bit of an enigma to me, I am reading up on it daily but I find it really difficult to rank in there.

    • Thanks Lassa,
      Yes, geographic modifiers are quite a big hurdle to get over but they can be overcome with the right techniques and a fair amount of effort!
      All the best
      Mike

  7. I think geographic modifiers with keywords is best if you are only looking for a subject only on a specific area. Since you will be looking for a subject with a wide range from different area. I am for it.

  8. Hi Mike,

    It can be really frustrating to define the real ranking positions for each country version of Google. I picked up on your great tip here with the “webhp” addition at the end of the google search engine URL.

    My process was a little big longer.

    Muchas Gracias.

    • Hi Jack!
      Glad you found the tip useful. It is still a bit of a laborious process if you are tracking several countries. There are tools available if you need to cut down on time spent doing this ;-)
      All the best
      Mike

  9. Mike i didnt knew that about new zealand i only knew about Australia. Is there any process to get rid from this filter of google? i want to rank my site for the whole planet.
    Thanks
    John.

    • Hi John,
      No, there is no way to get rid of this filter so you have to target attainable keywords and build lots of quality links in order to create enough authority globally to rank well. If you aim for high competition phrases you better be as big as Wikipedia :)
      All the best
      Mike

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