The Edit Blog

The state of search in Ireland

ARTICLE BY Stephen Kenwright
READ TIME: 10 mins
1st November 2017

Ireland is home to the SEO brains behind some of the world’s biggest brands – international tech giants like Symantec and Adobe as well as home-grown search superstars such as Paddy Power. …but even though those brands feature prominently across many international versions of Google and Bing, the amount of data available on the country’s own search landscape is pretty limited. Searchmetrics finally launched an index for google.ie in September 2017…but with only a few months’ of historic data we’ve had to manually track performance over the previous few years.

We’re fortunate to work with some of the brands mentioned above in the Irish market – and several others – and we wanted to share what we’ve learned about where Ireland is similar to the UK and the rest of the world…and where it differs.

1 in 5 Irish searchers are using Bing

Bing processes 15 million searches across desktop and mobile per month in Ireland from an audience of 1 million unique users – about 20% of the Irish population. Putting that into perspective, Microsoft’s search engine has almost as many unique users as YouTube (1.3m) and just under half as many as Google (2.2m).

Bing’s userbase in Ireland is growing quickly and the search engine served 35 million impressions in September 2016 – an increase of 21 million on the previous year.

Month on month Bing impressions in Ireland

 

Month on month Bing impressions in Ireland

This rapid growth in recent months is largely down to the enormous Bing network, as Microsoft powers results across its own Xbox and Cortana platforms as well as partnering with the likes of Uber and Apple.

More recently Microsoft announced it would be shuttering its Windows Phone project – but with only 8% of monthly impressions served on mobile devices it seems unlikely that this will have a substantial effect on Bing traffic.

Bing monthly impressions by device in Republic of Ireland

Bing monthly impressions by device in Ireland

In fact it’s mobile devices where Bing really falls down. In the UK, half of all Google users search using mobile devices compared to just a quarter of Bing’s audience. The Irish are more mobile than Brits so mobile search is a key factor in the 91.2% of Irish searches that aren’t served by Microsoft.

Mobile ownership in Ireland is higher than in the UK

According to Ofcom, 71% of adults in the UK own a smartphone. Compare that to 80% of Irish adults according to the equivalent ComReg and it’s clear that Irish marketers should be particularly interested to watch Google’s upcoming “mobile-first” index roll out.

What is mobile-first indexing?

Google announced in a November 2016 post on its Webmaster Central blog that it would soon rank websites based on the merits of their mobile versions, rather than just looking at desktop (as is currently the case). According to the post, if you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the primary content and mark-up is equivalent across mobile and desktop, you shouldn’t have to change anything. If you have a site configuration where the primary content and mark-up is different across mobile and desktop, you should consider making some changes to your site.

A larger mobile-savvy audience has led to greater penetration for Google’s Android platform in Ireland, which goes some way to explain why Chrome browser’s market share is so much greater than in the UK, according to Statcounter. “Other” browsers are also more popular, which is likely to mean the many, many variations of browsers native to Android phones built by Samsung et al.

Irish browser usage

UK browser usage

Browser market share in Ireland and the UK. Source: Statcounter

It’s not just that more adults own mobile phones either – they’re more likely to use them to make a purchase than almost any other device. According to the IAB, 80% of Irish smartphone users have made a purchase using their mobile device in the previous six months, compared to 76% of North Americans and 75% across the rest of Europe.

Smartphone users who have used their mobiles to make a purchase in the 6 months prior to October 2016. Source: IAB

Smartphone users who have used their mobiles to make a purchase in the 6 months prior to October 2016. Source: IAB

It’s not just the occasional purchase either: the Irish are exactly in line with the rest of the world when it comes to the frequency of their spending on mobiles.

Purchase frequency on mobile devices

It’s no longer true that conversion rates on Android are lower than on iOS, for the most part, which means that there’s no excuse for Irish marketers to shy away from making mobile friendly websites. It’s expected here more than anywhere else.

