Localization and SERP Relevancy

  |  April 30, 2007   |  Comments

Search engines often confuse server location with Web site country or language. How multinational firms can optimize SERP relevancy.

Buzzing around the planet, I get to see SERPs (define) in many different locations and languages. Generally, clients I work with are multinationals, so their SEO (define) related hosting issues can be tricky to tackle.

A while ago, I had a nightmare hosting issue with one of my clients in China. I turned to my friend and colleague Teddie Cowell, a leading SEO professional with U.K.-based SEM (define) firm Neutralize for a little help and advice. There's no doubt Cowell is the industry expert when it comes to search engines and geolocation/-targeting.

"I personally believe geotargeting/-localization of SERPs is one of the biggest yet probably easiest addressable bugs with most search engines. Why, in 2007, should search engine optimizers still have problems getting their clients' Web sites into a specific country's SERP?" he ranted to me, clunking his Guinness on the bar.

The problem really affects non-region-specific domains, such as .com, .net, and .org. Historically, Americans have misinterpreted .com addresses as being U.S. rather than international, as was intended. This mindset influenced the current attitude on domain names. Additionally, because of the Internet's global nature, businesses are likely to locate their sites wherever it's most cost effective. Cowell still hosts some applications in the U.S., for instance.

There are other scenarios where businesses are forced to host in different countries, such as when their CMS (define) or e-commerce systems are hosted by an ASP (define) and all the servers might be in one data center in another country.

Thus, Web sites intended for one country's SERP sometimes end up somewhere entirely different. And there might be technical reasons they can't be physically moved.

Cowell gave me a crude example and hack using the language-versus-country filters. He ran a search for .com domains in English that contain "U.K." in the URL and title, don't include the words "Sweden" or "Scandinavia" in the page, and allocated to the "Web sites in Sweden" filter.

"Obviously there is a mixture of Web sites in there, and I've probably missed loads that weren't so clearly referencing the U.K. in their pages," he observed. "But many of this set are clearly U.K.-specific domains and should be assigned to a U.K., not Swedish, filter.

"A similar problem is reported by many companies who host their sites with 1&1, a very popular hosting company in the U.K. But they're based in Germany, as are all their servers, and as a knock-on effect, so are the Web sites," he added.

Let's say an end user goes to Google and selects pages from the U.K. Some U.K. sites won't show up in the SERP because Google's localization filters aren't immediately associating some sites with the U.K. They can have the domain associated with somewhere else, which, Cowell says, "can lead to less relevancy in the SERP, making it a big issue for many Web site owners who want to get in front of the most relevant audience but aren't."

What's the answer to this location mishmash?

"How about some way for Webmasters to manually change their localization settings somewhere in Google Webmaster Central?" suggests Cowell. It seems like a good idea: a manual override that could fix the domain level filters and take factors such as hosting location out of the picture.

But the problem is actually bigger than that, because Google's localization filter is only assigned at domain level. This means Google can't filter content in subdirectories to different geographic regions. And this is the way many multinationals have their content structured -- a different subdirectory for each country and language. There's still a lot of room for improvement in localization and SERP relevancy.

"You're pretty much screwed if you have your content set up on the server this way and want coverage in multiple country SERPs," Cowell said. Of course, SEO wisdom is usually to recommend setting up specific domains and hosting in the targeted countries. This is simply not an option in so many cases, however.

I asked Cowell what other localization clues we could give search engines. "I really like the attribute," he told me. This was introduced as part of HTML 4.01. Not only is it part of the W3C accessibility standards, you can apply it on a per-page (even per-element) basis, he explained.

He also suggests using U.K. or local language spellings and getting listed in the country-specific sections of Open Directory and Yahoo (Open Directory recently reopened its doors for business). Finally, he sees a future trend in the potential use of microformats, such as hCard and Address. This, he says, will make it easier to identify your office locations further down the line.

Here's something else to consider. All regional Google sites have an option to search from the searcher's country. (Except for Google in the U.S., where there's no "Search pages from U.S. only." Why is that?)

Sure, there's another solution to geotargeting: you could just cloak it (IP delivery). But with Google, that's not advisable!

Join us for Search Engine Watch Live on May 9 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus in Ohio.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

ClickZ Live Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda and register by Friday, August 29 to take advantage of Super Saver Rates!


Mike Grehan

Mike Grehan is Publisher of Search Engine Watch and ClickZ and Producer of the SES international conference series. He is the current president of global trade association SEMPO, having been elected to the board of directors in 2010.

Formerly, Mike worked as a search marketing consultant with a number of international agencies, handling such global clients as SAP and Motorola. Recognized as a leading search marketing expert, Mike came online in 1995 and is author of numerous books and white papers on the subject. He is currently in the process of writing his new book "From Search To Social: Marketing To The Connected Consumer" to be published by Wiley in 2013.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Search newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!



Featured White Papers

BigDoor: The Marketers Guide to Customer Loyalty

The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is imperative to success, but fostering and maintaining loyalty takes a lot of work. This guide is here to help marketers build, execute, and maintain a successful loyalty initiative.

Marin Software: The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising

The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising
Latest research reveals 68% higher revenue per conversion for marketers who integrate their search & social advertising. In addition to the research results, this whitepaper also outlines 5 strategies and 15 tactics you can use to better integrate your search and social campaigns.


    • Sales Planner
      Sales Planner (Verve ) - New YorkAbout Verve   Verve is the leader in location powered mobile advertising. We manage one of the largest mobile...
    • Systems Analyst/Support
      Systems Analyst/Support (Agora Inc. ) - BaltimoreIRIS (Increased Revenue Intuitive Software ) is proprietary software that helps marketers...
    • Client Services Support Specialist
      Client Services Support Specialist (Agora Inc. ) - Delray Beach OVERVIEW:  This position requires a highly motivated and resourceful individual...