Many UK webmasters find it frustrating that their website does not rank better on Google.co.uk, their home search engine. Research has shown that 3.5 times as many searchers in the UK use google.co.uk than do google.com and, of these, 35-45% regularly check the “pages from the UK” radio button to narrow down their search. Ranking near the top of these narrowed results is thus a pretty important mission for the UK-based online business!
This short article (from the top-ranked SEO expert in the UK) covers some of the main points that are important to ranking well on Google.co.uk (particularly for those who have a .com TLD on their existing website).
1. Use or switch to a .co.uk domain name
This may seem a little obvious. However, many webmasters are attracted to the international connotations that go along with a yourdomain.com. The problem is that Google struggle to correctly identify the country of origin of a .com TLD. Whilst all of the steps 2-8 below should help, there is simply no guarantee that the homepage of a .com domain will ever rank well on google.co.uk. Starting without a .co.uk domain is like starting a chess game without your queen!
In September 2006, Matt Cutts of Google was invited to respond to concerns of UK-based webmasters with .com domains (see here). In a nutshell he suggested that:
If you want to show up in the .co.uk search and you can migrate from a .com to a .co.uk easily with a 301, it might benefit you. I would try moving one directory as a test, and if that goes well, then you could migrate the whole thing.
If you’d like to attempt this but are concerned about the technicalities of how to implement, why not visit my support forum? I can help you through the necessary steps.
2. Put your site on a UK-hosted server
If you do insist on using a .com domain name, then it is particularly important that your site is hosted in the UK. This may not be as simple as you assume! For example, 1and1.co.uk – one of the biggest ostensibly UK hosting providers – actually has its data centre located in Germany. If you have an existing site, you can find out its IP address and hosting location from Netcraft using the following URL syntax: http://toolbar.netcraft.com/site_report?url=http://www.yourdomain.com
If you are looking for a commercial-grade hosting provider with a UK-based datacentre, I recommend using Fasthosts or webhosting.uk.com. Finding smaller, more cost-effective providers for a home or hobbyist site is much harder in the UK.
3. Sign up for Google Local UK
There is a way to tell Google where your site is physically located. This is done by submission to Google Local UK. First, you set up a Google account, then you add each of your websites. Google will send you through a pin code by regular surface mail, to the recorded address associated with the site submitted. Once you have revisited the Google Local listing for your site and added the pin code, your address is verified and the site added to Google Maps & other Google Local services.
4. Use localised meta-data on your pages
To re-enforce your Google Local entry (and help with other search engines like MSN and Yahoo) I recommend including various key local meta-tags in the HTML HEAD section of your homepage. I suggest (for completeness) using all the following five:
The 51.5012;-0.1258 (latitude;longtitude) example references (for the geo.position and ICBM tags) are for the Houses of Parliament in Central London. To get your own co-ordinates, I suggest putting your website postcode into http://www.multimap.com, then reading off the coordinates from the Map Info section below the resultant map.
Whilst there is no great evidence that any of these meta tags make a big difference today, there is a chance that search engines may make greater use of them in the future.
5. Use HTML address tags in your page
Not many webmasters are either aware of – or use – the address tag. Unlike the metatags above, the content if the address tag will actually render on your page (and should thus be included within the BODY section; most likely near the bottom of your homepage).
Anything placed within the tags will usually render in your browser in italics, with a line break before and after the address text. If you want line breaks within the address, you need to enter these yourself. So, as an example (with a line break after “Square”):
London SW1A 2JX, United Kingdom.
Would look roughly like this (in italics):
Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, Parliament Square.
London SW1A 2JX, United Kingdom.
Again, there is no conclusive evidence that use of address tags alone make a difference, although several webmasters have reported good results from use of these tags in conjunction with other measures.
6. Obtain links from predominantly UK sites
There is some reliable evidence that having a more-than-proportionate number of inbound links from other UK-based sites will help improve google.co.uk rankings. To obtain such inbound links, webmasters can use a mixture of link exchange, directory submission and link baiting techniques.
Link exchange involves seeking (generally) reciprocal links from other UK webmasters, either by emailing them direct or by signing up to a link exchange ‘dating agency’.
Link baiting is a relatively new term, covering a wide range of social networking activities designed to persuade web users to tag or socially bookmark your site, articles or newsfeeds.
Free, paid and reciprocal directory submissions are by the most reliable technique. An example of a UK-based directory is the PR5 ranked Abrexa which offers a paid listing for 9.95 GBP (covering both Abrexa and sister site, Limey Search).
I maintain a master list of over 100 UK-based directories that offer either free, reciprocal or paid links (which I sell for $29.99). By building up these links, you should ensure that your site performs better on Google.co.uk. Contact me through the resource box below to find out more.
7. Have patience; it’ll take at least 6 months!
For a new .co.uk site (step 1 above), it will take at least six months from the domain creation date for the site to start ranking on google.co.uk. I cover this in greater depth in my article on the Google Sandbox. For an existing site, it will take at least three months for your new inbound links (section 6 above) to have an effect on your rankings. Other steps recommended can take up to a month to take effect (depending on the PageRank of your site; which determines how often your site is crawled by Google).
Patience is a real virtue here! Sometimes people make changes, only to reverse them in frustration before they take effect. Another problem is when good things happen but webmasters have no idea which of their actions caused the benign effect! Trust me, have patience and in time you will see the rewards!
8. Consider professional support
All of the advice above is generic and will work in the majority of circumstances. However, the speed and effectiveness of the changes these actions will produce depends on the specific circumstances of the site, including how competitive the search terms targeted are! If you are struggling to see results by yourself, the chances are that you require professional assistance! Why not request a free proposal from my enquiry form in the right panel? As the top-ranked SEO expert in the UK, I can help where others cannot!