Geotargeting is the method of determining the location of a user and serving different content to visitors dependent on where they are viewing the site from. To find out more about how search engines crawl and index this geotargeted website content, along with recommendations and insights from Google, we have compiled common questions and answers within our SEO Office Hours recaps below.
For more on geotargeting and international website best practices for SEO, check out our additional guides:
An SEO’s Guide to International Site Architecture
Getting Your International Website Structure Right
An SEO’s Guide to Hreflang Tags
There’s no way to guarantee that users are shown the correct international version of your site
For international sites, there’s no way to guarantee users will be taken to the desired version every time. The focus should be on following best practice, and then ensuring users can find the right version as easily as possible once they’re on the site. It’s recommended to implement a banner when you recognize users are in the wrong location.
Avoid automatic redirects, as you can never be 100% sure which version users want (a user’s geographical location doesn’t necessarily match their preferred market or language). Automatic redirects happen to Google too, so this method could cause search engines to miss other language versions of your site.
Mixed-language pages can be confusing to Google
In general, Google tries to use the primary content of a page to determine which language a page is targeting. However, it’s also recommended to make title tags and headings match the page’s primary language. Having various elements on one page in different languages makes it hard for Google to know how the page should appear in the index.
Noindexing pages with geo IP redirection is not ideal
One user asked about the use of geo IP redirection in conjunction with noindex tags. The example was having separate pages targeted at users in multiple locations, but using noindex tags to ensure just one is indexed.
John raised the point that Google typically crawls from one location (mostly using a Californian IP address). If the IP address directs Google to one of the URLs you have set to noindex, it might result in those pages not being indexed full stop. This approach, therefore, isn’t recommended. Instead, you should focus on making location-specific content easier to find once the user has landed on the site.
Server location is not used for geotargeting
John confirmed that Google doesn’t use the server location for geotargeting. A question was asked about whether the server type and location matter and John said there may be a small speed difference in having your server closer to where your users are, but it may not be much of an issue if you have a Content Delivery Network (CDN) in place.
It is not possible to specify which countries and regions content should rank in
There is no way to prevent Google indexing content in specific countries and regions, even if it’s not targeted to that audience. The example given was a user who wanted English pages to rank only in the US and the UK. If Google deems the content as relevant to users in other locations, there’s every chance it will be indexed there too (and nothing that webmasters can do to prevent this).
Hreflang x-default tags are required to show Google that a default URL is part of your page set
The “x-default” tag allows Google to understand that the default version is a part of your set of pages. Failure to include this could see the default version unintentionally appearing in a region’s index.
ccTLDs Can be Shown to Global Audience But Can’t Geotarget Other Countries
Sites with a ccTLD can be relevant to countries outside of the one associated with the TLD. However, a ccTLD won’t be able to geo-target other specific countries.
Geotargeting Can’t be Applied to Language Versions Which Are Split Out Using Parameters
Google is unable to automatically detect and apply geotargeting if different language or country versions of a site are separated out using parameters.
Geotargeting AMP is Possible But Difficult to Implement
Theoretically, you can geotarget AMP pages to countries with poor connection speeds. However, this wouldn’t be easy to implement, as Google tries to keep a global view by associating an AMP version with the normal version of the page.
ccTLDs Can’t be Applied to a General Region
ccTLDs only work at a country level, so you can have ccTLDs for the different countries in Africa but you can’t have one ccTLD targeting the whole of Africa.