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Search engines try to optimize their user experience by tailoring the search results to each user’s location. The way they achieve this is by indexing each website’s location and incorporating this data into their complex search algorithms, which processes over 200 attributes of each website to calculate how it will be ranked in each geographic location’s search results.

The idea is that a local restaurant located in a small suburban village in New York, USA should not appear in the search results of someone from London, UK even if the search query matches the restaurant’s name exactly because chances are, this person is looking for a restaurant with the same name located in London, UK.

This poses a problem for websites that have geographically diverse content such as a global directory, classifieds website or marketplace, which can contain content covering a wide array of cities and countries.

To solve this problem, some webmasters use country-specific domains such as xyz.com for USA, xyz.co.uk for UK, xyz.ca for Canada etc. The advantage is that it becomes easier to make the website rank high in every country by targeting each country with a dedicated domain. The downside is the significantly higher costs of maintenance and SEO. Webmasters will have to maintain multiple websites and carry out separate SEOs for each domain.

Without adopting this method, SEO becomes more tricky but not impossible. (Think Wikipedia.org, which has only one domain).

It is almost impossible for search engines to rank your website exactly according to the geographic distribution of your content. For example, if 30% of your content is from the UK and 70% from the US, don’t expect your search engine traffic to consist of exactly 30% UK visitors and 70% US visitors.

In reality, search engines will always assign one particular country with more weight. This could be the country where most of your content originates, where the server is hosted, the country of your domain affiliation, the country providing the most inbound links or even the country of your residence.

There are ways you can augment how search engines index your website such as adding rich snippets or using location meta tags but increase in traffic from one location will almost certainly mean a decrease in another location given your website’s perceived importance to the search engines is the same.

Let’s say you are getting 80% of your traffic from the UK and only 20% from the US but the content is roughly 50% UK and 50% US. Your US content is therefore under optimized and you want to see more traffic from the US. You can mark up your content with rich snippets and location meta tags, which will help search engines identify the geographic location of your content.

However, what might happen is that as search engines re-assign the geographic weighting of your content, your UK traffic will decline by 50% while your US traffic will increase by 100%, which will result in a net 20% decline in your overall traffic because the proportion of your UK traffic was so high to start with. While a doubling of your US traffic is absolutely fantastic, the end result is probably not what you wanted.

If you do not want to separate your site into different geographically based domains, then you need to focus on increasing your website’s overall perceived importance. Take Wikipedia.org for example. It ranks consistently high across all geographic locations and local search queries, beating locally optimized websites because its perceived overall importance is so high.


Dawson Gao is a member of lacartes.com – an online community that helps people find local businesses, meet new friends and search for jobs.

He has written numerous articles about SEO and internet marketing and regularly advices small businesses on e-commerce and free
online marketing techniques.

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