Home Services Contact Info

Google Webmaster Tools Geo Targeting – Great Idea, But…

Posted in: Google,Search Engine Optimisation by Richard Hearne on January 17, 2008
Internet Marketing Ireland

I’ve been meaning to write about this for quite some time. In my opinion this has the potential to really rock the boat for multi-language, multi-country SEO. In fact had this feature rolled out fully last year it would have been high on my personal ‘Top SEO Stories of 2007′. It is the new Geotargeting function within Google Webmaster Console.

Google Geographic Target Tool
Google Geographic Target Tool

What is Geo Targeting within Google Webmaster Tools?

Released with little fanfare in late 2007, the Geotargeting tool has the potential to change the way companies plan their multi-country SEO strategies. I briefly mentioned the Geo Targeting tool previously, but from the official release:

Starting today Google Webmaster Tools helps you better control the country association of your content on a per-domain, per-subdomain, or per-directory level. The information you give us will help us determine how your site appears in our country-specific search results, and also improves our search results for geographic queries.

So whereas before you had to either use ccTLD or server IP location to inform Google of your preferred country level index, now both of these requirements have become redundant.

WebProNews Video sheds light on goals of tool…

If you watch Mike McDonald’s video interview with Vanessa Fox and Matt Cutts at the PubCon there’s an interesting discussion about the Geo Targeting tool. Here’s the two most relevant lines:

VF:…and a lot of sites have been really wanting this, especially global brands who aren’t able to have a separate domain or a separately hosted site in each country, you know they’ve just got one site that maybe they em, have you know -en, -de, -es, whatever. So now they can go in an specify each of those for their individual countries…
MC:Yeah, we definitely hear, especially big sites that have lots of presence in different countries, but all on one domain – it’s a huge help, because there really wasn’t a solution for that before and now they have a good alternative.

But they neglected to mention one very important issue with the new Geo Targeting tool.

Not Just Beta… Broken Beta

At PubCon Google hosted a ‘Meet The Engineers’ event. I managed to track down not one, not two, but three individuals who work directly on Google Webmaster Tools. I mentioned the bug reports I’ve left on the Google Groups, and mentioned that the tool didn’t seem to be functioning as promoted.

The response? Depending on who I spoke to the tool was either ‘slightly’ broken or ‘really’ broken. And I think this fact is borne out by the complete lack of chatter from people who’ve successfully benefited from the Geo Targeting tool. Of course no official proclamation on this from Google as of yet.

I fully believe that this tool will become fully operational, and when it does it will have profound affects on many organic niches, most especially so in Google’s country level search properties.

How To Use

I’m pretty sure that this tool will become immensely important. I’m going to put together a small tutorial that explains both who can use the Geo Targeting function (it’s not available to everyone), and how to use the tool to best effect on your site. If you’re interested in this tutorial you can sign up to my feed and be alerted as soon as it’s published.

You should subscribe to the RSS Feed here for updates.
Or subscribe to Email Updates now:


  1. Hmm – interesting stuff. Can you expand a little bit on how it’s broken? Does it flat out not work or are there just some issues? I was also very excited about the launch of this tool when it came out (as was any SEO outside of the US I think!) but I’ve yet to properly test it.

    Do you think changing it while the tool is still ‘broken’ could have any negative impact? Catch me on email if you don’t want to chat here.


    Comment by Tom — January 17, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  2. I’d be interested in that tutorial alright. How will we know it safe to use it and that it is “fixed”? Hope it’s not long! I’ll keep an eye out for the tutorial. Thanks for the info.

    Comment by David Behan — January 17, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  3. Hi Tom

    Broken as in not having the desired effect. I’ve heard isolated reports of the tool working when you change the geo target of the root domain. But in my experience geo targeting either sub-domains or sub-folders has had zero effect.

    There are also some reports of this damaging rankings, but these are very unconfirmed. I think the advice I’d give currently to anyone looking at using the tool is to ‘wait and see’. I’m sure they’ll crack it, but currently it’s not having the desired outcome at all.

    Thanks for dropping by Tom :grin:

    Comment by Richard Hearne — January 17, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

  4. I tried it and swear that it damaged my site’s rankings. I would urge everyone NOT to use it. What’s also strange is that I can now no longer edit what I’d previously entered into this tool.

    Comment by Roberto — January 17, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  5. ccTLD or server IP location to inform Google of your preferred country level index, now both of these requirements have become redundant.
    you think this is really the case ?,once tool is working properly of course,seems complete turn around from debate we were having two months ago on the benifits of cctld and ip,

    Comment by mick — January 17, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  6. @ David – I’ll pop up a detailed tutorial and tips post in the next few days.

    @Roberto – if you want to discuss this off record please drop me a mail info [at] redcardinal dot ie. I’d be interested to hear more about this.

    @Mick – this is a very fundamental change indeed. But I think it will affect multi-country sites more than small sites. But this is a good example of how things change a lot in the SEM world – what we discuss 2 months ago can become very irrelevant very quickly :grin:

    Comment by Richard Hearne — January 17, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  7. true

    Comment by mick — January 17, 2008 @ 5:40 pm

  8. I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on how this tool can be correctly used.

    There are going to be many concerns with duplicated content with the delivery of multi-language sites, especially those with user generated content.

    Do you think Google are going to improve the manner in which they filter duplicated content and maybe provide a way for webmasters to select which is the preferred language of the content when accessed by a user from a specific country/IP/referrer/browser language..

    Comment by Cormac — January 18, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  9. Any news on that tutorial, Richard?

    Comment by glengara — February 25, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  10. Richard – Just for the record, have seen some good results using the GEO targeting tool. Has taken around 5 months.

    Comment by Kevin — July 22, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

  11. Hi Kevin

    Thanks for that. I’ve worked on a number of multi-territory sites now using this tool, and I’ve seen the results myself first-hand.

    Just looking now, and it seems like I really should write up a post about how I’ve ued the tool, and some of the experiences I’ve had.


    Comment by Richard Hearne — July 22, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

  12. Hello Richard

    Have decided to take the plunge on translating the site. The improvenment in UK SERP’s has given me the nudge.

    Just wondered what you would recommend in terms of sub domains or sub folders. The site is being translated into German/Frech/ Italian/Spanish. Duplicate content shouldn’t be a problem.

    Comment by Kevin — September 29, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  13. Hi Kevin

    It all depends on your site TBH. In general I’d probably go with sub-folders, unless your site has a lot of authority to pass to sub-domains.

    Best of luck with it – I reckon you’ll get a good return on this if you get it right.

    Best rgds, and thanks for dropping by again,

    Comment by Richard Hearne — October 1, 2008 @ 3:03 am

  14. [...] global sites to appear ‘local’ in Google country-level SERPs. I first wrote about the Geotargeting tool back in January [...]

    Pingback by Google Testing GWT Geotargeting – Wholesale Changes In Organic Geotargeting Coming? - Red Cardinal — August 3, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

Comments Feed TrackBack

Leave a comment