31 Aug 2010

Geographic target and your website Rankings (Google Webmaster Tools)

I have been wondering about how the “geographic target” setting (under site configuration, settings) in Google Webmaster Tools might affect a website’s search engine rankings (if at all) for a good nine months now. And I have finally reached the conclusion that the “geographic target” can influence Google SERPS quite drastically.

Keyword Ranking Graph from sheerseo.com

I was working on Search Engine Optimisation for a company that wanted to perform well in the US rankings (Google.com) and so I set the “geographic target” to “United States” on December 8th (1). By the 21st of December I had seen a massive general improvement across my keyword set for this website in the Google.com rankings. We had also just completed a very aggressive back link building campaign so it was impossible to isolate a clear cause and effect.

However, on the January 29th (2) I was instructed by a company director to remove the US reference from the Google SERPS. Google was appending "(us)" to results from this website and the director was concerned that leads from non-US regions would not click through. So, I removed the “geographic target” setting for this website from Google Webmaster Tools.

By early Feb, rankings for the keywords in my set had plummeted on Google.com. I suspected that the drop was caused by the “geographic target” change but there were other confounding factors (we lost links from a high authority site through down time on their side). On explaining the situation to the directors I was instructed not to revert the “geographic target” setting.

I continued with every day SEO but on the 11th of August (3) I “secretly” reset the “geographic target” back to “United States”. By the 30th of August the Google.com rankings were way up again! Fortunately, it seems that Google is not appending "(us)" to the results any more, so I should be able to keep my secret ;) I certainly don’t want to fiddle with the “geographic target” again, even though it would be an interesting exercise to challenge these "findings".

Note: “geographic target” can not (does not need to) be set for country specific domains such as .co.za .fr etc

Log data from Google Webmaster Tools

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I own/operate a real estate website, and have learned a million things since first starting out. Funny to look back and see how naive I was in the beginning.

Anyways, my site offers real estate listings in the US, Canada, and UK. My initial desire was to have the US be the default/main interest on the site, so it was always the default on the homepage, etc.

Naturally, I then set the Geographic target in WMT to 'United States', however, as you also stated, I am getting some listings in Toronto (for example), being tagged in Google search results as ' - United States'. This doesn't look good on the listing in SERP's, but I am now very paranoid to change the Geo target to accommodate all based on what you said.

Just when I thought I had figured it all out, I had to go and read your article! lol

rich said...

Thanks for the feedback. That's very interesting. My results are not being tagged as 'United States'. I wonder why yours are? I can't promise I know what will happen if you do remove your Geographic target setting. You can only try and find out... Though I wouldn't be surprised if it does cause your US rankings to go down on specific keywords. It may not affect long tail search phrases much though? Don't mean to not be helpful, but I guess you can only try and see what happens :)

Anonymous said...

Currently, my site structure is as follows:

domain.com/
domain.com/united-states/
domain.com/canada/
domain.com/united-kingdom/

In WMT, domain.com/ is set to United States (geo-target), as is domain.com/united-states/. The other are set accordingly as well (UK and Canada).

Since I made the change(s), I have seen a decline in traffic, but as per the usual, my site fluctuates often. A strong gust of wind outside is usually enough to throw my traffic off for the day.

If this is the right direction to go, I'm more than willing to take a slight hit in the rankings if it means I'll be more targeted in the future, however, if this is not really going to do much, I'd rather not take the hit.

P.S., I'm the guy who initially posted a comment on this article ;)

I am going to reset it, wait a week, and see what impact that has (if any)... I'll report back.

rich said...

Well I learned something! I never knew you could add directory paths to WMT. Never mind set their geographic targets differently. So thanks for that :)

I am not sure exactly how your current setup will affect you in the long term. But I would guess that "correct" geotargetting should provide you with higher quality traffic at the expense of higher volumes of traffic.

If you make your money through paid advertising on your website, then you are probably going to want high traffic volumes. But if you generate income through actually closing deals then it's probably better to target your site correctly so that you are more likely to get relevant traffic that will convert into leads / sales.

I would keep an eye on more than sheer traffic volume. Try to measure the actions that actually generate income / leads for you and let this guide you in your decision.

rich said...

p.s. looking forward to hearing your results...

Mark Miner said...

Thanks for the information; feel a lot better about waiting now.

Apartments Zambratija said...

Hi. Do you have any recommendations for multi lingual sites. I am getting 90% of traffic from my homecountry. 10% all others. Will my keyword ranking drop in other country if i set it to slovenia and other way around. Will I loose slovenia raniking if its set to default.
Appriciate your response

Rich said...

You should see some improvement in your Slovenia rankings if you set your location to Slovenia - But your rankings in other countries might drop if you do this. It also depends what keywords your are talking about. General keywords might be affected most whereas, more specific keywords that are unique to your site will probably be affected less. I wouldn't be surprised if you set your location to Slovenia and continued to see a ratio of 90% Slovenia to 10% other visits. As always though, the only way to be sure is to test - you can always set it back if you don't like the results...

Pros said...

Thanks for sharing this nice info. Its really a magnificent information. I think it is a good idea to set this if you are indeed getting most of your business from a certain area as it will boost your listing for that area.

iphone or android said...

Hey this is really a good article. I've been wondering myself about this geotargeting thingy. Not much info around.

Anyways, I too saw a drastic change in traffic volumes after changing from US to unlisted. However, the bounce rate is getting higher as from what showed in my Google Analytics, it seems that now the traffic seems to be coming from non-english speaking countries.

So I guess if you want quality traffic, you really have to specify your country of preference rather than unlisted.

Digital Cupcake said...

Thank you for the great article. I realized that my site's been running on Unlisted for quite sometime and only just switched to US geographic targeting. (Most of our visitors are from US.)
My only concern would be if my page ranks would be neglected on International sites, but I suppose increased visibility to the US audience would make up for the loss.
Only time will tell if/when the changes would start happening but I'm hopeful, after reading your article, that it'd be for the better!
Cheers

Taziex Mobile Blog said...

Thanks for information