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There has been some discussion lately on Twitter and elsewhere, about Google's UK SERPS being 'broken', with some anomalous results appearing, and non-UK sites ranking higher than they perhaps ought to for some search terms. 

I've been asking the opinions of a few SEO agencies on the issue, and the consensus is that there are some issues here that Google needs to look at...

Are the UK SERPS broken?

Kevin Gibbons of SEOptimise thinks the quality of results has dropped:

As a searcher, when performing a query in Google UK I would expect to find the large majority of listings from UK websites. This was previously the case, but now I feel the quality of results has been compromised. Rather than displaying results from UK sites and authoritative/highly relevant global sites, the quality of results in general has been poor – with too many average non-UK sites listed.

Bigmouthmedia's Head of Search Andrew Girdwood has noticed the number of non-UK sites popping up in SERPS:

The Google UK search results are odd. They do seem to be suffering from a higher than usual number of “international English” sites although .au, .nz and other sites have ranked in Google.co.uk before the recent changes.

A hardline stance is to stay that they’re only broken if Google’s user data suggests regular searchers dislike them. I think Google might take that on this one.

According to Shane Quigley from Epiphany Solutions:

I wouldn't go so far as to say Google UK SERPs are broken, it is more that they are corrupt as we are seeing random anomalies with several areas within the Google.co.uk listings and have been since the latest update was rolled out to the UK towards the end of June.

Latitude's Head of SEO Andrew Heaps hesistates to say the SERPs are broken:

While there are still a few glitches that need addressing (as there always are) the SERPs aren’t necessarily broken – that is often the reaction of SEOs and webmasters when they wake up in the morning to find heir site is no longer ranking well.

Some examples:

In this results page for 'top online auctions', you will find a number of sites from outside the UK, and which don't cater for the UK market. Even a more geographically specific search such as 'family homes Kent' offers a number of completely irrelevant results for users in this country.

If you search for 'rent tennis courts' on Google UK, you get a pretty useless set of results, unless you are looking for tennis courts in California that is.

Another example that Shane pointed out (from SEOShark) is the constant appearance of www.dining-out.co.za, as well as the Australian version, in searches for the term 'dining out', not something UK users would find especially useful when looking for somewhere to eat.

According to Andrew Heaps:

There have been major fluctuations on key finance search terms, such as “car insurance”. We have seen a rollercoaster ride for a lot of clients on that term over the last month or so. In line with the Vince update, the major climbers have been well known brands such as Direct Line and Churchill whilst lesser known affiliates and small online insurers have struggled.

So what has caused this?

Andrew Girdwood thinks geotargeting may be the reason:

Google’s offering brands better ways to set the appropriate geographic target for the website (although you still can’t do multiple country targets). As Google gets more of this data they can be more aggressive with their geographic targeting. This opens up more room for noticeable space.

There’s also an increasing shift in Google’s algorithm to authority. In some cases the UK sites might find themselves up against fierce competition from international sites with a lot of authority.

Kevin Gibbons suggests that the search engine may be experimenting:

Due to the amount of talk about the UK SERPs online recently Google should certainly be aware of the scale of this issue, if they weren’t already. But whether Google actually agrees that the SERPs are broken is a completely different matter.

It's clearly a big change away from the UK focused results we have been used to, but so far Google's silence on this suggests that they may be experimenting at least with looking to make these results more global. I have noticed fluctuations in the past, but this is usually over a 24-48 hour period where UK focused results are quickly restored.

Shane Quigley suggests other possible reasons:

The most likely reasons for this are a bad data push into the UK datacentres or a flaw in the latest algorithm update. Either way Google is certainly serving inferior results to UK users (it's second largest user group). Matt Cutts has a Google Moderator session open and currently the most anticipated question to be answered is "Why are the UK SERPS still really poor with irrelevant non UK sites (US/Aus/NZ) ranking very high Google.co.uk since early June?"

