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Geo-targeted SERPs - a hell of a BigDaddy fallout?

 10:37 am on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

We are located in Switzerland, german speaking part.

When doing a general search (using "The Web" Button), I get more and more German, Austrian and Swiss websites on the top SERP, even when looking for a ENGLISH term, for example women.

As this was not the case in the past, I trust the algo meanwhile compares the geographic location of the surfer's ISP** and tries to match it with the geographic location of the sites on their index. I did not investigate any further if this geo-targeting is based on the listed site's IP, TLD or even whois record. So let's call this "a sites geographic profile" (...as interpreted by Google).

If this finding can be confirmed by others, this will cause a major headache for all of us who want to have top ranks to reach an audience not limited or influenced by our site's geographic profile. For those fishing for local traffic, this is a field day.

In other words, when in the past you ranked for your keywords in the top 5 (when using "the web" button), this won't be the case anymore.

The SERPS are now being extremely influenced by the user's geo-profile. Which is in most cases different from yours.

Please try to reproduce this:

To have it language neutral, google (use "the web" button) for "ferrari".

Here i have in the top 10:

7 sites in german
1 site in italian
2 in english

If you have another mix of results, my theory seems to be valid. Google started to not only geo-target the ads it serves, but also the SERP itself.

I hope that my finding can not be reproduced by others. If you can reproduce it, take a deep breath and consider the implications this will increasingly have for your SEO efforts. Take another breath and consider the implication this will have for google itself. Me as Joe Surfer am frustrated with geo-targeted SERPS because in many cases it makes it more difficult for me to find the proper information, because the results are polluted with sites ranking high only because of their geo-profile. If i want geo-targeted results, i use the "my country" or "my language" buttons.

I can imagine that this observation is also an explanation for many other positively or negatively effects discussed in many other threads.

Any feedback on this is highly appreciated.

Thank you.


**or even worse, his/her geo-profile as determined by Googlebar/gMail settings or cookies or what ever

[edited by: engine at 5:01 pm (utc) on Feb. 20, 2006]



 6:37 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are you "logged in" to your Google account when you see this kind of result?


 6:47 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

More importantly, are you blocking all google cookies? If you aren't you are essentially 'logged into your google account'.

In almost every thread that failure to see expected search results occurs, and this is mentioned, there is a long silence and then the subject tends to fall off.

this is SEO 101, beginners stuff, but it seems to still catch a large number of search engine interested people. Use firefox, it's easier to block google cookies with its cookie blocker. Make sure to do your searches from google.com, not from the search box in your browser.

However, with all this in mind, yes, they do geotarget, they experiment with it, but how much seems to vary.

Take care of the above steps then do the tests again and let's see how much was customized results and how much was geotargetting.


 7:07 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

7 sites in German, 1 site in Italian, 2 in English

If you have another mix of results, my theory seems to be valid.

I checked on www.google.ch from my Dutch IP and I get exactly the same results: 7/1/2. So it seems the results are not primarily selected by the geographic location of the searcher, but by the language and country settings of the Google URL used. This behaviour has been there for a long time now.

You could use www.google.com in English instead and you should see the "general" American SERPs.


 7:34 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

<< You could use www.google.com in English instead and you should see the "general" American SERPs. >>

Last I checked this, a few months ago, I was testing some serps running through a proxy, and google.com will direct to the source country of your ip address by default. I actually couldn't find a way to get to the usa google.com without just manually entering the datacenter ip address.

The country IP proxy I noticed this first on was coincidentally in Holland, so I got google holland, in Dutch.


 7:43 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

You are right, when in a location outside of the US, default www.google.com redirects to the localized version. But you can change that by using www.google.com/ncr as URL. After that, www.google.com won't redirect to www.google.local-tld, even when invoked without /ncr. The setting is stored in a cookie, so cookies must be enabled for this.


 7:51 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

This has been going on already for a few months. My experience is that the results vary based on your IP.
If I search on google.com here at home (not logged in, english google.com) I get results that are more biased toward my country than when I search from my webserver (located in the US).
Smart move from Google, as it is way harder to get on top of the serp's in all countries, and you don't even know your position for user in a certain country.


 10:24 pm on Feb 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thanks for your feedback.

I am going to make some tests and will report back later.



 1:07 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Here are the facts:

Google Bar / gMail / other Google Services:

Never installed, no account with Google whatsoever on this machine

cleaned (no cookies, etc.)
java / java script disabled

Case 1: Cookies blocked

- Google.com redirects to Google.ch
- Link on the page "Google.com in English" redirects to Google.ch
- Type-in the www.google.com/ncr redirects to Google.ch


- all redirect me to Google.ch

Case 2: Cookies accepted (only from originating site)

- Google.com redirects to Google.ch
- Link on the page "Google.com in English" sends me to Google.COM
- Type-in www.google.com/ncr sends me to Google.COM

Thus neither cookies nor java scripts are used by G to redirect me.

