"We have a website hosted on a server located in the USA but our website targets the UAE region."
"We are based out of India but we want website visitors from Dubai."
"We have 2 separate sections on the website for 2 separate countries and we want Google to show the right section to the people from the respective countries."
"We have business operations in multiple countries and have separate websites for each country. How do we tell Google which website is for which country?"
"We want to expand our operations to several countries in the near future. Is it feasible to keep creating new websites for each country?"
As a leading digital agency in India for the past 16+ years, these are some of the questions we often hear from our clients and potential customers. So, how do we address these issues? let's dig into the details.
Google as a leading search engine uses several signals on the website and some external factors to determine which region or locale the website targets. And it is successful in most cases. No wonder why Google is the most trusted search platform.
As a website owner, you have the choices - either leave it to Google to figure out which of your pages or website target which region or tell Google which is which.
If you leave it to Google, it would work in most cases but it could take weeks, months or years before Google comes to the right conclusion. But if you tell Google explicitly, it is as quick as just a few days.
Google depends on the following signals and directives to decide which country the website targets:
1. Country-code based Top Level Domain (ccTLD): This is a strong signal to Google. If your website uses a ccTLD (country-specific domain), that gives a clear indication to Google that your website targets that particular region. For example, SpiderWorks uses ".IN" ccTLD (www.spiderworks.in) for the website targeting India region and ".AE" ccTLD (www.spiderworks.ae) for the website targeting UAE region. In this case, from the domain name itself, Google can understand which website targets which country.
If you have one or more websites targeting specific countries, you can go for ccTLD based domain names. However, there is a disadvantage. If you plan to expand your website to target multiple countries in future, the ccTLD based domain will become a barrier.
Google treats some vanity ccTLDs like .TV, .ME etc as global domains due to the increased use by global websites considering them as special domains rather than country-specific domains. However, Google has not published any official list of such vanity domains and it would be a risk for website owners to trust on such ccTLDs to host their websites not meant for the specific countries associated with such ccTLDs. For example, an Indian television website may use .TV country specific domain name and based on the current algorithm, Google may still consider that website as an Indian website even though the ".TV" is the ccTLD of Tuvalu'. However, there is no guarantee that Google will continue to consider .TV as a global domain name.
2. Search Console: Use International targeting on Search Console to tell Google which country your website targets. If you specify the target country in the search console, it is a definitive signal to Google about your target locale and in most cases, Google would consider that as a deciding factor. However, keep in mind that just because you chose a target locale, your website won't start appearing in search results in that country. All other ranking factors would be still applicable and your website would rank in your target country only if it ranks based on Google ranking algorithms.
3. Hreflang statements: The Hreflang statements are used on websites to mention which version of the website is targeted for which region. This is applicable only if you have different versions of the content for different regions. For example, we www.spiderworks.in targeting India and www.spiderworks.ae targeting UAE. If you look at the source of both the pages, you can see the effective use of Hreflang attributes in both the sites to clearly indicate to Google which site targets which country.
4. Google My Business listing: Verified Google My Business listings are strong indicators to Google regarding the target location of a website. If you are targeting multiple countries, try to create Google My Business listings in each of your target locations and link those business listings to the most relevant page of your website.
5. Location Clues: When Google can't determine the accurate locale of the target audience based on other signals, then it looks for other clues like address mentioned in the website, phone numbers, currency, local language used in the site, the location of the websites that link to the particular website etc. However, keep in mind that these are week signals that give clues to Google regarding the locale and are not definite indicators.
6. Server location: The location of your web server is a weak signal for Google to determine the target audience. Many websites are hosted on foreign servers and a lot of other websites use cloud-based delivery of content which often delivers content from different locations. So, Google can't really trust the location of the server as a key deciding factor. If there are no other clear indication of the target location of the website, then Google would consider the Server location as a factor in concluding the target locale. Google has officially stated that Server location (based on IP address) is a weak signal and not a definite signal of the target locale of the website.
Google has a pretty good resource that talks about the points I mentioned above. Feel free to refer to the latest updates from Google for more insights into how it determines which is the target country of a website.