Or, the problem with capitonyms and search engines.

I have an unusual situation; I live in East Kent, in the UK,

in a town
called Deal
.  Within 5 miles is a
town called Sandwich,
and villages called Ham and Worth

From a search-engine optimization perspective this is a little problematic.

Google (et al) makes no distinction between the search phrase “property in Ham or Sandwich” and “property in ham or sandwich”, even though the first is clearly a property search in the areas of Ham or Sandwich, and the latter – well that can probably be assumed from the context, unless you are after some prime real estate between two slices of bread.

The problem also occurs with many other phrases, obviously, such as “Deal double glazing”, “garage in Worth” or even “days out in Deal”.

So how do the top 3 search engines fair for the phrase “property in Ham or Sandwich” (on 9/4/2010)?


Blazing Donkey at
 Ham, Sandwich

– local restaurant and hotel – not perfect but understandable

Sandwich property for sale | Globrix – property portal

Sandwich properties. Find property to rent in Sandwich  – property portal

Sandwich properties. Find property for sale in Sandwich – same property portal, different page

to Rent in
 Ham, D
eal – property portal

Don’t give children ham sandwiches, say cancer experts … – dud

Not too bad, certainly the geographic context appears to be understood.


Sandwich properties. Find property to rent in Sandwich, Kent – property portal

Sandwich properties. Find property for sale in Sandwich, Kent – same property portal, different page

Property for sale Sandwich Bay, Sandwich | Globrix
– property portal

Sandwich property for sale
| Globrix
– same property portal,
basically same page

Village voice: Ham – so handy for Sandwich – Telegraph – mainstream media article on
local property

Ham Sandwich Recipes
like Grilled
 Ham and
 Sandwich or 
– dud

Again, not terrible,  but this is where it gets surprising…


Blazing Donkey at
 Ham, Sandwich

– local restaurant
and hotel – not perfect but understandable

A Wedding Gown and A Good Ham
 « Neil
Zurcher’s One Tank T
– dud

Best ham
– dud

An O(n) Algorithm of HamSandwich Cut on the Plane– dud

 and The
Chapters for Haiti Aid Fundraiser – Ireland.com
– dud

Jesse Moores, 26, choked to death on a ham
– dud

” Lyrics


Egg Math: the Borsuk-Ulam Theorem– dud

(continues for many pages)

In fact, you have to go to
page 4, result 45, to get a link to a property related page on Google.  Searching “pages from the UK” improves
things, bringing a nestoria.co.uk link into page 1, but how many searchers
change the default?

So basically, Google are
making a complete hash of returning relevant results due to our ambiguous town
names, and Google
now account for 89.2% of UK search.  

With the Internet becoming such a significant part of most small and
medium businesses this can really only been as a severe disadvantage to a
large number of our local firms.

I have no idea what can be done to improve matters, it seems clear
to me that, in comparison to the other search engines, Google’s algorithm is so
heavily weighted against the portal sites – probably due to their repetitious
content – that it returns by far the
worst results.  In fact, I’d posture that none of the search engines really understood the geography of my search, it’s just that Bing and Yahoo are softer on the very search-engine orientated portal sites, giving better results more through luck than judgement.

Yet, the context of the search is clear – even the capitalisation
could be used as an important clue to provide geographic results only (although
I appreciate training people to use this would be an uphill battle.)

Perhaps the solution is to change the names of our towns to
DealUK, HamKent, WorthNrSandwich and Sandwich-not-the-snack?

If you have any useful comments, examples or ideas please feel free to post them below.