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Guide to redirection and geolocation SEO

2 minutes

At Geo Targetly, one of our core services is to offer clients geo-based redirection. In most cases, our clients always ask the question ‘How is geo redirecting going to affect my geolocation SEO?’

It is nearing 2019 now and most articles on the web regarding this topic are outdated. Google evolves, Google is getting smarter, Google likes personalization because geo personalization Is a key factor is increasing conversion rate and user experience.

In this article, we will discuss in detail how Google treats geo location based redirection and the guidelines you can follow to ensure minimal impacts on your SEO. Why do global and multi-national companies do geo based redirection?

Automatic geo redirection based on the visitor’s country, state or city can provide a big advantage for global or multi-national companies. This is primarily because it creates an improved browsing experience as visitors are instantly taken to pages that show content relevant to their location. It makes sense, I mean why doesn’t anyone want to see product pricing or available products in their country?

There are two parts to increasing sales 1) Increase the number of visitors to your website and 2) Increase the conversion rate of existing visitors. There has been a large focus on part 2) recently, increasing the conversion rate. This is primarily because this technique is virtually free as it makes use of existing resources on your site. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars getting traffic to your site when the conversion rate is low?

By now you must have seen plenty of big companies and global organisations including Google themselves who use geo based redirection to take visitors to local pages. For example if you type ‘google.com’ in your browser from the UK, it will auto redirect you to ‘google.co.uk’. This is the simplest example of geo based redirection by Google themselves.


How does geo based redirection work?

Geo IP based redirection is the process of automatically redirecting a website visitor by their geolocation (country, state or city). It works by detecting the visitor’s location from their IP address by matching it against a database of IPs and locations.

Who else out there is doing geo based redirection?

Pretty much every global company:

  • - Airbnb.com redirects to the country specific site: Airbnb.co.uk
  • - Uber.com redirects to the country specific sub-page : uber.com/en-GB
  • - Hotels.com redirects to the country specific sub-domain: uk.hotels.com
  • - The list goes on…

Google’s view on geo-based redirection and geolocation SEO

Here is a video from Matt Cutts (formerly head of webspam at Google) who states that geo based redirection is an accepted practice and is not spam. A key point to note in the video is how he mentioned to ensure you treat Google’s crawlers the same way as you would treat a visitor. i.e. don’t disable geo redirection for Google bots. As long as you treat Google the same way as you treat visitors, you will be totally fine.

Google’s locale aware - geo distributed crawling

This link from Google’s support pages talks about how Google utilizes location aware crawling.

Google’s mentions they will crawl your website from IP addresses based outside the USA in addition to the USA-based IP addresses. A critical point they make again is to ‘treat Google bot like you would treat any other user from that country’. So once again don’t try to prevent Google bot from recognizing your geo based redirection.

They also mention to ensure that robots exclusion protocol is consistent for every locale. This means that robots meta tags and the robots.txt file should specify the same directives in each locale.

Googles #1 Guideline – Treat Google Bot Like How You Would Treat Visitors

No matter how much you read about SEO from various sources and from Google itself, the number one key statement emphasized by Google is: ‘Treat Google bot like how you would treat your visitors’.

Google can carry our heavy penalization for showing different content to their bots and visitors. This is also known as ‘cloaking’ and can have severe negative impacts on your SEO.

Hence this statement should be your number one consideration when implementing geo-based redirection for your website.

You can read more about Google's view on cloaking here and watch the video below:

Help Google understand your location based website redirection by using the right SEO techniques

Google mentions that they don’t specifically send crawlers from various countries just to see how your website will look like. Hence it is critical to ensure you do everything you can to tell Google that you are a global or multi national company and have websites or pages that are targeted to specific locations.

The recommend signals Google use are below and can be found here

  • Google search console locale targeting
  • Country code top level domains or location specific URLs
  • Hreflang tags
  • Server location (not definitive)
  • Local content (presence of addresses, phone numbers, country names, currency)
  • Listing in Google My Business or other location specific directories
  • Backlinks from location specific pages

Google’s search console locale targeting

If you jump into Google’s search console previously known as Webmasters tools, you will notice an option that allows you to select a target country for your website. Please make use of this option as it tells Google where your primary audience is located.

If you run multiple country level domains such as example.com, example.co.uk and example.com.au then it is critical to ensure each of these domains are listed as an entity in Google’s search console and they are each targeted to the relevant country.

Using location specific URLs / pages targeted to each location

A key recommendation from Google is to use separate pages that contain the location specific content and have location specific URLs rather than a single page trying to dynamically display location based content.

The reason being, this provides the best ability for Google to crawl and understand each of these pages and individually list them in local search results.

