Challenges of Search Engine Optimisation in Northern Ireland (SEO)

Posted on 21/06/2009 by Team Hallam

Businesses located in, or search engine optimising for Northern Ireland face a number of particular challenges. The unique political, geographic and technical circumstances means there are a number of issues that will need to be considered if a Northern Ireland business is looking to improve its rankings in Google and the other search engines.

I recently had the pleasure of teaching 5 workshops on behalf of InvestNI, travelling to the beautiful cities and towns of Belfast, Newry, Enniskillen, Londonderry, and Ballymena.  During the workshops I found a number of key issues that kept cropping up, and thought it would be useful to compile them into a quick Northern Ireland SEO guide here.

Localisation: Northern Ireland IP Addresses?

Many businesses want to be serving customers in their own locality, ranking well for search terms associated with their local business community.  Google now serves local results tailored to the searchers location. For example, a search for even for a general term like “restaurant” or “plumber” will then trigger the Google Local Business directory, displaying results based on the searcher’s IP address.

You may be in Belfast, but if your IP address says you’re in London, then it is London local results you will see.

This presents particular difficulties for the Northern Ireland business community, as IP addresses are often incorrectly identified as being in England.  The inaccurate IP address problem is, by no means, unique to Northern Ireland, but it does seem to be particularly severe.

By way of example, I offered a set of course materials to attendees at the InvestNI workshops, and an analysis of their IP addresses shows that only 17% of the addresses were correctly identified as being in Northern Ireland, namely Belfast, Glengormley, Lurgan, and Newry.  Correct IP addresses are most commonly associated with larger organisations having a static IP address, so the correctly identified visitors could well be coming from government departments or universities.

London, as expected, was  incorrectly identified most frequently (40% of the time) with unexpected outliers like Royal Leamington Spa and Gateshead making an appearance.

What are the implications of incorrect IP addresses?

  1. Google Local Business results will not be triggering correctly.  Instead, searchers will be seeing data tailored for their IP address location.  Whilst it is possible to customise your location, I’ve not seen evidence to show how many searchers are doing so.
  2. Google Analytics data will be skewed toward counting most UK visitors as “English” visitors, and thus not providing any visitor location data that can be used reliably in terms of NI traffic.
  3. Keyword research data (see below) will not be representative of the Northern Ireland search experience.

Using Keyword Research tools

There are some interesting vagaries in the availability of Google keyword research data.

Google AdWords Keyword Tools is one of the most popular keyword research tools, and it does provide aggregated UK data but does not provide data specific data for Northern Ireland, nor does it provide data for Eire (Ireland).

On the other hand, Google Insights for search does provide Northern Ireland data, as well as data for Eire.

Warning:  keep in mind the problem of IP addresses mentioned above!

In this example, Google Insights is providing comparison data for Northern Ireland and Ireland for searches for the term “facebook”.  Are Lisburn and Coleraine truly the hubs of search activity for Facebook users in Northern Ireland?

Optimising for Ireland

Many Northern Ireland businesses want to trade outside the province, and there are some straight forward techniques for developing a search engine optimisation strategy for getting business from the south:  Ireland | Republic of Ireland | Eire.

First, keep in mind that Irish searchers will be using and as such Northern Ireland business will be doing international search engine optimisation to address this market.

In order to maximise visibility in Ireland, you should consider creating a website addressing that target market.

1.  Register a .ie domain name.

There are certain restrictions in applying for a .ie domain name.  Applicants must provide evidence demonstrating substantial trade or commercial activity within Ireland which includes:

  • Copies of invoices (showing trade to or from Ireland),
  • High-quality brochures showing a significant intention to trade in Ireland.
  • a signed letter on headed paper from a bank manager, firm of chartered accountant(s), registered auditor(s), tax consultant(s) (where the tax advisor identification number is displayed), or solicitor(s) confirming the applicants trade with Ireland.

2.  Ensure your website is hosted on an Irish web server. You can check your hosting country using the Netcraft

3.  Create content that identifies your operation as being appropriate for Ireland.  This might include using an Irish contact address, mentioning Irish place names in your product pages, and the like.

4.  Get high quality inbound links from Irish websites. In particular, focus on the links that give local identification.

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