In my previous post (Your #1 in Google Is Worthless in The Rest of The World) I highlighted that ranking #1 in Google.com is worth much less than what you think because people outside the US get “diverted” to their local Google. Thus, the fact that one scores #1 in google.com does NOT mean that you will rank everywhere as #1 – in my research I found companies that topped the ranking in google.com completely disappeared from the radar chart when searching (in English!) in the local Google sites.

Interestingly, after examining the results in some of the local googles, I started seeing a trend in the local results, which you might  use to your advantage. Now, this is not a scientific study, as the sampling (only 9 local Google sites and 4 keywords) is not sufficient to perform a detailed analysis. But you can call it an educated guess based on available information.

Search for cars in Google India

Search for cars in Google India (Click on image for greater size)

Apparent Google geo-targeting ranking

Ok, so it’s not scientific. But these are the conclusions I found when looking at the different first pages over 9 different sites (all in English):

  1. Local specifically geo-targeted results on the first page amount to 40-60% of the total.
  2. Around 30% are from sites that have no localization or geo-targeting characteristic (e.g., phone numbers)
  3. The rest seem to be sites which, though ranking relatively good (from second page onwards) in Google.com have a significant number of local links

How are local sites detected?

Here we are on somewhat more firm ground, as some of the information has been published in the Google Webmaster Forum:

“Yes, we do try to find context from these two factors (TLD & server IP) … however, if your site has a geographic TLD/ccTLD (like .co.nz) then we will not use the location of the server as well. Doing that would be a bit confusing, we can’t really “average” between New Zealand and the USA… At any rate, if you are using a ccTLD like .co.nz you really don’t have to worry about where you’re hosting your website, the ccTLD is generally a much stronger signal than the server’s location could ever be. ”

I have also detected that at least Google detects other signals within the text, such as the country name, city names, addresses and international dialing codes. Now, that might not be the most important factor, but I am convinced that such information is also used for geo-targeting, and might be a reason for your site appearing or not appearing on a certain regional Google site.

The interesting point is that as Google performs strong geo-targeting of its results, you might want to use it to your advantage. There are two possibilities here, one is that you actually want to specifically target a certain market, and the other that you do not want to target a specific market but rather want to retain your ranking also in the regional Google search engines.

Targeting local searches

Thus, when you actually WANT To perform some geo-targeting, then you can use the following tricks (in order of importance):

  • Publish your location in Webmaster Tools
  • Use a geographic ccTLD
  • Use a local server in the region you are targeting
  • Get local incoming links, and in particular list your site in regional directories
  • Make sure the content sends signals about your regional information, such as country names, city names, local addresses and international dialing codes

How NOT to disappear from local searches

Again, the sampling base is not sufficient to consider this  as scientific evidence (and it might change with the next algorithm change anyhow), but based on the information I collected in my experiments, I’ve found that the sites that DO stay in the regional Googles present the following characteristics:

  • Probably they have not been targeted with the Google Webmaster tools
  • They are TLDs, and not ccTLDs
  • They are general, truly global, and do not display regional information and if they do, it is about many countries/locations
  • They are multilingual, thus sending strong signals about multi-regional presence
  • They have local incoming links, denoting local presence

Curiously, even the big players stumble on these points, so you have a real chance to get to #1. For example, amazon.de scores quite well for cars in Google Germany (google.de). However, in Google Austria (google.at) Amazon does not appear on the first page for this keyword! Yes, I’m talking about Amazon. And that despite the fact that Germany and Austria share a border and even the same language. But the advantage of having a “.de” ccTLD allows Amazon.de to score well in Germany, but penalizes it in Austria.

Ranking #1 in local search engines

Often it is not possible to rank #1 in Google or other global search engines. However, apart from the fact that competition is not so strong in regional search engines, local targeting can have a dramatic boost on your local ranking, and not performing it might on the other hand make your site completely disappear from the regional SERPs, even if ranking well in google.com. Even some regional targeting by big players (see the Amazon example above) is so sloppy that you can beat them without too much effort.

And I left out the best for the end: Lately Google is showing several results for a same site if it finds those results valuable. During my research I found out that this is also true when searching on the “other” Googles, so your single score could multiply into two or three different results locally!

Call the regional results niche results, if you want. But you want traffic, don’t you? Then ignore the regional search engines at your own risk. You thought the world turned around Google.com? Wrong! Most of the searches around the world are not performed there! Targeting the regional engines at the same time as the global ones is the smart move to do. You may perhaps not rank #1 on Google.com, but perhaps you are No. 1 in many, many other regional sites if your competitors are not as smart as you!

Skeptic? Well, let me put it this way: Do you prefer a #5 in google.com (where you will get barely 2-3% of the traffic) or a #1 in Google India and Google China (where you’ll get 50-60% of the traffic)? And where do you think there are MORE potential customers?

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