Andrew Heaps blames the Vince update from the beginning of March, pointing out that there have been major fluctuations in UK SERPS since then. The result seems to be a greater emphasis on well-known brands, thanks to the authoritative sites that come with such brands: 

One anomaly has also been foreign results appearing in the UK results for a wide range of search terms. It has all settled down now, mostly, with less foreign results in major SERPs and bigger brands with more online coverage being ranked higher up, whilst ‘thin’ affiliates and those not well known in their niche seem to have taken a hit.

This will change how SEO needs to be approached – the question of ‘how do we become an authority brand’? is a more important SEO consideration than ever, making online PR increasingly vital.

Graham Charlton

Published 16 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (30)

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Sadie

I just did a search for "News" in google UK and saw NASA @ #12

There's definatley a problem here!

almost 7 years ago

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Joseph Fiore

Depeding on the choice of keyword(s), you could say pretty much the same for Google.ca (Canada).  Certain ones you've used as examples get a 50/50 split of results from US/International and Canadian sites, and others produce an even lower ratio of Canadian sites. 

To be fair, I have seen examples where Canadian companies have ranked better on Google.ca than Google.com.  Because Google detects your IP and matches you up according to geo location, this has translated to better matching within Canada.

Joseph

@RepuTrack

almost 7 years ago

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Thomas Hallett

Might be worth a follow up article asking users' opinions?

So far I've only seen feedback from SEO professionals. I have a feeling I know what users will say though (although most may not even notice).

almost 7 years ago

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Mike

Something else I have noticed is that the 'local results' that google drops into the seach results are nowhere near my location. In fact it is about 40 miles out.

I know you can change the postcode and get better results, but their IP recognition system is rubbish. If I use other tools, I get much closer!

Why cant they have this as an option at the top ot bottom of the screen - e.g. enter post code or town [   ] - Get Local Results.. That would be much nicer.

Mike

almost 7 years ago

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Paul

A lot of movement on UK SERPS for about 2 months now. People have blamed the Vince update. G are probably experimenting on a new way to garner income somehow.

I know Mr.Cutts has said that Bounce rate is not a metric they use to measure the quality of a site. They should use it, because there will be a lot of people digging around finding odd results and re-searching (or even going elsewhere).

UK SERPS should be biased towards the UK.

almost 7 years ago

Edward Cowell

Edward Cowell, SEO Director at Guava UK

Glad to see you're linking to our own Guava - Guavarians Google moderator question :-)
http://moderator.appspot.com/#11/e=a5513&t=agltb2RlcmF0b3JyDwsSCERvcnlVc2VyGM0LDA
....we need more votes, looks like non UK folk are down voting it.

Guavarian has some good examples I'll get him to post them.
 
These results that are unsatisfactory show up when you search Google "The Web" results, which by its name and nature isn't intended to be exclusively for UK websites anyway.


If you search "UK Only" the results are better if you are looking for UK content, so perhaps something I've considered for a long time is if Google should default to the regionally specific search filter first and make the "The Web" the optional filter?

almost 7 years ago

Dan Sharp

Dan Sharp, Director at Screaming Frog

A couple of good examples I have already discussed were results for 'web hosting' and 'flowers'. For example, 1800flowers.com and 800florals.com are both US sites ranking on the 2nd page currently, although I have seen them fluctuate onto the 1st page. Neither of these sites even deliver outside of the US/Canada.

Another good example is for something like 'dent removals'. This morning there were 3 US sites ranking 1st page - dingplus.com (based in San Jose), exceldentremoval.com (Minneapolis) or mmtraining.com (New Jersey) which is extremely irrelevant to an UK audience. Looking now, there seems to be a .com.au and .nz site now on the 1st page..!

We had a discussion internally about this and the geo issues are only happening in the web results and we agree that the web results should not be exclusive to UK sites only.
 
But the Google results have definitely gone to far at the moment. 50% of the results for 'web hosting' (for 1st/2nd pages) should not be US focused. You should not be seeing 3 US based sites for a search for something like ''dent removal' as default.
 
Sure users can click the 'uk only' button, but why should we have to - Either Google needs to do a better job at understanding the query and knowing when to include non UK sites, or as Teddie suggests a more UK focused set of results should be default (with 'the web' as the optional filter as mentioned).

