Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Internet : Going Global and other myths

It's 2011. We're embracing the 3rd decade of public internet access. Since 1991, home use of the internet has been mushrooming. Google has been at the forefront of the use of the internet. If you want to find something on the internet, you use Google. Ok, maybe you use Bing or Yahoo, but same thing really.

Why? Search engines have the whole internet read and indexed, stored and filed, cross referenced. Google has been going since 1994 and in 2001/2 became the biggest search engine in the world (by use and by documents indexed - the then used benchmark). You can read more about the history of Google on my slideshare.

With all of these documents, Google has to look at different ways to present information. It's slowing moving towards the concept/idea of a Symantic Web but allowing cross-referencing. Google is learning to return results on the way you use results. It's using Places (Geo-Targeting) and Organic Ranking. It displays results by Blogs, Discussions, Real-time (twitter), Video (including Youtube) and Images. It uses User Ratings and reviews, average prices and other data (Google Snippets).

It's a vastly different animal from 10 years ago. So why do pre-Google myths still surround us? Some of them are made up and some of them are just scary. Many of them are issued like edicts by self-professed experts. But they're all debunkable - Google goes to comprehensive lengths to distribute accurate information but we've too many soap-box experts willing to shout out rather than sit back and listen.

This is a quick list of my favourite, pet-peeve Internet Myths. I hear them daily. I read about them on Fora (plural for Forums), blogs and in advice given to clients. Sit back - some of them seem like complete fact - but these are all bona fida Internet Urban Legends. If you hear any SEO Guru espousing the virtues of these - run, run away fast!

1. Keywords and Keywords density: Why do 1990's SEO "tips" still survive into 2011? Because its easy to understand. It's based, loosely, on a library-style indexing system. Really - Google is going to rank you for "Hotels Dublin" because you have it 101 times on your home page and you competitor fell short at 100? Forget it - Myth Busted: Google doesn't respect a Keywords Meta-tag!

Snake oil Hint: Keywords are just text.

2. You get penalised for duplicate content: I've been lectured on this at length. I keep 4 domains with exact, duplicate content that are all at least 5 years old and none of them are penalised. I don't need to - Google has a video on it. Duplicate content, that you own, is not necessarily penalised. Cloned, syndicated, plaguarised and scraped content being different. Rolled up content is not penalised content. This is actually quite a complex area but I'll keep it simple - its how I can tell the cowboys from the real researchers!

Snake Oil Hint: Be careful but be weary when someone pontificates on this one!

3. .COM is global: This is the worst and most damaging myth of all. A .COM, for most parts is a TLD but it's not necessarily Global. If you're a search user in Ireland or France, you'll get search results based on your location. A .COM hosted in France with largely French Traffic will most likely be seen as a French site - interchangeable thus with a .FR - the ccTLD for France.

Why is this myth the worst? We speak to companies and web designers every day who think selecting MyCompany.com will make them ubiquitously available. The issue is Geo Targeting. Google uses your Location (e.g. Ireland) to show websites that match your search and location best.

Here's an example:

This a search for "Pensions" from Google IE and Google UK. So whats so different? In both cases, the search is "Pages from the Web", not just pages from Ireland or the UK. In both cases the results are perfectly tailored to my Geo-Location. In fact, because I have a Dublin IP address, Google is showing me a map of Dublin and showing listings and cross referencing them with their listed places. In the UK search, my Dublin address doesn't match a UK Region, and therefore no map is shown.

So what does this mean? Well, in the UK results, most of the UK sites (AdWords aside) are targeting the UK. In Google Webmasters, you can only associate 1 country with a domain. In the case of a ccTLD - you are stuck with the countries that keyword is associated with (for example .IE is for Ireland only and .CO.UK for the UK only). Any of the TLD's (COM, NET, ORG, INFO, BIZ,....) can be set to target any country.

Even if you don't set it, in the case of most new TLD's , Google will auto-select your Geo-Location for you based on hints provided by where you're hosted, words used in your content, address hints, where you get links from, searches you're associated with.

In some cases (but rarely) - Google will select 2 locations - this is common for companies with both Irish and UK companies. But's it very hard to create.

Why does this myth persist? Well, big sites like Microsoft.com often outrank local sites - but that's because of their enormous authority. When you select "Pages from [my country]" they often disappear.

So whats the big deal? Well, many web designers are still building websites that can only run on one domain. Quite often it's a .IE or if their client wants to be international, on a .COM - even though the site will probably still only be seen as a .IE (and there's little they can do about it). When queried, most retort that Google "Punishes" duplicate content or that international domains are hard to purchase. And this is holding us back. As long as we continue to believe, perpetuate and listen to myths, we'll only struggle to use the Internet as a successful exporting vehicle.

Hint: German and English content published on two domains does not qualify as "Duplicate Content"

It doesn't matter what the myth or excuse is - there's no reason for them to exist anymore, and web designers will have to rise to the challenge of developing localised sites - that's how people work and that's how Google works. Time to work with it, not against it!


  1. Good article David but for me the keywords myth is what I've seen most of. In the recent 24 months it seems to be on the decline thankfully.

  2. Great article David. On the .com point, I would add this.
    If you are selling to the world having .ie is going to hurt your business. Because Mr or Mrs Smith in Detroit is not going to look for christmascards.ie at christmas time, for example. They are going to look at christmasscards.com

  3. Yes, so you're US Audience needs a relevant TLD for the US - exactly the same as picking a ccTLD or a geo specific TLD for non-US folks

  4. Good article David. I'm not a techie, I do business training for tourism providers - a bit of a different cohort to your client perhaps. Keywords myth (and the rest) have by-passed them - I'm staying in a B & B tonight - its website only mentions the term B & B once in the content. Apparently the website cost the princely sum of €300 in 2009, and it's been the same content ever since... Monkeys, peanuts, such is life.