One of the major issues with our global online marketplace is the necessity to serve geo targeted content that is dependent on the country that the visitor is searching from. Historically this has caused great challenges with regard to optimisation and organic search. However, Google has today announced that it wants to overcome these difficulties by enabling more multi language sites to rank in its search results, for different languages and countries.
Geo targeting is widely recognised as an accepted feature of most multinational websites and as a feature that naturally improves the users experience by letting them to read the website content in their native and most comfortable language. The problem is that by implementing this vital facility for international visitors it can actually create a barrier that causes search engines real problems when they are crawling for index purposes. The issue is that Google crawls as an American user, from the United States with a California IP address. It follows then that this will trigger the English version of the website alone thereby not allowing the other languages to be crawled and indexed. This means that the potential visitors in other countries and with other languages will find extremely difficult, if not impossible to find that website through their native version of Google, making a search in their native language.
If you have been using geo targeting on your website and have been concerned about the low levels of organic search results from outside English speaking countries then this may well be the issue that you needed to Google to address. Thankfully now they are.
According to Google’s latest announcement on geo targeted websites, The new configurations include;
Geo distributed crawling – Google bot will start to use IP addresses that appear to be coming from countries other than the United States. Google will still also use their original IP addresses that originate from United States.
Language dependent crawl – this is where Google bought would start to crawl a website with “an accepted” language HTTP header in the request.
There is excellent news for website owners in so much that these new geo targeted search crawls will be fully automated by Google and their configurations will be deployed as and when required.
However Google’s recent changes do not mean but you can take your foot off the gas with regard to your usual optimisation procedures. You must make sure that you have optimised your website with the required location and language information. Although we are very pleased to hear of this change to the Google configuration, it must be borne in mind the website owner cannot rely wholly on the good efforts and works other search engine. It also needs to be noted that it is only Google that has made this type of release and the other search engines still remain silent as to how they are dealing with geo targeted websites. Furthermore, this will be the first in the long line of configuration changes for Google in this area and this release must be seen as them taking fledgeling steps to make those improvements.
From our understanding there are four distinct areas of the Geo targeted website that need consideration immediately.
Separate URLs – it is best practice to place that content which is specific to a country or language, into a specific directory and on specific pages within the website. For example, the same product that is available both in England and the United States should have the core language based pages within the same directory but any specific offers, discounts, shipping information, pricing, descriptions, etc should be in separate directories, each specified for the country concerned.
ccTLDs – hosting content in country code top level domains for a specified country and language send a clear message to a search engine as to its crawl. For example, when Google comes across a website with a .de domain it’ll fairly assume that the website will be for German speaking people most likely living in Germany. There is a downside to this though, that being the splitting up of content over multiple sites which can weaken the original and main site by reducing the amount of relevant content that is published through it.
Hreflang – is Google’s preferred method of identifying the country and language for the website. The hreflang tags are embedded within the head of each page and are visible only to crawlers and are also only supported by Google. Bing and other search engines use the meta language tab at present.
Targeting In Webmaster Tools - both Google and Bing have a geographic targeting facility within their respective webmaster tools accounts. Although not a definitive solution it does give both search engines a further level of corroboration when identifying a country and language.
I hope this article has been of some use in light of this news release from Google. As I mentioned within the article Google is taking some fledgeling steps here, albeit that they are much-needed and much overdue.
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