Would that be to UK focused though? Could be.
 
I just think they flicked the switch a bit to much one way on the geo filters. Actually the brand/Vince/authority update afterwards in the UK was an good update and I can understand why Google did this. It makes sense to look at user search behaviour and incorporate that into the algo more aggressively and I think some generic results have improved because of it. Perhaps there is a little less relevancy in some instance (Vs authority of domain) and certainly it's not ideal for the smaller guys, but that's capitalism.

But the geo thing is shocking still, haven't seen search results this bad in Google.

almost 7 years ago

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Brian Turner

It's interesting comment, but it completely misses the point about the brand filtering, which by suggestion uses search volume for company names with associated keywords and applies the data accordingly for ranking purposes. Hence why - in theory - brands should rank better than general webmaster sites under this criteria.

The irony is, it's brand clients I'm seeing more adversely affected than general SME's!

almost 7 years ago

Adrian Bold

Adrian Bold, Director at Bold Internet Ltd

Lots of excellent comments on the state of UK SERPS and hopefully Google will take note and respond in an appropriate manner. Or, they'll thank us for our suggestions but point out that the UK is still in Beta...

almost 7 years ago

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Lee Johnson - Google Consultant

Very interesting article/comments. I too have found quite a shift in the UK SERP's. Many of which have been very profitable for my clients. Many have moved up in the SERP's and this shift is only a good thing for them. I do understand that it is not beneficial for all. SEO is not about just the SERP's anymore. It has been noted here that its also about authority and brand too. 

Google recently launched an update for google search for the iphone. you can now go into preferences and add current location. there are some definite GEO things going on at the moment with Google. (this may have something to do with the SERP's changes). The Algorithm may just be on under-drive. 

It all makes us SEO's grateful or it should do. You cant sit and wait for the rain to be over, you have to learn how to dance in the rain. 

It keep's our job interesting and a job I would not change for anything in the world. 

Lee

almost 7 years ago

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SEO Services Expert Company, Search Engine Optimization Expert at SEO Services Company

There are some visible problems with Google. If your website is based in UK, but you are hosting your site in US then you will end up ranking higher on Google.com USA rather than Google.co.uk. The un-ending list of Google rules has started to affect its own popularity.

If you are searching for something unique and NEW, I am sure you will have hard time to locate on Google. Try searching Bing or other search engine, you will find it instantly.

Google surely needs to revamp its search engine. Bing.com is appearing more promising than Google.

almost 7 years ago

Chris Turberville-Tully

Chris Turberville-Tully, Managing Director at Inspiration Inc

Lee,

I think you've hit the nail on the head, we have an industry because we've learned how to do something and what worked yesterday doesn't always work today.

Let's keep living in interesting times!

almost 7 years ago

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Hit Search Limited

We've been noticing this for a while too, i.e. search for outdoor clothing in the uk, brings back berghaus, with the title only being berghaus, so that to me is a strange strange thing for the world of seo.

almost 7 years ago

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Jim Watson

C'mon Matt - Get your finger out and sort this mess out.

almost 7 years ago

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Anil

Hi all, I have noticed, as others, the emphasis given to big brands in google.co.uk results. Leaving aside the authority part for a moment - can you see a trend that Google is moving away from a small-biz-friendly site to one which favors big brand sites, even though the pages ranked from these brand sites aren't as relevant as the others pushed to Page 2?

The growth of Google was (among other factors) on the premise that they would show 'relevant' results for any search - be the site a big-brand or an SME. This also created the concept of the Internet being a 'level-playing' field for any kind of company. As long as you had a relevant optimized website - you were sure that it'd work in competition with any big firm online.

THE TURNAROUND - With the current focus on ranking brands above relevance, IMHO, Google has made the BIG mistake of distancing themselves from their basic premise, which made them the champion of small-biz internet dream. Have the Big Moneybags finally got Google on their side? We'll come to know in the very near future.

