Geo Targeting Techniques in Google for SEO

It has been observed by the SEO community over a number of years that search engine rankings in Google are influenced by a so-called “geo-targeting” aspect of the domain (TLD and registrant’s background location) and its hosting location. In this article, we’ll look into those factors that affect Google’s geo-targeting aspects so you can put them to work on your own web site.

Lots of websites are established on a daily basis with the intention of making sales online or getting customers from the Internet. These websites do official business which is targeted to a certain geographical scope; it may be targeted only to one country, a number of countries, or even the whole world.

Search engines like Google has been doing its best to return the most relevant search results to their users. One of the ways they have improved dramatically concerns how "geo-targeting" has been handled by the Google algorithm.

This article attempts to examine the different factors affecting the "geo-targeting" aspect of Google. If we have this information, it can be used to guide web masters and SEO professionals to make clear decisions as to where the website and its registrants be oriented to get the most benefits from Google’s "geo-targeting."

Country-code TLD and Location of Searcher

What we need to check is the effectiveness of the use of country-based TLDs (top level domain). Common questions include: do country-based TLDs affect the search engine ranking if the searcher is in a particular location?

The answer is yes, it matters a lot. For example, www.moneysearch.ca’s ranking for the key term "commercial loans online" varies based on the location of the searcher and whether he or she is using different Google country-based search engines. 

If a searcher is located in the US and using www.google.com for the search query "commercial loans online" (without quotes), www.moneysearch.ca ranks at position 81. This is because the domain uses the .ca TLD, which is a Canadian-based domain, so it is not relevant to US-based searchers/results. Instead, Google returns mostly US-based website.

If a searcher is located in the US and using www.google.ca for the same query (commercial loans online), www.moneysearch.ca now ranks at position 10. This is because the user wants to see Canadian-based results, as indicated by using the google.ca search engine.

If a searcher is located in Canada and using www.google.ca for the same query, www.moneysearch.ca ranks at position 4.

What if a searcher is located in Canada and using www.google.com? The result is that www.moneysearch.ca ranks at position 48. It has a better ranking than it does for search engine queries in the US using www.google.com.

Conclusions and recommendations: If you are targeting a specific country, then make use of the country code TLD of your targeted country. This gives you better rankings in your preferred target location. However, if you do target several countries, using a country code TLD is not advisable; instead, use a generic TLD such as .com, .net, or .org which does not have any country associated with it. Also, remember that search location can influence ranking results, as observed above.

Now you have the information pertaining to country-based TLDs and searcher location. The next thing to examine is the relationship between server IP location and search engine rankings. To clearly establish if there is indeed a significant difference in the search engine results, we use the test variables and inputs below:

Targeted country: United States (first data set) , United Kingdom (second dataset)

Google country search engine: http://www.google.com/ for US and http://www.google.co.uk for UK

Targeted keyword: buy books

Tool used to determine the country where it is hosted:

http://whatismyipaddress.com/staticpages/index.php/lookup-results

Tool used to determine the IP address of the website: Linux Terminal Ping Command

We are assuming the searcher comes from the same targeted country to simulate realistic conditions. This can be done using a proxy browser (for example, using a US Proxy browser to check US rankings and a UK proxy browser to check UK rankings).

See the results for US:

Based on the above results, server location of the website does indeed play a significant role in the top 10 results. Seventy percent of the websites in the Google US top 10 are hosted in the US.

To provide a much more accurate observation, we will replicate the test for the United Kingdom. Below is the result (using the same targeted keyword but using www.google.co.uk, and the searcher comes from the UK).

The result is similar to Google US shown above. Around 80% of the websites in the Google UK top 10 are also hosted in the UK. One of the interesting aspects of both results is that the country level TLD also plays a major role. Estimating the results, around 60% of the websites in the Google UK top 10 use the co.uk TLD.

Conclusions and Recommendations: The two above observations say that Google prefers to rank websites in a specific Google country search engine that is also hosted in that same country.

To increase your ranking success and to have an easier path to Google’s first page, it is suggested that you host your website in the same country that you are targeting.

Websites are owned by so-called "registrants" that are also the owners of the business. These businesses are registered in their locality or the country in which they are operating. It is hypothesized that Google also looks at these registrant addresses to determine whether the website is relevant to specific searches done in a specific country.

Below is the result of a sample observation conducted using the same targeted keyword "buy books" in both www.google.com and www.google.co.uk.

You will notice that 70% of the websites ranking in www.google.co.uk top 10 for buy books are owned by registrants registered/based in the UK. Meanwhile, in the US, 100% of the websites in www.google.com top 10 for the same keyword are owned by registrants based in the US.

This says that the registrant’s address is a strong factor in geo-targeting that influences search engine results in different countries.

Conclusions and recommendations: To increase relevance in your preferred/targeted location, it is suggested to have your registrant address in the same location as your targeted country. This is a useful piece of information that Google uses to determine if your website is doing business or being registered in that specific location.

There are a lot of "geo-related" factors observed by the SEO community in Google. However (except from the above list), they have not been proven to really be a significant factor.

1. Regional Listings in Yahoo directory. These are paid listings on http://dir.yahoo.com/Regional/. Some people claim they benefit from geo-targeting when being listed on the regional section.

2. Regional Listings in DMOZ. These are free listings on http://www.dmoz.org/Regional/ that supposedly provide the same benefit from regional listings as being on Yahoo directory. Note that Google uses DMOZ data in their Google directory, which might be factored into the algorithm.

3. The nature of the content. Languages and the way the content is written (for example, for which audiences) certainly influence ranking. This is why we can only see Russian websites selling books in www.google.ru and not in www.google.com.

Do a search for buy books in www.google.ru, and you can see Russian websites using the Russian language in the first page results. For example: http://buy-books.ru/ — this website does not rank in other countries, such as in www.google.com’s US results.

4. The nature of back links and external links. Some people have theorized (though it has not been proven) that if you have a back link profile of UK-based websites, it will help your rankings in www.google.co.uk. The same is supposedly true with external links; if you are linking to mostly UK-based websites, this also helps Google see that you are targeting the UK.

5. Geographic targeting in Google Webmaster Tools. This certainly helps, as this is being suggested by Google. When it seems impossible for you to set up your website using the suggestions above, this seems to be the easiest and most straightforward option to specify your geographic target. Bear in mind that there is still no guarantee, and it’s up to Google and its algorithm to decide where your site should rank in the end.

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