SEO For Regional Domains

Sep 8th

Webmasters are often faced with the problem of how to approach SEO on websites which have a country-specific focus. As you may have noticed, the search engine results pages on Google's geo-targeted search services frequently display different rankings than those you experience on Google.com. 

If you run a few queries on, say, Google.com.au, you'll soon notice distinct regionalization patterns. In order to make search results more relevant to local audiences, Google uses different sorting methodologies than those used on Google.com.

Here is a guide to optimizing sites for the different regional flavors of Google.

Country Specific Local SEO Tips

  1. Get a local domain extension:  Google places a lot of weight on the domain name, so it is important to get the appropriate country-code domain extension. If you compare results across the different geo-targeted flavors of Google, you'll notice the weight given to the local TLDs. There are exceptions, but the local TLD tends to trump .com when it comes to local result sets. Different countries have different registration criteria for domain resitration. It is fairly easy to register a co.uk or a .co.nz, whilst a .com.au can involve setting up a business entity in Australia. 
  2. Specify your country association in Google Webmaster ToolsGoogle Webmaster Tools offers a facility whereby you can specify a country association for your content. You can do this on a domain, sub-domain and directory level. More detailed instructions can be found on Google's Webmaster Tools Blog.
  3. Include local contact information: Specify a local address, business name, and local contact phone numbers. Whilst not critical in terms of ranking, every little bit helps, and by including local information, the site becomes more credible to a local audience. 
  4. Local hosting: Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers as to whether the geographic location of the web host makes a difference in terms of ranking. I have .com.au, .co.nz, and .co.uk sites, hosted on US servers, and they rank well on the appropriate local versions of Google. Other people feel that location-based hosting is a must. Still others say the location of the name server is most important! It's fair to say that if you have a choice between hosting locally and hosting offshore, then it might pay to host locally. It certainly can't hurt, and there might be additional benefits, such as increased download speed. If you go this route, one thing to check is the servers physical location. Often, web hosts have a local office, but their servers are located in a different country. Use an IP lookup tool to determine the exact location of a server. 
  5. Spelling & Language: Ensure you use the appropriate spelling for your chosen region. There is a difference between "optimization" and "optimisation". Keep in mind that searchers will use the local vernacular. For example, if you are optimizing a travel site in the US, you might use the term "vacation". However, searchers in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, amongst others, tend to use the term "holiday". 
  6. Tone: Copy that works well in one geographic location may not work in another.  For example, the sales language used in the US is usually more direct than that typically used in the UK, Australia or New Zealand. Familiarize yourself with local approaches to marketing, or engage local copywriters.     
  7. Inbound links: Seek out local links. All links are good, but inbound links from local TLDs are even better. Approach your local chamber of commerce, friends, suppliers, government agencies, business partners, and local industry groups and ask them for links.
  8. Local directories: Get your site listed in local directories. Local directories still feature well in geo-targeted search results as the depth of content, in terms of sheer volume, isn't as great in the local TLD space as that published on .com. Obviously, you stand to gain from the local traffic that the directories send your way, and any local link juice the directory may pass on.  Here are some top local directories:
  • The local Yellow Pages i.e. Yellow Pages Australia, Yellow Pages New Zealand, and Yell (UK). Keep in mind that some of these directories may not pass link juice, however you can weigh this factor against their value in terms of local reach. You could also seek listings in the regional sections of the following global directories: DMOZ, Yahoo, and BestOfTheWeb.
  • Recommended regional directories:

  • Scoot.co.uk is a prominent UK business directory.
  • Webwombat.com.au is a comprehensive Australian directory.
  • Te Puna is a government run New Zealand directory.
  • Press releases: Try to come up with a local angle for your press releases, and submit them to local news and information channels. Small, local news outlets are highly likely to run local interest stories, which in turn may help your brand exposure and get you more local links. 
  • Avoid Duplicate content: If you market is in one country, then it makes sense to use the country-code TLD for that country. However, if you target multiple countries, consider creating different content on each domain. Placing the same content on multiple domains may risk duplicate content penalties. 
  • Off-line marketing: Don't forget to get your name out locally. If people search by you by your brand or business name, you'll always be well positioned in the serps. 
  • Have Your Say

    If you have some additional ideas that have worked well for you, please feel free to add them to the comments.