The question now is - if Google is to focus on brand sites, what makes it so special to small-biz? Nothing! The user experience with Google will now be similar somewhat to an ASK.com (do a check). And over the time, users would get tired of this brand-heavy SERP and find Bing and Yahoo a better option someday soon. The small biz may as well move their focus on Bing or Yahoo. On the internet, you're only as good as your product 'right now' - Google can't be an exception.

almost 7 years ago

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Samuel Stadler

There is also currently an issue with geo-targeting folders to a geographic region (regional index, eg. Google UK).

Adding a new site to Google Webmaster Tools and including a folder (eg. www.site.com/uk) allows you to set a geographic target ("Target users in: United Kingdom") under "Settings".

This used to work very well and now it doesn't, it stopped working approx. 4 weeks ago.

Anyone else seen this..? (Please DM me on Twitter @samuelstadler with any possible suggestions. Thanks)

almost 7 years ago

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Edward Smith

Just a couple of additional snippets that might be relevant here:

1) Google personalises search results based on each users' previous behaviour with respect to its search listings.

2) Google inserts random search results on an infrequent basis in order to allow the algorithms to work properly for the personalisation mentioned above.

Maybe they just changed the way the personalisation and randomisation works? If so then this could be a temporary effect until the system settles down.

almost 7 years ago

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Jon Dale

I find that selecting the "pages from the UK" option removes most of the overseas results. For google.co.uk users, Google should make this the default instead of an option that you have to choose. They should make "the Web" the option and "pages from the UK" the default. It might also help if they could think of a more accurate description to sit alongside the two radio buttons. "Pages from the UK" is not too bad, but "the Web" implies that all or most of the results you get with that option will provide some kind of world view rather than a set of results that (most of the time) is much the same as the "pages from the UK" results.

almost 7 years ago

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Martin Mitchell, Digital Account Manager at Mediavision

I like many other SEO's have been frustrated by recent UK serps anomalies.

I think the most frustrating is that we (the industry) don't really know why these are happening, there are too many different....it could be this or it could be that possibilities.

I think that Google's silence, speaks volumes, there has to be either testing or glitches that are being repaired. Let's face it Google would have already responded (in some kind) about the issues being raised by UK SEO's about the SERPS.

I have also noticed big descrepancies between Webmaster information & the actual Google Index. Although I hope the new update to the Webmaster interface will address these.

almost 7 years ago

Garry Davis

Garry Davis, Director at Grow Digital Marketing

Hi

Just to add a further complication into the mix.

We have noticed that even for a domain that is hosted in the UK, selling to the uk, geo targetted to the UK and linkage from UK sources that the domain is appearing higher for keyphrases on google.com than on google.co.uk. The domain is a .com domain but was registered in the UK to a UK company.

This particular issue would suggest that geo targetting doesn't seem to be working correctly outside the UK either or that competition on .com for the keyphrase is less which IMHO isn't the case?

Garry Davis

almost 7 years ago

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William Beckett

I have long thought that Google have a problem with authority. For example, the term "Taj Mahal", offers up the Atlantic City "Trump Taj Mahal" and then the Blues singer "Taj Mahal", neither of which are likely to have been in the users' mind when they typed "Taj Mahal", especially if they are not American.

This is followed by Image results and then News results, both of which also contain largely irrelevant commercial information. If you actually want to find out about the Taj Mahal, you have to go to www.taj-mahal.net which is fifth in the list, the first in the list being the not-particularly- authoritative Wikipedia entry.

This demonstrates the American and commercial bias of Google - are they trying to Americanise the world?

almost 7 years ago

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Lee Pickrell

Hi,

I've certainly noticed a drop in the quality of results since June 8th.  We're in the online bingo market and have been well place for the past 4 years for many generic and brand name terms.

I've recently noticed many new sites appearing high in the results despite their lack of site depth, domain age, back links and content.  

A common theme across many of these sites are that the domains are keyword rich and the site is simply a themed wordpress blog.  

I've a feeling Google have simply syndicated Yahoo's and MSN's old search algorithms because the results are truly awful for many brand name searches.

I am optimistic Google will sort this mess out for the better otherwise I'll be Googling in Bing for Bingo!

Lee

almost 7 years ago

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craigm

I'd go further and say at the moment Google is totally f*cked up.

