This article was first published on May 2nd, 2016, and was last updated in July 2021.
Google strives to provide the best and most relevant results to its users, which means that search results will vary from country to country.
While some informational websites or larger companies may be international, the majority of companies serve a single geographic location. This location could be as big as the entire United States or as small as a single neighborhood. A restaurant in Miami is not likely to show up when a person in Los Angeles is looking for a place to eat because it is not relevant. Likewise, search engines are less likely to see a website set for the United Kingdom as relevant for a user in the United States.
In this article, we will dive into why international targeting on Google Search Console is important, what factors Google takes into account to determine a location, and the process of targeting a country in the search console. Let’s get started!
Why is International Targeting on Google Search Console Important?
The world is a big place. Because of this, without knowing or selecting a certain area or location in mind, certain things could be taken out of context. Not all words and phrases mean the same thing from country to country.
Take the term ‘football’ for example. In America, we think of football as a sport that includes using your hands, throwing around a diamond shaped “pigskin” ball, and kicking field goals. The image below is a screenshot of what shows up on Google search in America for ‘football’.
However, in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world, football is an entirely different sport. If you were to ask someone from the UK about how they would describe ‘football’, they would probably describe it as a sport that only involves using your feet to kick a spherical ball across a pitch (another word for field). While both ‘football’ sports have a large popularity in each country, they are very different from each other. Compared to the result when searching for ‘football’ in America, the image below is a search result for the same term but in the United Kingdom instead. Two very different results.
This example shows that even though a topic or sport may seem universal or known to all individuals on it’s meaning, location makes a big difference in the overall context and meaning of a word or terms.
When an individual searches for something in SERPs, location needs to be a factor taken into account. In this way, search engines, such as Google, will have a better way of understanding the user and their surroundings to help find what they are looking for. This also helps from a local SEO perspective as well to help users in their nearby locations.
In certain instances, a person could be located in one country while targeting another. Pretend that I own a vacation rental in Vancouver, Canada. I want to target people in the US that are going on vacation to Vancouver. Setting the location in Search Console to the United States would notify Google of my interest in targeting the American tourist. Overall, internationally targeting countries in Google Search Console is an important and valuable factor for you to consider.
How Does Google Determine the Location?
There are a few different ways in which search engines, such as Google, determine the location of your website. If not notified within Search Console, most of the time Google will look at the website’s country domain (.uk, .au, .ca, etc.). Some country codes are considered generic or international, such as .com, .org and .edu. In these instances, Google will try to pull IP addresses, links, location details from the website, and information from local Google My Business pages.
However, John Mueller discussed two different ways you could determine the location of your site for search engines to see.
- The first one is by using a ccTLD (country code top level domain).
- The second is by using a generic top-level domain and also additionally utilizing the international targeting report in Google Search Console.
What is a ccTLD?
A ccTLD is a country code top-level domain that uses two-letter codes to indicate to users and search engines what country, region, or territory their website is registered in. This is shown at the end of a URL link address. Some examples of ccTLDs are .us (United States), .uk (United Kingdom), .ca (Canada), .de (Denmark), .sg (Singapore), .cn (China), etc. Using a ccTLD helps target an international location and helps search engines recognize the specific country you’re targeting.
What is a generic top-level domain?
Using a generic top-level domain while also using the international targeting report in Google Search Console is also another great option. Doing it this way will produce the same results as adding a ccTLD. When your site already has a generic top-level domain (such as .com, .org, etc.) adding a specific country into Google Search Console helps search engines determine which countries are most important to you. If you use a country-coded domain, you won’t be able to specify a geographic location in more detail. You can specify a target country in the International Targeting report.
Along with some changes to how international targeting is determined by search engines, John Mueller further discussed hosting requirements. He noted that hosting in the targeted country was a requirement in the past, but is no longer required. Google used to use the hosting location as a way to guess which country the website might be targeting. However, he said it’s not used like that anymore. For those worried that you might need to have hosting in the same country you’re trying to target, you don’t have to worry about it.
How Do I Internationally Target a Country in Search Console?
To remove any doubt and confusion about which country to target, let Google know which country is relevant for your business. In the International Targeting report there are two tabs that help you monitor your hreflang errors, or help you choose a country to target your search results on. These tabs are:
- The Language Tab: This tab helps monitor the usage and errors of hreflang tags on your site. Once Google has had the time to crawl your pages, this tab helps go over any errors that were detected with language and hreflang errors.
- The Country Tab: This tab helps set a site-wide country target for your entire site, if desired. This setting is ONLY for geographic data. For example, if you have a site in French that you want users in France, Canada, and Mali to read, don’t use this tool to set France as a geographic target. A good example of where it would be useful is for a restaurant website: if the restaurant is in Canada, it’s probably not of interest to folks in France. But if your content is in French and is of interest to people in multiple countries/regions, it’s probably better not to restrict it.
When it comes to the new Google Search Console international targeting option for your website, the country tab is where you will select all of your preferences.
Start in the toolbar for Search Console. Then click on “Legacy tools and reports” and then on “International Targeting.”
Once you’re on the International Targeting report, click the country tab. Next, you will be prompted to check the Geographic target checkbox (“Target users in”) and choose a country to target. If you wish to stay unassociated with a country, select “Unlisted” from the drop-down menu.
The last step is to click the “Save” button to save your preferences on what countries you would like to internationally target.
Is International Targeting Something You Should Be Doing?
Setting the correct country to target in Search Console is a simple step that ensures that your website is not penalized for an incorrect and irrelevant target country. As always, to achieve best possible keyword rankings, take care of the simple steps and see your results improve little by little.
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