GOOGLE.CA vs. GOOGLE.COM
While many of my US friends are celebrating their Thanksgiving, it got me thinking that there are more differences between us Canadians and our American comrades than just when we celebrate Thanksgiving and how we play football (3 downs is way more exciting, by the way). There are also major differences between search results in Google.com vs. Google.ca.
When looking at SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) from Google, one consideration that is often overlooked is which Google is doing the searching — in this post, we’re going to look at SERPs from Google.com vs. Google.ca
In reality when you go to Google here is what happens:
- Google.ca has its own, very Canadian index
- Google.com searches from within Canada redirects you to Google.ca
- Google.com searches from within the USA has its own index
To demonstrate how different the search engine results pages can be, let’s look at some examples from general search terms. The first search results pictured are from Google.com (using a reliable American proxy) and the second set of results are from Google.ca (using my normal internet connection from Toronto, Canada).
The Search Terms:
- “Online Employee Scheduling”
Google.com identifies CNN.com, BBC, MSNBC, Fox News, and Google News and as the top information sources online.
When we check out the Google.ca results, we see a strong Canadian showing — kicked off by the CBC, Google.ca News, Toronto Sun, Google News and CTV.
With this general term as an example, we can see what Google identifies as the top “news” sites for the .com and .ca results pages. In these instances, we can say that Google is identifying these top-ranking sites as not only the best results for the user, but the best search results for a user in that area.
Online Employee Scheduling
While this probably isn’t the top term you’re going after, it does further show how different the results can be. Specifically take a look at Skedx, a Canadian workforce management and online employee scheduling solution. Notice how it goes from #4 in the .COM listing to #1 in the .CA listing. That is because of the group, Skedx is the only Canadian company.
The Size and Scope of the Market
Of course, Canada is a much smaller market that the US — Canadian pop: approx. 33 Million vs. approx. 307 Million in the states (as of July 2009) — but it can be important as a Canadian company to focus your efforts on the home front before looking internationally.
While a lot of Canadian searchers are used to typing in “Google.com” because of that international and ubiquitous branding, but Google after identifying user IPs, the redirect goes to Google.ca — which supplies the results from above, even when the “search the web” field is selected instead of the “search pages from Canada”.
How to Capitalize On This
Let’s look at some of the controllable variables which may contribute to Google’s country attribution, and what actionable items might exist to help a Canadian company rank higher on Google.ca. Let’s take a look at a few of these variables:
- Webmaster Central
Websites that have registered with Google Webmaster Central and have verified that they own their site (by uploading a verification file to the web server for example) have the option of associating their website with a specific location. This is a high priority task for any site in their efforts to become associated with the Canadian Google.ca index. But it’s worth asking: “is there any risk to current Google Canada rankings by setting USA as the preferred region in Webmaster Central?” It’s not unreasonable to think that Google might discredit a site’s prominence in the Canadian index if they have chosen the US as their ‘region’ – since such an action spoils the idea that the company should be more relevant for Canadians than Americans.
- Inbound link profile from Canadian vs. American sites
One variable that Google is likely to consider important is the ‘link profile’ of the site – that is, the nature of the websites which link to the domain in question. If a significant portion of the incoming links to a website come from sites which are they associated with a specific region, this region association is probably going to be transferred to the domain in question. This is a key strategy Google uses in all its ranking systems. The only remedy for this is to build links from sites and pages that are associated with the desired region until a certain ratio has become significant enough to change Google’s previous association. Google probably likes this variable because it’s more organic and less manipulated by the webmaster.
- Google Local Listing
Companies can register with Google Local – the presumed intent being to integrate the location data for companies with Google Maps, providing a separate set of results at the top of a Google results page when that company itself is searched for. Even if a company does not have a physical brick and mortar store, it is possible to register the business and provide specific location information. This is perfectly reasonable; people need to find your offices even if you’re not selling out of them. Once again, this is some solid location information that Google might overvalue as indicating the indented audience of a website, when in fact all it is truly indicating is the physical location of an office.
- Canadian vs. USA physical addresses listed on the site
Similar to the previous point, a company proclaiming their physical presence in a region by literally listing their address on the site is providing obvious location information. Google doesn’t really have too many variables to rely on in its efforts with regional association, and so might weight this more than a fair amount. More than fair because every multi-nation oriented website is inevitably going to have an address associated with a single nation.
- Location of website hosting
If a website is hosted in a country outside of the US, Google may take this as an indication that the company holding that domain is based in the same region. This is certainly not an absolute variable, as there are indeed websites hosted in Canada that rank well in the US Google.com index. Once Google realized that companies choose their hosting based on price more than physical convenience, and hosting companies, quite logically, wanted to be able to advertise their offerings as being applicable and usable by companies outside their country borders, the search engineers presumably ratcheted down the weight of this variable. If, however, you do plan to market your site to a defined country, it’s certainly not a bad idea to host within its borders.
Overall, the important point here is Google’s conception of the relationship between a company’s operating country and their intended audience. North America would be a much more accurate description of tens of thousands of businesses in both the US and Canada, but this region setting is not an option in webmaster tools.
This will always be an issue that plagues Google’s efforts to serve localized results, and webmaster tools’ current offerings are a step in the right direction, but lack the versatility to effectively service a huge portion of the world wide web marketplace.
As a Canadian company, with a proper search and internet marketing strategy, you’ve got a great chance at really cornering the market at home. Having a nationally focused site drills down your niche even further — while it can, in some ways, limit your audience, it does give you the opportunity to dominate the .ca SERPs. With first page results at home, it’ll be a lot more comfortable to take the show on the road.