Multiple sites with country level domains

f you are targeting different countries, it is always recommended to use county-specific top level domains (e.g. example.co.uk, example.com.au, example .ca). This is the clearest way to tell Google that your website is targeted to a particular country. If you search from a particular country, the search results are almost certain to show preference to websites that have the country specific top level domain. You can then use geo IP based redirection to auto redirect visitors & Google’s crawlers across these country level domains.

Google will understand that each of your domains are targeted to a particular country and you are sending visitors to the correct country domain based on their location. If Google’s crawlers from the UK land on your example.com site and gets redirected to example.co.uk, it makes perfect sense to Google that a UK visitor gets sent to the UK website.

Multiple sites with country subdomains

However, we understand that purchasing multiple country level domains can be difficult to execute and manage especially when they are not available. Using subdomains such as uk.example.com and au.example.com is another way to execute country based separation.

Subdirectories within the same website

Many companies opt to go down this path as it is easier to manage a single website with a few location specific pages. Another reason for this method is to ‘hold’ all the geolocation SEO value to a single domain rather than spreading it across multiple domains or subdomains.

It is important to setup the subdirectories so that the country name appears just after the domain e.g. example.com/uk or example.com/au. This allows your pages to be ‘segregated’ in the URL structure which enables the country specific page subset to be entered as an entity in Google search console and thus applied with country based targeting option.

Handling duplicate content SEO issues with multiple URLs using the canonical element

One key concern is ‘great, I can create multiple pages easily but what about duplicate content’. Obviously you will get the best result if you can create unique content for each location specific URL. This maybe feasible if you have only a few location specific URLs, however what happens if you have many more?

The solution is to use the rel-canoical element to let Google know the preferred location specific URL. For example you may have example.com/product, example.com/ca/product, example.com/uk/product, you should specific the canocial link as example.com/product. This will tell Google that example.com/product is the original version and the rest are just variations.

You can read about the canonical element and how to use it appropriately from Google's support pages here.

Using local content on each location specific URL

Google ranks pages based on the content in the page. This is fundamental. Hence having location specific content such as country names, phone numbers, addresses, location specific keywords, languages are all going to help Google understand which location your page is targeted to.

Listing in Google My Business

Google provides business listings and this option maybe suitable for certain physical businesses. If you can take advantage of this, create a Google business page for each of your locations. This just provides one more way of telling Google where your website linked to this business is targeted to.

Hreflang tags

Language can be a very good indicator of which country a page is targeted to. If your website contains different languages then utilize hreflang tags as per Google’s guidelines to tell Google each variation of your page.

You can read more about hreflang tags and how to use it appropriately from Google's support pages here.

State & city based geo redirection and SEO

Most of what we have discusses has been with respect to country based geo redirection. However a surprising number of companies also use geo redirection on a state or city level. This is applicable to directory based websites such as real-estate listings, coupons/deals and even franchise based businesses that operate in multiple locations in a country.

When operating geo redirection within a country, caution must be taken as Google does not mention anything about state or city level-based crawling. Almost all of their guidelines are targeted towards country-based redirection.

Google also does not provide their exact state or city for their crawlers in each country so it is impossible to know where exactly the crawler is coming from within a country. We always advise if you are carrying out state or city based redirection, is to ensure you have location specific page URLs for each of these locations. This will allow Google to crawl each of these URLs, understand the content and display these results in local search engines.

For example if operate a plumbing business in multiple states, it is critical to have a page related to each of these states. If the state or city name is in the URL, Google’s ability to understand where this page is targeted to increases. Google is smart on a state & city level. If you look closely at Google search pages, they target your location down to city level and always attempt to show businesses closest to your location.

We also recommend not redirecting the main page of your site to the state base page.

Instead only redirect other pages such as your ‘About Us’, ‘Contact Us’ or product pages. This avoids the possibility of your main page from being recognized as a page belonging to a certain state or city. It is good to keep the main page as general as possible and for it to contain keywords of all the locations you serve.

Still not convinced and don’t want to risk your geolocation SEO?

Don’t worry, there are alternatives if auto geo based redirection is not working for you. Many companies use geo based popups or geo based notification bars to prompt visitors to go to a local page. You can even go as far as using geo based links to post around the web or social media. Geo based links are smart location aware links that can take visitors to the correct website based on their location.

Ready to geo redirect your website?

If you ever need to discuss your website's SEO and how to ensure geo location based redirection will work for you, feel free to get in touch with us and we will be happy to have a chat.

Geo redirection & SEO resources

Below is a list of all resources used in the article along with others you may find useful:

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