Site speed

As of 2016 there are 1.6 million 4G subscriptions in Ireland – just over a third of the population – but similarly to the UK around a third of all mobile data is served over the networks anyway. Most data transfer is conducted over Wi-Fi.

WiFi vs mobile data usage

Source: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/103010/Consumer-mobile-experience.pdf

Data generated over 4G networks in Ireland

Data generated on 4G networks in Ireland. Source: ComReg

…but improving your page load speed isn’t just required because users are reliant on the shaky data transfer speeds of their mobile networks. We marketers have basically ruined it for everyone by overloading our sites with JavaScript tracking codes and failing to optimise our customer experiences – and now Google is fighting back with AMP and increased emphasis on page load speed as a ranking factor.

What is AMP?

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. It’s a Google-backed product, similar to Facebook Instant Articles, which is basically a stripped-down form of HTML. AMP uses a streamlined version of CSS and basically no JavaScript to make pages load really, really fast. It’s also now integrated into AdWords, allowing businesses to show ads that load faster too.

Irish websites are currently on-pace with UK websites when it comes to adoption of AMP.

AMP adoption in UK vs Ireland

Adoption of AMP in UK vs. Ireland. Source: BuiltWith

According to BuiltWith, 65% of Irish websites are built on WordPress, which should make migration to AMP even easier since various plugins like Page Frog are available to make the switch automatic.

Google is insistent that use of Accelerated Mobile Pages is not a ranking factor – and while we believe that’s technically true it’s also obvious that the speed with which a page loads is becoming more a more important signal as to where that page is likely to rank.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) like Cloudflare are increasingly used worldwide – and Ireland is no exception.

Organic competition

We’ve taken a look at some of the highest volume industries in Ireland and analysed why some of the biggest Irish brands are and aren’t doing well. We’ve used a metric called traffic index – but as of September, Searchmetrics visibility is also available to use in Ireland.

If you don’t work in these sectors, don’t worry – the lessons here are completely transferrable.

What is traffic index?

The traffic index metric is best described as “% of potential reached”. The total traffic index across several websites will add up to more than 100%, but only one website in any vertical could ever achieve 100% traffic index – this means it ranks 1st organically for all the keywords tracked. We calculate traffic index by applying a click through rate model to the search volume of each keyword ranking (e.g. a single keyword with 1,000 monthly average searches will give the 1st ranking website 19.7% of the clicks – estimated at 197 clicks – or 100% of the traffic index.

Flights

Flights traffic index in Ireland

Skyscanner dominates the flights market in Ireland (as it does pretty much everywhere else). But Ireland, more than most countries, has to deal with .com domains ranking in its google.ie SERPs. This is true even for websites with correctly implemented hreflang tags (like Skyscanner) – Google.ie just seems to want to show .com domains.

Despite the good performance of international brands, most of the big players have chosen to go with a .ie ccTLD rather than a .com/ie/ folder structure. In our experience it’s not necessarily true that .ie domains get a higher click through rate from google.ie than .com domains though. The primary advantage is being able to personalise landing pages better because Skyscanner et al know which airports are likely to be flown from and to – and showing Euros as default currency – usually meaning better conversion rates.

Skyscanner’s dominance is due to the breadth of terms it covers – literally every route, with plenty of supplementary content for every airline and destination – but jetcost.ie isn’t far behind since it holds some of the biggest terms in the industry, particularly a number one ranking for “cheap flights”, beating cheapflights.ie (which may still be suffering from some legacy link penalty issues).

So for travel brands to rank in Ireland, they need to: make sure their results are personalised to the audience and aren’t just the same copy lifted and shifted from the UK; they need to publish enough inspirational and helpful content to cover off the likely search terms; and they need to build their authority, whether transferred through hreflang tags or through link acquisition activity.