Take one massively popular UK brand* that returns c4m results when you search for it.  Currently in the top ten are:

1. Two similarly named international businesses (with no UK relevance)

3. Three Chinese-based spam sites (each brand new with around 40,000 so-spammy-it-ain't-true-backlinks (mostly listed under headings like "sponsored", "partners", "adverts" or "paid-for" - okay not the last one).

That is about 50% of the page one results displaying utter junk with 0% relevancy to the target audience.

Its been like this for a while now and nothing seems to be happening.

There is definately something in the works though - aside from the junk on page 1, there are way more yoyo sites than usual (sites that will occasionally appear in good positions and then drop back only to return - which to me suggests that one data centre is either out of sync or ahead of the game).

As someone said above, whenever Google gets funky change normally is afoot, but this is waaaay funkier than usual.  Last November it was all a bit more "normal" weird sh*t, but this time around it does look like something is actually broken.

Have Google actually commented yet?

Anyway, given that I can't seem to get anything optimised for Bing or Yahoo (I stopped caring about non-Google traffic ages ago on an slightly lazy 96/1 rule) I am more than a bit worried. If people stop getting their itches scratched by Google then this will only help their competitors and I will have to dust off some old tools (and old domains if I remember rightly).

almost 7 years ago

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Paul Webster

I see no reason at all to beleive Google UK search is broken, and find the results much better than Bing.

over 6 years ago

Roger Willcocks

Roger Willcocks, MD at Screen Pages

We have a new site, hosted on Amazon in Ireland, with .com domain (where we list well in the SERPS). However, the bsuiness trades in the UK and have told Webmaster Tools that this is the case.

HOWEVER – the site is not listed AT ALL in the UK pages of Google. Fellow businesses on the same platform are well indexed in google.com and in the UK SERPS.

Any thoughts gratefully received….

over 6 years ago

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taodas

came across your site when trying to find out what has happened to google UK since June 2010 i was checking out some issues such as econometrics regression methods normally i would have seen UK university sites with relevant material but last week I received nothing but US and OZ material junk - i gave up in the end and used Bing god forbid - surely Google have got to fix this problem with some level of urgency

almost 6 years ago

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Jen

Hi, I've noticed results aren't behaving on .co.uk I have a few sites and been hard at work getting good quality anchor text backlinks and a couple of the keywords have actually gone down? One by 5 places and the other by 4 pages??? It just doesn't seem to make any sense.... most of the other phrases haven't altered since 18th June, I wondered whether there'd be a google dance and sort everything out this week just gone but so far - nothing I think?

almost 6 years ago

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AnnieJames

There has been some discussion lately on Twitter and elsewhere, about Google's UK SERPS being 'broken', with some anomalous results.If you haven’t already noticed for yourself, Google UK’s results have been pretty poor of late. Although websites from outside the UK can be relevant to local users, more often than not these sites are worse than useless. Not only are they usually completely irrelevant to UK users, their presence prevents the sites that are relevant from being found.Annie

almost 5 years ago

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DND ideas

I've really got to agree, Google.co.uk results are beyond useless at the moment!

You can't use it to research anything UK related without trawling through a TON of non relevant results, you need to "UK" in your search to have any sort of chance of being appropriate.

This is exactly why 1 company having 91% of the market is a bad idea!

Honestly would like to know the reason that results are worse than they were 5 years ago, but I somewhat suspect its because Google has started believing their own hype about all of the great services noone uses. They're nothing more than advertising network who use your personal details to poorly tailor their adverts, seemingly they've forgotten that most of us only use them for search.

about 4 years ago

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Phil Lindquist

I am disgusted with the high-handed attitude of Google, not even the mighty Microsoft has attempted world domination on this scale! I just entered "buy greenhouse" into Google and 6 of the sites on the first page were US based, how utterly ridiculous!
UK companies are clearly wasting their money by paying Google to advertise their products, because users don't get to see the sites.
I've had enough! I'm going to set my homepage to the Dogpile search engine, or any search engine that doesn't try to ram US websites down my throat.
Phil

over 3 years ago

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