One of the most annoying instances of where web sites customize your experience is when using the search engines. Most of the time it works quite well – here’s the basic sequence :
- The user loads up a search engine page
- Search engine checks your IP address
- Search engine looks up the physical location of that address
- Search engine customizes your search results based on your location.
So in practical terms it means that when you type in ‘cheap carpets’ in your search engine, you don’t receive a selection of carpet shops from across the world. Google (or other search engine) will assume that you want someone who sells carpets in your location – which is usually quite right. The chances are that most similar searches would be looking for someone local to your current location. You can skew the results of course, by modifying your search string – perhaps change to ‘cheap carpets Paris’ if you want to pick something up on a weekend away in the French capital but it does become some what of a guessing game.
There are times though when you wish you could turn off this personalization, times when it actually comes up with completely the wrong search results. For instance if I was in a Spanish airport travelling home, and I tried to search for a taxi firm to transfer me home when I returned. My ‘taxi’ searches would all focus on Spanish results simply because I was in Spain while searching, none of the search engines are smart enough to go one step further and assess my current situation properly. Which is why we have to append other descriptive terms such as ‘UK’, ‘Manchester’ or ‘England’ to ensure we don’t receive Spanish based results.
This is of course a fairly simple situation to rectify, but it’s not always that straight forward. Take my current situation, I want to take my family to the West Coast of USA next year and I’d been told there are lots of great local tour firms based in the USA that will take you around the sites. However if I type in local tours West USA – all my results are focused on my current location – i.e the United Kingdom.
Here’s what I get in my search, (click to enlarge) – as you can see all the results are UK companies offering tours of the West Coast of the USA. Even though I’m looking for a service physically located in the USA, the search engine will give me results of companies who are based in the UK.
Do you see the problem ? I can’t find those local companies specializing in US tours easily, all I get is big UK companies who probably buy in those trips and resell to people in the United Kingdom (presumably with a significant mark up in price too!). I’ll have to play around with search terms and delve into the later pages of my search results to have any hope of finding a local US company who doesn’t have offices and websites in the United Kingdom
Simply speaking Google in this situation doesn’t deliver what I want, it delivers a simplified, commercial based set of results. The only way I can modify this is by hiding my real location from the search engine and then redoing the search. Here’s a quick video on how you can get an American IP address –
Using this program I am able to give myself an American IP address instead of a UK one. So lets repeat exactly the same search and see what results I get –
Here you can see that I get a completely different set of results to my previous search, all US based companies offering pretty much the same tours but often at much lower prices.
None of these web sites are US only, they are all happy to attract customers from all over the world – it’s just that mostly people can’t find them because of the way that the search engines personalise your search results. Unfortunately, to bypass these blocks you need to take control of your IP address, here’s another video called best VPN USA which demonstrates using a Virtual Private Network connection routed through the US to achieve the same results.
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