    Published: September 8, 2008

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    Comments

    September 8, 2008 - 4:51am

    Nice list. Based in NZ, local SEO is of high importance.

    I would highly recommend the finda business directory (http://www.finda.co.nz).
    They partnered up with Google late last year to supply business information for Google Maps

    September 8, 2008 - 4:57am

    Webhelp,

    Thanks. Finda is a good one. NZS.com also springs to mind.

    September 8, 2008 - 5:26am

    Would be interested to know what NZ domains you own Peter.. :)

    September 8, 2008 - 6:51am

    'Local directories' is an important concept in local SEO, but its important to find the good ones.
    webwombat is a search engine rather than a directory and spends a lot of time crawling me, but I haven't had a referral from them since July.
    comeonaussie.com sends better traffic, and, being a directory, doesn't even crawl.

    I remember anzwers used to send me traffic, but I haven't seen anything from them in quite a few years. How things change...

    September 8, 2008 - 8:17am

    You are so right about using the country extensions. I spent months trying to get a .com on Google UK – we had great local links, British spelling, address on every page, listed as a UK website on google analytics, the website was even called Wheelchairs Direct UK – and it wasn’t listed. I changed the name to powerchairsdirect.co.uk and it was listed within days. The servers of the hosting company are in Germany, but that didn’t seem to matter.

    September 8, 2008 - 8:44am

    Great post Peter. Good summary that I will be printing and keeping on file.

    I did want to mention that scoot are not the best directory for the UK - they use very dirty tactics to get businesses to sign up, including threats of removal from Google...

    September 8, 2008 - 8:45am

    Nice summary - thanks.

    My view on the local hosting issue is that it is almost never needed if you have a local cctld, but can be crucial if you have a .com (and don't forget that for smaller businesses, it can be impossible to build content and gather links on multiple cctlds so may want a .com to target US, AU, NZ, UK for example).

    I rarely recommend moving hosting except in the case where the site is appearing to be geotargeted somewhere it shouldn't (e.g. UK-based site hosted in US that is ranking in the US and not in the UK).

    September 8, 2008 - 11:17am

    I run a local directory, Stiff Upper List. Points 3 and 5 will definitely help you with point 8: I, and most other niche directory editors get so many inappropriate websites suggested that they often outnumber the on-topic ones. Make it clear where you're from and you'll get listed faster.

    Directory editors also prefer to see an address because it's a signal of trust on business websites.

    September 8, 2008 - 11:44am

    What if it's the same website translated in different languages?

    How would you optimize it to rank in different countries?

    Would a ".com" domain extension suffice?

    September 8, 2008 - 12:09pm

    It's a tricky one - being an SEO from the UK, I've always thought that the IP location of a site is significantly more important than the local domain extension.

    If you have a local IP (and submitted the domain origin in Google Webmasters central) for a .com, my view is that this would only be marginally less effective for rankings than if you used a .co.uk. Of course there are pros and cons to both and it sounds like I may be somewhere off on this assumption with response to Aaron's posts and others that I have read recently.

    Pros for .co.uk, apart from rankings include a higher click though rate from you targted geographically location. However this has a flip side, especially if you are appealing to non-search engine traffic as users in the US or Austrailia are likely to perceive a .co.uk as being less relevant than a .com and less likely to use or enter the site.

    So its not always an easy question to answer. It depends on your goals and how much weighting Google gives domain specific tlds. Although I am uncertain on the actual weighting for domain tlds, difficult to prove one way or the other.

    September 8, 2008 - 3:06pm

    I've only worked on 3 sites internationally, most notably for the USA (I'm a UK SEO), of which one client wanted to target multiple countries. When I found out the site was in Korean, German, French and Italian, I took a mighty gulp!

    As far as I'm aware Avalon, a site in multiple languages is not regarded as duplicate content in Google's terms and conditions, although I've just checked and can't see it although I'm pretty sure that's the case.

    Providing a site in multiple languages isn't being deceptive so there's no reason for search engines to either.

    September 8, 2008 - 5:06pm

    How many people buy hosting from [local] folks they know vs researching it all and buying online? My site is hosted with dreamhost and I rank for "SEO" in Google.ca, at the time of this writing...

    Anyways, while I've learned a lot from participating at your v7n forums, Peter, this post was a total rehash of what's already published in a variety of places. I'd like to challenge you (in a friendly way) to write more original material for future content.

