Geo-Targeting by Country for Organic Search

Letting the search engines know the specific country your business and website operates in is an essential search optimization technique for local search. Failing to address this can create drastically poor search engine exposure in the country that web surfers might be searching from. This is particularly true for businesses outside of the USA.

How Does Google Know What Country Your Business is In?

Top Level Domain Extension

Your domain name may give the first clue to your target country. The .com domain extension is primarily a generic extension. It has of course become the dominant domain extension but on its own it does not necessarily indicate anything about a websites location.

Country specific domain extensions on the other hand directly indicate the country the website is supposed to be targeting. For example my blog’s domain, Stever.ca, is a Canadian domain name.

A full list of country specific domain extensions can be seen here.

Web Host Location

The physical location of your web hosts server has a unique IP address and is tied to a physical mailing address. Determining the actual location of your hosts servers is highly important. Meanwhile many host companies misrepresent their server locations. Some pass themselves off as an American or Canadian webhost meanwhile their data center can often be located elsewhere.

This is a larger problem for Canadians than it is Americans. Most web data centers from the vast array of hosting business out there are located in the USA. Many Canadian hosts are using data centers located in the US. Some US companies may even be using data centers located in Asia or India.

You can use an IP checker like ip2country to determine a servers location. Simply enter the IP or web address of the hosts site or any sites you know are hosted by them. You should also ask the host before you open an account where their servers are located and where the IP addresses resolve to.

Google Webmaster Tools

A couple months ago Google added a new feature to their webmaster tools that allow you to specifically tell Google the country you are targeting with your website. This function is particularly useful if you are using a generic TLD like a .com or .net AND your host is not located in your country. Setting your Geographic target in the Webmaster Tools will update your sites geo-targeting in Google Search Results within a few days of making the changes.

I recently had a problem with a Canadian clients website that was using a .com domain name. They had obtained hosting from a Canadian company with servers located in Montreal but for some reason the IP address of the server was not resolving properly (ip checkers showed no country). As a result their results in Google.ca were terrible.

They had page 1 rankings for many of their main keywords in Google.com but were ending up way back on page 5 to 8 in Google.ca for the same terms. For many Canadians web users the .ca engine is the default that Google serves them. Google is tracking the searchers IP too.

After arguing with the host and them trying to tell me that Google does not care about physical locations I then remembered the Webmaster Tools Geo-targeting feature. A few days later the site was up on page 1 of Google.ca with pretty much the same rankings it had in Google.com :)

Geo-Targeting and the Other Search Engines

MSN and Yahoo are slightly lacking in how well they geo-target websites. They obviously use domain extensions but Yahoo in particular ignores server location, or so I’ve heard. Yahoo is in the business of web hosting and have a network of data centers around the globe. They realize that many websites are simply not hosted in their home country and that the web hosting industry is truly competitive on a global scale.

Other than that I don’t really know how Yahoo and MSN do their geo-targeting. :( Perhaps another local SEO professional could chime in with some info on that??

Switching Away from the .COM

It is certainly true that the .com domain extension is the most recognized of all the TLD’s and as such many businesses feel they must be using a .com

That’s changing. Outside the USA most people know and recognize their own country specific domain extension. So well so that it can add a certain level of credibility to a local business. In Canada you have the .ca, Britain has the .co.uk, Germany the .de, France the .fr, Japan the .jp, Australia the .com.au, etc., etc.

With internet users maturing in their knowledge of the web these country specific domain extension no longer are simply second rate domain names. If your business is still concerned about having a .com should try and register both. Redirect the .com to your country specific domain to capture the type in traffic who forgot your not a .com.

Considering the space of .com real estate becoming scarcer with good names harder and harder to find, as well as the importance of geo-targeting, using your country specific domain extension is often the way to go for local business websites.

Even the .us domain extension has value for Americans, though considerably less than the .ca does for Canadians. The legacy of the .com being the standard has been preventing the .us from gaining the credibility that other country level domains have achieved in their home countries. But this is likely to change over time.

Geo-targeting for Pay-Per-Click Search Marketing

That’s a separate topic for a future post, I suppose.

Update: I eventually did write two articles about geo-targeting for PPC

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13 Comments to “Geo-Targeting by Country for Organic Search”

Scott Melhuish on April 22nd, 2008 wrote:

Interesting post on a topic that isn’t often touched upon.
How much effect do you think the Google Webmaster Geo-Targeting tool has?
I’m in the UK & have had lots of trouble with the standard of Web Hosts here. I have used Media Temple and found their quality and customer service to be excellent. I’d like to use them on more .co.uk sites, but am concerned that using a USA host will impact on localised search results in Google.
I would think that the safest option would be to use a host in the UK, and use Google’s Geo-Targeting tool as well.
What’s your take on whether the Geo-targeting tool would fully overide the negativity of using a host in a different country?