And even HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE does not the trick:

My browser sends: de-de,de;q=0.8,en-us;q=0.5,en;q=0.3 which when used to redirect me should send me to Google.de in Germany, not Google.ch in Switzerland.

Thus they use geo-targetting. Correct me if I am wrong with this assumption.

I hope I did answer all questions from the above replies.


It is not the point, whether or not I am a stupid surfer.
It is not the point, if this all is SEO 101 or not. It is not the point what techniques they use to identify or guess my geographical location.

The point is, that when NOT being on Google.COM, the option "search the web" (as opposed to "Search My Country" or "My Language") is definitely biased by Google's guess about my location.

And this was NOT THE CASE until recently.

From my point of view, this has huge implication for all SEOs who want to perform well internationally. Bear in mind that the average Joe Surfer outside the USA will either use Google.com or his local Google. And in both cases he will end up on his local google and only when he then FINDS and USES the "Google.com in English" link he will have unbiased results. Estimate how many Surfers are aware at all that they get to some extent localized results, even when they use "search the web"? Not many.

I don't discuss this from the surfer's point of view. I discuss this from a SEO point of view.

Fact is: only since a short time, localized "search the web" gives different results from what it did in the past. Google.com and Google.ch used to show exact the same SERPS. Not anymore.

I expect this to have a great impact on the international traffic one gets from google.

Looking forward to your comments.


PS: Why they only allow me to visit google.com from a Swiss IP when I accept their cookie?


 1:23 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Now that's some meaningful information. That fits exactly with what I've seen, it's IP based 100%, I did the same as you more or less, except using a european proxy, same results.

Wasn't sure where google was on that currently, but another poster here who I tend to pay more attention to than most assured us several months ago that geotargetting from european origin searches was definitely happening.

You have to eliminate all the variables however before you can make that statement, you just did, so we can now assume that this is still the case.

Since google tracks user click throughs on searches, it's clear that they've tried both geotargetted and non-geotargetted non USA based searches and have gone with the geotargetted ones. Which suggests that this fits with what average users actually tend to want or prefer. That's my guess anyway.

Thanks for actually presenting meaningful data though, that's refreshingly unusual.


 2:15 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Thanks 2by4 :)

You write:
" Which suggests that this fits with what average users actually tend to want or prefer."

I don't agree with that:

Google gives me the options: Search the web, search sites from my country, serach for sites in my language. Thats perfect. But when I "search the web" I DO want the most relevant infomation, relevant to the Keywords I search for. Being the location of the site geographically near to me or not is not relevant. Relevant is the information they got, no matter if they sit on the other side of the world or not. When I want to have it localised I use "search my country. When I want information in my language despite my keywords are english ("tutorial SEO), I check the "my language button".

"The perfect search engine," says Google co-founder Larry Page, "would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want." (http://www.google.com/corporate/tenthings.html)

If I mean "Google, go search the WEB for me", I mean exately this. I don't need an algo second guessing me about what I mean and want, just based on my geographical location. My 2 cents.

As the newbie I indeed am, I would appreciate very much if you could comment about my speculations on the impact of this new development. Since they serv now different SERPs for many countries, I guess this makes international SEO for english contents a nightmare. Which is exactely why they did it, I'd say.

True or not? If yes, what strategies?




 3:21 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

when google thinks about 'average users' they aren't thinking about 'you'. They are looking at massive numbers of searches, millions of pages of serps, millions and millions of click throughs. They experiment, it's fairly easy for them to see what the results of an experiment are in real time. So what you may consider average may not correspond to what the actually 'average' searcher wants or reacts positively or negatively to. Sometimes they mix up the serps to reflect what two different groups, both statistically relevant, expect to see.

Sometimes google gets almost perfectly close to what 'I' want to see [this is known here on these forums as 'google is great'] and sometimes they get closer to what some other group, not including me, wants to see [this is known as 'google sucks']. Of course, as always, when our sites aren't listed top 10, google sucks by definition...


 3:41 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

2by4 you left out the one known as what Google needs to make money [aka buy adwords on this forum].

I'll let everone figure out the other major divisions on the serp-O-matic meter ;-).


 3:43 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

when google thinks about 'average users' they aren't thinking about 'you'. They are looking at massive numbers of searches, millions of pages of serps, millions and millions of click throughs. They experiment, it's fairly easy for them to see what the results of an experiment are in real time. So what you may consider average may not correspond to what the actually 'average' searcher wants or reacts positively or negatively to. Sometimes they mix up the serps to reflect what two different groups, both statistically relevant, expect to see.

