Google.sco: Scottish Independence’s Impact on Online Businesses

Before I say this, I should say I live in England and have always considered myself to be British as my primary nationality. So that’s my take on things, now I’ll try to be objective here on Grow Traffic. I’ve not seen anyone talking about what will happen to online businesses from a search marketing perspective if the people of Scotland decide to vote yes on Thursday.

We know two separate markets will eventually develop in Scotland and the remaining UK, but has anyone speculated about what Google will do? I’ve had a quick search and can’t see anyone putting this out there and there’s no official word from the big G. It seems to me that Google works on a national level – the results you’ll see in the UK come in on Google.co.uk, in those results, websites from the UK will get priority, it’s what stops websites from other English language countries wrongly outranking UK based websites/businesses.

So if Scotland does vote to leave the UK, that could have quite big implications for purely online businesses. It’s likely Google would introduce google.sco with an algorithm that favours Scottish websites over sites from the UK, something that would completely change the dynamic of who is successful and who’s not online. On a positive note it will make the content returned even more relevant locally, however the drawback is it works the other way as well, in that Scottish businesses will be less likely to appear in the remaining part of the UK (and visa versa).

Scotland is a country of about 5 million people, so their online businesses will likely lose a significant amount of access to the remaining 59 million UK residents (or the proportion of them that consume content and products online).

The major benefiters of Scottish independence from an online perspective, in this scenario, will probably be the small local Scottish businesses, as well as some of the medium sized UK businesses who are able to step in to fill the gap in the market. Due to the smaller size of the Scottish market it’s likely UK based business will be less dramatically affected, however the existing Scottish-based online leaders will have to seriously think about things like contact details/registered office, the top level domain (TLD) choice and their server’s physical location.

According to the Scottish government’s own figures, not including oil and gas, Scotland sold £50.5bn in goods and services to the rest of the UK in 2013. The rest of the UK sold £62.7bn in goods and services to Scotland. It’s not certain how much of this figure is online, however I think it’s safe to assume there is a good chunk, and although Scottish business will likely change and adapt if the people do vote for independence, but online their ability to reach the UK’s market through Google, which controls over 90% of the search market in these isles, will likely be hugely reduced.

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