Stever on April 22nd, 2008 wrote:

The intent of the Webmaster Geo-Targeting tool was specifically added to address the problem of being hosted outside your target country.

With so many hosting options out there, unless you know how to check with IP tools, most website owners have no clue about where their hosts web servers are actually located.

The one case where I’ve used it it worked great.

Another thing I forgot to mention is that Google can still geo-target a site that is a .com and hosted outside the target country, and not using the webmaster geo-tool. Having a physical address on your pages seems to help. They may also be looking at Whois info and the address in there as well.

Or, they may be using Google Maps data, if the business and website is in there.

I’ve seen this on a client site thats hosted in Texas, it’s a .com, and the webmaster tool is not being used. This is a Canadian site and if i search in Google.ca and select “pages from Canada” this site still shows up at the top.

They are in Google Maps, Whois registrant data would show Canada, and they have the address and phone number on all pages of the site. majority of links pointing to the site are Canadian sites too. So some of that or all of that is overriding its host location and generic domain extension.

Gil Strachan on June 23rd, 2008 wrote:

Thanks for the hot tip on geographic targeting for Google. While getting excellent ranking for all related search terms, my site was however in the sewer for “pages from Canada.” I Googled and found your articles at http://stever.ca/search-optimization/country-search-geo-targeting/
Thanks again!
Cheers!
Gil Strachan
Trenton, Ontario

Stever on June 23rd, 2008 wrote:

Your welcome there Gil.

The IP addy for the server your site is on (67.18.113.194) is located in the US and your using a .com as your domain so use the Webmaster Tools in Google to tell them your in Canada.

You should notice a significant change within a weeks time.

bc on January 18th, 2009 wrote:

well, the best way is the extension. there is nothing that helps in geo teargeting than the extension. One just zooms in ranking if one is targeting a partuclar country by having the cctld from that area.

Galen on January 18th, 2009 wrote:

I have had a problem where I want one of my sites to rank in the US and Google is determined to rank it in Canada I changed the target in webmaster tools to the US months ago and that did nothing.

I am now convinced that the whois overrides every thing.

So today I changed the whois and entered a US address for Google maps in Webmaster Tools. And added the same address to the footer on every page.

I will see if this works.

Galen

Stever on January 19th, 2009 wrote:

@Galen, I think I’ve started to notice that the Google webmaster tools is not quite doing the same trick anymore. But I’m also pretty sure that the Whois is not going to make the difference either.

The State of Local Search in Canada | Stever.ca on February 12th, 2009 wrote:

[…] are the same to get ranked at the top of organic results or map results, though there are a few geo-targeting techniques needed to ensure Google knows your site belongs in Canada, but this piece is not about that. I want to look at the state of the market in the local space […]

Joe on February 26th, 2009 wrote:

we (www.source-promo.com) target the uk market and have used the webmaster tools to tell google. our server is located in germany.

we cant explain but wonder why our website ranks pretty well in the very compeditive US market google.com for most of our keywords like promotional items (page 2) but ranks lousy on the uk market (page 15-20)

most of our links come from us websites but this shouldnt be a problem since http://www.ideasbynet.com have fairly the same kinds of links and uses a dotcom domain as well. they rank first on google.co.uk.

Stever on March 4th, 2009 wrote:

@Joe, first off, sorry for the delay in replying, your comment ended up in the askimet spam filter.

The ideasbynet.com website is hosted on a server in the UK, their about page shows they are located in the UK, and lots of other references on the web may indicate they are in the UK.

You are fighting a harder battle, to rank in the .co.uk, with a business located in Germany, server located in Germany, and using a .com domain.

Personally I think that the .com version of Google is more of an international catch all, than it is specifically American. Nationality based clues seem to play much more of a role in the other country versions of Google.

You don’t need to tell the Webmaster tools your server is located in Germany, they already know that based on the IP address of the server. You need to tell them your target market is the UK. (unless that was a typo in your comment above and you meant to say UK instead of Germany).

Joe on March 5th, 2009 wrote:

yes, i’ve told google that our target market is the UK. (my mistake) i did it like one year ago. if i go go google.co.uk and search for local UK results, we even appear with source-promo.com. but still, our results are lousy. would you recommend us to move to an UK server or wouldn it have any effect?

Stever on March 6th, 2009 wrote:

Having more signals that say “UK should help. And locating the server in the UK might help you out. Along with getting more UK based links to the site.

I see you are using a different domain for your german traffic, so yeah, i would move the site to a UK based server.

Tony R on August 29th, 2009 wrote:

Previously these could not be targeted for .ME domains, but apparently Google has changed its policy in that regard:
http://www.namemon.com/news/43-search-engines/64-google-permits-geo-target-of-me-domains

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