Just a tangent on this, and that is the "next step in serving up search engine results is going to be that different searchers will see different results, algo determined, and based on a broad set of variables unknown.

So, in effect SEO will be dead as we know it, since a page won't have a "rank" that is consistent. The page may show up first in one set of situations, and 300th for another. In general, that's probably good news for many webmasters, and really bad news for SEO folks and those that have held A consistent rank over time.

I think the result will be "fairer", virtually impossible to game consistently, and if the algos are decent, provide much better search results to individual searchers.


 4:01 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Yes, I've seen this in the recent past, but it seems that the geo-preference is more severe now.

For your Ferrari search example, I noticed that, by changing the hl=, you change your search results.


I personally believe that the regional SERP rankings depend on LOCAL inbound links for that country or language.


 4:18 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

<< you left out the one known as what Google needs to make money >>

theBear, I'm shocked, if I didn't know better, I'd think that you were saying that Google might, may, maybe, is changing their serps to alter or tweak their adwords income? But you couldn't possibly be suggesting that they be doing something so ultimately dastardly could you? I must have misread you.

On the other hand, I think I just forgot to list that option because that's just a constant to me, a given.

Plus of course, google has been customizing serps to some degree for a while now, I don't know how much, or how often, but since they can, I'm sure they do, when they feel like it. More stuff for them to play with. That's why you turn google cookies off, no need to see serps tailored for me, I just want the average.

I disagree with seo vanishing, the average will continue to be as blandly predictable as it always has been, people still smoke marlboros and drink budweiser after all, average is average, good money in averages. But now I have to go out and express my individuality by buying the same ipod 40 million other people just bought, LOL... don't worry, you'll be able to make money catering to the average for years to come, no need to look for a new job yet.


 4:30 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think that both SEO will continue, and of course Google delivers different results, that is sort of built into the system just by its structure [aka "infrastructure"], let alone all of the bells and whistles the folks at the 'plex have added.

I however don't buy into the "adword/adsense driven" theories. I just had to provide another possible stoping point for the serp-O-matic meter.


 4:41 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

<< I think that both SEO will continue, and of course Google delivers different results >>

Are you saying that two things can both be true at the SAME time? And here I thought we were just talking seo.

But this won't do at all, you have to pick one and only one position then argue it until you're blue in the face, none of this open-mindedness and flexibility here please, what are you thinking?...

However, I'll have to disagree to some degree, the rise of adwords income pre and post ipo was just too extreme to be lucky chance, especially since it helped push the stock to silly levels that made many people very rich.

But only to some degree, I'd say that it's a case of two things being true at once, google achieved certain search oriented goals AND at the same time mazimized income, worked out well, these two goals don't have to contradict each other or be mutually exclusive. As we've come to see, hit spammers hard and you hit the very person who is most likely to pay for placement, whether it's to an seo or to google adwords makes little difference to the company paying, only the results matter.


 5:16 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

How can SEO survive when the SERPS got tailord by google? Be it tailord by way of geo-targetting, cookie content, google bar info and ONE particular users gBar history (not on his client but on some of googles servers)?

SEO it for the average user? Example:

Average right NOW is seeing:

Dutch Google "Search the Web"


Swiss Google "Seach the Web"




Maybe ferrari is not the best example. Try other keywords. The discrepancies will even be bigger.

So if you want to SEO for an international audience your english keywords and contents, how you do this?

Of course this is only an issue if you are competing internationally. But sooner or later, Gooogle with its data mine will start to match US users profiles with profiles of the websites (Joe Surfer, New York City, is looking for Widget information? Ok, let our algo dig up some of our adWords/adSense partners from NYC who have widget keywords).

If your site is not matching this profile, Joe Surfer won't see you in the SERPs.

Now is this a nightmare for an SEO? Not a realistic medium term scenario you might say? Well, I don't know. I am just a noob. But slowly the plex reminds me of some 3 letter agency which is bigger than the 2 more famous ones.

Clever strategy:

Randomize the SERPs to some extent. Average surfer will not notice a drop in quality, the top ranks for many key words are anyway poluted with useless MFA sites. But SEOing will become less an art as some like to put it but a game of luck more and more useless. But what of it... he who wants a top rank shall buy Adwords.

Kill two birds with one stone?


 5:24 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Don't get me wrong. I did not start this thread to blame G. They do what they do, and they do it good. It's not their job to make SEO easier. But it is my job to understand what is goin on right now and where this is heading to.


 5:27 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I completely disagree if you're suggesting that your example shows any decline in quality, in fact, I'd say quite the contrary, the usa search for example even gives the gadget happy usa searchers access to that ferrari branded laptop, just what they were maybe looking for.

