There are many reason you need to carefully consider how you choose to geo-target your website, and there are different ways of looking at it. From a marketing point of view, we want to know how Google and other crawlers interpret what you are doing and why. In other words, we look at it from a technical point of view. However, when a customer comes to us, they look at it from a user point of view. An issue often arises when a webmaster is presented with restrictions of who you can and can’t sell to, often caused by distributor agreements for products.

There are many ways to geo-target a website, from IP geo-targeting to using HTML mark-ups on a website. While some of it is Google friendly, some of it is very unfriendly; generally, it’s the more forceful methods that can cause the issues.

Getting it wrong can cause very big issues for a website, and not understanding what you have done can make it a lasting issue. Below I have run through some of the areas that need to be considered and some areas that should be completely disregarded.

All websites are different; if geo-targeting is something that you feel you need more help on, then get in touch with our team.

Think of Who You’re Geo-Targeting

If different parts of your website target different countries, then ensure the content and currency is native to the country in question. This sounds like a very basic piece of advice, but people using English content to target foreign speaking countries is very common. Your website will not rank for German search terms in Germany if your content is in English!

If you have a well-optimised UK website and someone in Germany searches for your product in English, then your UK website can rank for that search term.

Below you can see an example map from Analytics that highlights where the users have come from. If you have a large number of visits from a different country, then check it out further and it might be recommended to launch in that country.

geo-targeting your website

What Platform Should I Use?

A question to ask at the very start of a campaign is what platform should be used. If you are an online retailer selling your products online, then Magento would be the only platform I would recommend. The multi-store, multi-national features and out of the box functionality makes it a no-brainer when you are planning a multi-national campaign.

Using Magento gives you the choice of setting up the different countries on different domains, sub domains or sub-folders. Read on the next section for more info on what this means!

If you have a brochure or lead generation website, then Magento isn’t your only option. WordPress does have a little known and little used multi-site function. It’s another option for multi-lingual websites if you are not a retailer.

Separate Domains vs Sub Domains V Sub Folders

The first decision to make when creating a multi-national online presence is how you’re going to manage this. Will there be one central manager that updates and controls all countries? Will each country have their own manager? Do you own the country code domain for each country you want?

Choosing which domain type to use and the recommendations that can be given will depend very much on the product you are selling.

If you are a retailer selling consumable goods or general merchandise, then you would lean more towards the ccTLD (country code top-level domain) structure which gives people trust in a localised website.

If your product is tech based, or consumed digitally, then the user may not favour localised domains because they know that tech and online services can be delivered from any country.

Using ccTLD

A country code top-level domain can work very well in different regions but can often be harder to manager and maintain.  Examples of a ccTLD would be:

  • www.example.co.uk – UK
  • www.example.de – Germany
  • www.example.es – Spain

If you are already an established company that’s expanding, then its not always quite so straight forward to get your exact URL with a different ccTLD, but this isn’t always an issue.

The benefits of using a ccTLD is that it instantly makes the users trust you more, because you have a localised domain. If you are a user in the UK, you can trust a .co.uk domain is for a local company and this is a factor that can go a long way.

ccTLD is also a good option if each territory is controlled and managed separately. If you are using multi-store technology then it can work from a central location.

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Sub Domain

To be able to use sub domains to separate countries, you need to have a domain that doesn’t indicate a location, for example, .com, .net. .org are all suitable domains for using sub domains. The reason for this, is that a .co.uk targeting Germany is not going to rank.

You don’t often see sub domains used to separate countries anymore, but that’s more because of the current trend as opposed to the wrong approach to take. Sub domains will work well if you have separate installs for each country on each sub domain.

Examples of sub domains by country are:

  • uk.example.com – UK
  • de.example.com – Germany
  • es.example.com – Spain

If the reasons you have for using sub domains are valid ones, then it’s a choice that can work, however its not the choice I would recommend. This is due to the time it would take to manage separate sites on sub domains.

Sub Folders

Sub folders are the method of choice for most of the high profile multi-national brands; everyone from Samsung, to Apple, to Nike and more all use sub folders to separate out the various languages and markets for their website.

