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Thoughts On IP Reverse Lookup?

I was having a discussion today about URLs and associated behaviors with a colleague who works with many of our international subsidiaries.  In the course of the conversation, we came to the topic of IP reverse lookup and it’s pros/cons for geo-detection and content routing.  In the past, we’ve used this technique as a last ditch effort to try and route a user to the most relevant possible version of a site or page (by last ditch, I mean to say that there’s no info provided by the URL, by user preferences, or by browser headers).  However, my colleague had some general concerns about using it at all – a couple reasons were:

  • Geo-detection systems based on IP addresses tend to have problems with accuracy as the result of things like proxy servers
  • We’re making a decision based on information about you that you are not able to control (unlike something like your browser language or any other HTTP header)

We talked through several different scenarios, including user scenarios like that of a business traveler who may want to see content in his language but see local events for the region in which he is traveling.  We also talked through several of the different geo-political scenarios where users in a country may speak the same language as users in another country, but should never be automatically directed to the site of that other country for legal reasons. 

In the end, the question came down to whether or not we should use any form of implicit user context to make any kind of default content routing decision (e.g. browser lang or geo-detection).  Making the choice explicit would certainly disambiguate the Web site’s behavior for users, though it would also add a step for first time visitors.

What are your thoughts/experiences in this area?  Any good pointers to articles/reference that helped?

About Howard Dierking

I like technology...a lot...
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  • Bogdan

    I would be Ok with a default behavior of first use of redirecting to a version of the site based upon the default browser language / system language if the detection is possible but once a different setting is chosen stick with it :)

  • Joeh_public

    I would disagree that Google has a simple way to get back to the Englishversion. I guess it is simple once you know how to do it. Bing is easy but I have not figured out how to save the setting (no matter how many times I save settings). With Google at least once you know to do the /ncr it will continue to go to you desired home page, at least until you delete cookies.

    All in all as a frequesnt traveler, I have always found this incredibly annoying. If I type http://www.xxx.com I do not want that application to decide for me that is not where I really wanted to go. My home page is Google.com not the localalized version. If I want the localized version that is the url I will enter. Does Bing or Google think people in foreign countries are not smart enough to enter the local site url?

  • AndyB

    Speaking from experience having been burnt on this, be careful before implementing to think about any SEO impact – as not only will you be redirecting users, but also search engine spiders. A UK site I worked on introduced this when they launched an area for US visitors… in hindsight it was fairly obvious this wasn’t going to do any favours to their search engine rankings as the Google spider was being redirected too.

  • http://mrrask.wordpress.com Olav Rask

    David Platt touches on this briefly in “Why Software Sucks”. As he points out, Google does a pretty good job by taking you to (what they think is) your local version, while always having a clear and easy option to return to the default english one. Maybe something like this:

    If the visitor has no pervious preference send him to the best match and set that as his preference. If the visitor desides that he is seeing the wrong language/region, make sure he has an easy option to change his preference.

    That way the “visiting another country” senario could also be made to work pretty nicely by combining preference with detection to do stuff like “French person traveling to Germany”.

    If you wanted to go all the way you might als0 consider some sort of option for changing language and region seperately..

    As a user I personaly find “Select your location” pages annoying at best.

  • http://twitter.com/EinsteinTech Josh Einstein

    Well my thoughts are that if the developers behind CNN.com had the foresight to do this, I wouldn’t constantly be prompted with an annoying banner bar asking if I want to make the US edition my default edition. So use it as a default and if someone wants to change it, let them change it and store a cookie. 90% of the time or more you’ll get it right so why punish them for the slight convenience of the 10%.