Fashion

Fashion traffic index in Ireland

The Irish flights sector is fairly similar to the UK’s – fashion just isn’t. Some of the most dominant brands in the UK – ASOS, River Island, John Lewis etc. – underperform in google.ie, most likely due to a lack of focus on the country. littlewoodsireland.ie couldn’t possibly have a more Irish focus in its domain, but it really benefits from a following among Irish bloggers and press, rather than relying on authority by proxy from the UK like its larger counterparts.

Links are the primary reason the fashion SERPs are so different in Ireland. Many sectors can make use of hreflang tags to aggregate the authority of their Irish and international domains, effectively counting links from the UK towards rankings in google.ie. However, UK fashion brands put smaller link acquisition budgets behind even their UK domains than other industries – and fail to take account of less than legitimate blogger links – which means there just isn’t that much authority to go around. The perfect illustration of this is debenhams.ie, which pretty much outperforms its UK equivalent, because the team there are putting the Irish audience front and centre with their campaigns.

What is hreflang?

Hreflang attributes are code, added to each page head or an XML sitemap, telling search engines which versions of each page to serve to users depending on the language they are searching in. This is an effective way of reducing competition and duplication between .ie and .com domains in google.ie, but also allowing all country specific sites (or subfolders of the same .com site) to benefit from overall link acquisition activity.

For ecommerce website to rank better in Ireland they need to focus on Irish activity. That does mean links from Irish sites…but more than that it means links built directly to their Irish versions.

Mortgages

Mortgages traffic index in Ireland

The patterns in the Irish mortgages sector are similar to patterns in the UK – but taken to the ultimate extreme.

UK banks are struggling to keep up with price comparison websites who are less bogged down with regulation and legacy (or technical debt). Effectively, the content-led price comparison websites can publish better and more comprehensive content – and they can get more of it live, much more quickly. In Ireland this is particularly pronounced, where what initially looks like a domain benefitting from its exact match URL (mortgages.ie) is running away with it by virtue of creating helpful content – consumerhelp.ie is similar.

The banks are still in and amongst – frequent PR and above the line activity is saving them from being left behind totally – but often their sites fail to show enough expertise and literally be helpful enough to actually rank.

So the difference required to rank in Ireland for sites in the finance, legal and medical sectors (“Your Money or Your Life” sectors, as Google calls them) is a volume and quality of content that just isn’t mostly available.

Link building in Ireland

Links are still the single biggest ranking factor, globally. Ireland is no different. We’ve listed a few tips to help you get started with link acquisition when the aim is to rank in Ireland.

  1. Don’t limit yourself to .ie domains

Websites on .ie ccTLDs (country-code specific top level domains, such as .ie or .co.uk in the UK) do tend to rank well, but that’s not because they’re on .ie extensions.

Many Irish bloggers and publications have chosen not to use the .ie ccTLD because they think it will dent their international appeal, instead opting for a .com. Rather than getting into specifics around where IP addresses come from or where a site is hosted, it’s much more straightforward to not care at all about whether the technical aspects of a site you want a link from are Irish – look for an Irish readership instead. Google knows which are really the popular sites among the Irish public and it has almost nothing to do with IP addresses.

Besides this – there just aren’t enough .ie websites for a sustainable link acquisition campaign that will actually grow a site’s visibility.

  1. Don’t care about site metrics

Most metrics used to measure websites’ authority aren’t that useful – Moz metrics, toolbar PageRank etc. aren’t that accurate and are really just estimates at the best of times. Irish sites – even the press – tend to have fewer backlinks because they don’t often have the same global audience as .com websites can, which means their Moz metrics are usually pretty poor. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t mean anything anyway! Go for relevance and readership instead. Look at authors’ social profiles to determine whether a site has a real readership or not.

  1. Use localised data

In our experience Irish publications respond best when outreach involves data exclusive to them. That’s not to say they don’t care about what’s going on in the world; rather they want to understand (and help their readers to understand) Ireland’s place within it.

City or county specific data is incredibly valuable to regional publications – any sort of data that shows the Irish as being better than anyone else (particularly the British) is a prime candidate for national coverage.

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