When you use the sub folders, you have the choice to separate them out by country e.g.

  • /uk/
  • /de/
  • /es/

or some webmasters go more granular and identify the country and the language that is being targeted e.g.

  • /en-gb/ – UK English
  • /de-de/ – German in Germany
  • /fr-ca/ – French Speaking Canadians

If you need to identify and target different speaking languages within the same country, then I would recommend the later structure.

HTML Lang Tag

In addition to the URL structure, developers can and should also use the Lang tag when building websites. Using a Lang tag indicates to Google the language of the page, which again is a further indication in the relevance of the website. You can also use language and country codes in the mark-up.

  • <html lang=”en-gb”> – UK English
  • <html lang=”de-de”> – German in Germany
  • <html lang=”fr-ca”> – French Canadian

HTML

Search Console

Another crucial step to geo-targeting your website is the geo-targeting tool in Google Search Console. As with all signal points, Google looks at it as a mere recommendation on where to rank your website and its not a strict instruction. However, I’m yet to see an example of Google ignoring or doing something different to what Google Search Console settings say.

However you choose to separate the language variations on your website, it’s vital that all variations are added to Webmaster Tools as a separate website. If you choose individual URLs, this is simple. If you choose sub domains, add each domain and again this is simple. If you split the site using sub folders, then add each sub folder separately e.g.

  • www.example.com/en-gb/
  • www.example.com/de-de/
  • www.example.com/fr-ca/

By adding each sub folder as a separate website, Google allows you to place settings on each sub folder; for example, www.example.com/de-de/ can have all the settings in place to tell Google that this sub folder of the website is relevant to the German search market.

This is a method we at Digital Next have used with current clients and it works well from a webmaster and SEO point of view.

Redirecting Users

Something that many websites do is to try and redirect a user to the relevant language of the website. This is done based on IP address and can be implemented on the server or at website level.

Redirecting the user isn’t something that we would generally recommend doing. We have seen issues in recent times when a website forcefully redirects a user, and as a result, rankings have been lost because when the redirects are put in place, no thought has been given to bots and crawlers that access your website.

At the moment, Googlebot is detected as an American user which means if you have a .co.uk website and you forcefully redirect American users to your .com website, then Google can no longer access the .co.uk domain and your website drops out of Google.

You could write rules that allows Googlebot into your website as a normal user, but if you redirect American users to the site and not Googlebot (who is an American user) then from a technical point of view, you are cloaking (showing Googlebot one thing and a human user something different).

Use Href Lang Mark-up

The href lang tags appear in the header of your website and simply indicate to Google which other country the page is available for, and what the URL of that page is. Google must see a return tag, so if you have a page in English and you tell Google that its also available in German, then they expect the German page to also indicate the page is available in English.

The code below is highlighting to Google that the webpage “english-uk-page” is also available for French speaking Canadians and Germans.

  • <link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/english-uk-page” hreflang=”en-gb” />
  • <link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/french-canadian-page” hreflang=”fr-ca” />
  • <link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/german-page” hreflang=”de-de” />

This cross referencing of pages should appear on every page of your website that has an alternate language.

Language Selectors

Language selectors are a common method of directing users to the most relevant language of the website. Generally, at the top of the page language selectors will often use flags to indicate different languages. If a user on a website saw a list of flags on a website, most of the time, they would expect and presume that these were language selectors.

geo-targeting your website

Having a language selector like this will help Google understand that your website is relevant for many countries. It will also guide users to the correct version, if for some reason they entered the site through an incorrect language.

Restrict Delivery

If after all the above has been considered, you may still have people on your website that you don’t wish to sell to; for example, you may have a distributor in Germany, so its agreed you wont sell to German people from the UK website.

If this is the case, then simply restrict the postage options. This is a very simple task in most eCommerce systems.

Geo-targeting can be complex but if you have an idea of your end goal, a marketing agency such as ourselves are on hand to ensure it is implemented correctly. With so many factors to consider, it’s an important part of your website and not something that should be overlooked.

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