Can You Rely on Google?

Google, the search engine, has quickly become the world's most popular search tool. Hitwise UK tells us that, in October 2008, 75.11% of UK searches used, 14.33% used, 2.86% used and 2.16% used Clearly Google has the major share of the search market.

But can you really trust the search results that Google provides? And how can a user verify that the search results provided by Google are accurate?

For businesses trading or promoting their services online Google is an important element in the chain that connects them with their prospective customers. If Google isn't presenting a business in their search results then that business will not get any traffic from Google.

I've recently become aware of major differences between the search results and the localised results. On investigation I've come across numerous reports from others who have seen similar, strange results.

In my case I came across a UK based business that is ranking very well in for a range of search terms, many including specific UK city and town names. However, entering the same search terms into the results were far less useful with a page that appeared at #6 in results from appearing at around #400 in the results from I tried this comparison with a number of UK-city-specific terms and observed similar results for a variety of landing pages in this site.

At first I thought that there must be issues with the site or its hosting so I did a little probing and found that the server is UK based, the site has been labelled as being in the UK in Google webmaster tools and they have a UK business address.

I also conducted the same searches using the same queries entered into Yahoo. The results were the opposite of those received from Google with Yahoo UK ranking the various landing pages more highly than Yahoo global. So it would appear that Yahoo has correctly detected that the site is a UK based business with a market in the UK and would therefore be of interest to those searching from the UK. Google, however, appears to be under the impression that the site is focussed somewhere other than the UK (U.S.) even with the additional information provided via webmaster tools and Google maps.

So Google is getting it wrong, badly. If were an employee or a consultant and they were found to have returned such inaccurate and misleading results they would potentially be sacked.

For businesses the implications of Google's apparent inability to accurately determine the geographic location of their market (even when stated explicitly) is worrying. While investigating this issue I've come across similar reports from other online businesses. In one case a business disappeared completely from the Google UK results, retained good positions in and somehow went to number 1 in the Google Russia results. Others have reported massive fluctuations in their search results.

It would appear that there are currently some significant and worrying failings in the quality of the results delivered by and my trust in the results provided by this regional search tool is now at an all time low.

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