    September 8, 2008 - 10:18pm

    Thanks for your feedback and suggestions :) :)

    When it comes to directories, there are endless possibilities. I've always felt that the only way to know for sure if directories are worth it is to test 'em, and so long as the ROI is positive, keep using 'em. That ROI figure is going to be different for everyone.

    >>this post was a total rehash of what's already published in a variety of places

    Sure :) There's little new under the SEO sun, eh. However, there will always be people coming to this topic for the first time.

    I accept your challenge, though....

    September 11, 2008 - 10:08am

    although more expensive than .com , i invest on good .ph domains like webdesigner.ph and programmer.ph

    many of the local clients i worked was glad to know that my sites are easy to remember because of the keywords. :)

    September 25, 2008 - 7:01pm

    Aaron,

    re: "Get a local domain extension:"

    We're based in Costa Rica currently with a .com extension. Our target audience are English speaking website owners in Costa Rica. Your telling me that it's best to buy .CR version of site.

    Are there any major implications from this to consider? Will this help our results for people searching around the world using keywords that are targeted to SEO services in Costa Rica?

    For example, say I'm German citizen currently residing in Germany. I own and operate a real estate company in San Jose Costa Rica and I know I want some consulting on SEO. If I search for Costa Rica SEO consultant will www.google.de treat www.breaklinemarketing.cr with higher consideration than www.breaklinemarketing.com?

    I think I get the point that www.google.cr will treat .cr version of my site better.

    Thanks,

    BLM

    September 25, 2008 - 9:50pm

    If your target audience is the US then using a .com is just fine.

    September 26, 2008 - 5:57am

    Well our audience is really any one in the world looking for a company based in Costa Rica.

    I'm also interested in dealing with people based here. This way I'm able to meet them in person. So by the post recommendation I should buy .CR. However will the .CR help influence search results for Costa Rica specific terms for people searching anywhere in the world.

    Make sense?

    January 3, 2009 - 7:50pm

    Local directories are incredibly important if you operate a local/regional business. You will probably notice a big trade-off between traffic quantity and quality though as I have. Yellow Pages are still worthwhile although expensive. See this link for some primary research on trends for local searches.

    January 9, 2009 - 3:43pm

    I recommend you read a few advertisers reviews before anyone going with Scoot.co.uk - yes they are prominent, local, good PageRank.
    But none of the advertisers had a good experience with them in these reviews - and they sound like your typical aggressive sales/low response local directory:

    http://www.ciao.co.uk/scoot_co_uk__Review_5731099

    http://www.ciao.co.uk/scoot_co_uk__Review_5726535

    http://www.ciao.co.uk/scoot_co_uk__Review_5173158

    Be very wary of expensive local directories. Often you get little or no link benefits - and the cost per click/lead is WAY above Google Ads (I got murdered on Yell.com last year.)

    March 13, 2009 - 6:39pm

    Hi,
    Very nice post.
    I have one concern and would appreciate your views on this…
    If you have both .com and .co.uk with the same content won’t you get penalized by google as duplicate content ?
    In our case we have a .com site doing very well on google.com but is nowhere to be found in google uk…. That is not good for us as our main target is uk clients…
    We already have a .co.uk and I would like to know how to go about it? Shall we do a 301 redirect from the .com to the uk?
    Your views will be highly appreciated
    Best regards

    May 7, 2009 - 12:26am

    What is the best way to approach ranking well in google.com but in the US?

    Should one use a .us domain or how do you indicate to Google that your domain is local? Would that be via webmaster central?

    Is it as easy to rank locally in the US as it is in other countries or is it more difficult because they don't have a distinction between international and local rankings the way other countries do (for e.g. in Australia we can use google.com.au or the international version google.com)?

    May 7, 2009 - 1:28am

    If you want specific answers to your SEO questions feel free to ask them in the member forums.

    July 20, 2009 - 3:00pm

    I need help on this one: best-seo-optimization-tips.co.uk/ says that webmaster geographic settings mostly dont work. It seems to be that the location of the web host is the only real factor for Google in order to determine the location of a site. Can anyone help me out on this?

    July 21, 2009 - 1:03am

    If you want specific answers to your SEO questions feel free to ask them in the member forums.

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