If you needed evidence that we’re living in the age of Google, look no farther than France. Ville d’Eu (more commonly known as simply “EU”) is thinking of changing its name in order to rank more easily in Google. Search for [EU], says the mayor, and information about the town is drowned out by results for the European Union, which she thinks is hurting their tourism efforts. She estimates that they’re losing up to a third of the revenue they would otherwise be making. (The town’s problem is compounded by the fact that Google is using acronym expansion for this query and assumes that searchers looking for [eu] are in fact looking for [European Union]; some site owners have similar problems with Google’s spelling correction.) The mayor thinks that changing to the name to something without such competition would help bring in the tourists.
The mayor says their choices are either to pay to be at the top of the results (presumably through AdWords) or change their name.
“The second option appears the most sensible. “As far as the internet is concerned, we have to bring ourselves up to date.”
While I applaud the mayor for realizing that search is one of the prime ways to attract customers (or in this case, tourists), this is a clear case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Yes, it’s possible that some searchers are specifically looking for the town and have trouble finding it when they search for [eu], but anyone specifically looking for them are likely not going to be distracted by the European Union results and will likely find a way to locate them.
What is their target audience searching for?
If the town spent some time on audience analysis, they might discover that most searchers they want to target aren’t searching for their town name to begin with. They’re searching for things like [french vacation], [french countryside], [wineries in france], and so on. Using search data, they could pinpoint what the highest volume queries are and then create resources that match those searcher needs. (Hint: they might want to look into targeting those in the UK searching for [france b&b].
Where is their target audience located?
The Ville d’Eu website has a .fr extension and is entirely in French. This suggests that they are targeting a French audience. In that case, Google points out that a search for [eu] on google.fr does in fact return their site as the number one result. Problem solved!
If they’re targeting tourists in other countries, they should create content in the languages those tourists speak, and ideally host separate sites for each country they are targeting (such as ville-eu.de and ville-eu-co.uk). Sound extreme? Maybe. But not as extreme as changing the town’s name!
SEO isn’t just about ranking
The mayor of Ville d’Eu has made the too common mistake of thinking that success in search is all about ranking. Success in search is really all about understanding your customers. Who are you targeting? What are they searching for? How can your site help them accomplish their search tasks? The town changing its name isn’t going to cause hoardes of tourists to start searching for the less-competitive query. In fact, they’ll probably lose the few searchers who were looking for them and can no longer find their name anywhere! But they are correct that they may rank for the new, unique name. At least in France. Where they already rank first.