What strikes me is just how accurate those results are per country in terms of trying to return what each region's searchers really want to see when they type that keyword in there. Your example shows me why google would geotarget, not why it's a bad idea. Say the dutch are really into formula 1 racing mainly, the germans like buying the things, the americans have a slightly different point of view - what would not make any sense would be returning the same exact set of results to each totally different region and population, as if we are all the same identical thinking creatures everywhere google can be reached.

So it's just a matter of knowing your market and your keywords, seo isn't as easy as it was in 2000, that's true, but if it was you wouldn't be able to make any money at it since then anyone could do it.

Targetting international searches isn't that hard, but you do have to have a good idea of what they are. SEO isn't a fixed game, it changes all the time, every 6 months to a year it's different in some way or other, that's the game, it's why you get paid to do it, or why companies have to pay to get it done.

If you find you don't like the game it's probably a good idea not to play it, or find some other version to play. Some people do very well at it, others complain a lot, and others say nothing.

<<< But it is my job to understand what is goin on right now and where this is heading to. >>>

Exactly, you posted that after I made this response. One piece of advice, if you want it: the less time you spend complaining and the more time you spend learning and testing, the better you will get. Some people on these boards have been complaining for years, others stopped posting and have since retired rich.

It's better to have a positive sense of where google is going than to complain about it, complaining won't change it, so learn it and then learn how to use that knowledge to your own benefit. The real trick is to watch what most people who do seo do, and to then avoid that.


 6:40 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Most probably I posted while you were typing...

It s really not my intention to complain. My comment bout the quality was just a side remark*. My main concern was and is to understand why all of a sudden I get those discrepancies. Was not mean to be complaining.

I sure take your advise. That is why I am here on this board.

My quality remark was not targeted at G's algo but towards those useless MFA sites polluting the web and the SEs indexes.


 7:07 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

<< My main concern was and is to understand why all of a sudden I get those discrepancies. >>

Exactly, that's the key. Every major update is the same, something will happen, the trick is to understand what it is. Of course, the real trick is to anticipate what that will happen and avoid it before it affects you or your sites negatively. Reading up on black hat techniques is worthwhile not because it's a good idea to use them, but because it's a good idea to know what google will try to stop next. Same for gray hat.

Sites polluting the index show you what the current weaknesses are, and most probably also suggest what the next update will try to take care of in terms of weaknesses. Obviously, the success of each update is open to large debate. If junk sites are working, learn why they are working. Usually that will be black or gray hat techniques, so be careful using that stuff unless you are only interested in short term success.

The kind of very good solid research you just did is far more valuable than just talking around and around about things. Testing a theory on a site is better than wondering if it will work. Having many sites lets you to test many theories.

[edited by: 2by4 at 7:13 am (utc) on Feb. 21, 2006]


 7:11 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

well, i can tell you in aus the only time we get any MFA sites are when they come from the US.

Over the last year our 'search the web' serps are leaning more and more towards our local sites, and I dont miss any of the old spammy rubbish we used to get.

In Aus, its nowhere near as cut-throat to get to the top of the serps, and when google does us the favour of putting Aussie sites first when searching the web, it makes it all the easier!

You said you were in Switzerland? you should be happy to dont have to compete with the likes of US/UK seo'rs! If our local 'search the web' listings reverted back to the global .com listings, our sites would be lost!

The other great thing about this also, is because there are so fewer searchers in Aus over the US, not many local people bother to make and host MFA sites for Austraian searchers - (they probably go for the US market), leaving our SERPS nice and clean for searching on my nice Acer Ferrari laptop ;-)


 7:26 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

(italy, seartching Ferrari brings 9 italian sites and an an english site)

Anyway, this hase been happening for at least 8 months, since I began sctrictly monitoring some english keywords from Italy.

So, MAYBE this was being tested in some countries and only recently was rolled out to other countries?

I am sure I have been seeing this since quite a few months.


 11:32 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

It's true that this geo targeting has been happening for quite some time already, but this doesn't make it any less annoying. I'm speaking now primarily from the user point of view. The fact that Google.com automatically redirects to local Google makes it very difficult for the ordinary user (who knows next to nothing about cookies and Google data centers) to conduct a non-local search. When I search the web for information (not necessarily for stuff to buy), I simply want to find the best sites with the best information - geo location is completely irrelevant! If I am looking for local results I would tick the box for sites from the local country.

Moreover, like a lot of people these days, I travel a lot. When I use a local computer on my visits abroad, it always annoys me that Google.com invariably redirects me to the local Google. This means my searches constantly produce a lot of results in a language I cannot even read, even though I did not ask for pages in the local language!

From the perspective of an owner of a site targeting both the US and the UK this is also problematic. In order for the site to play on an equal footing with other sites in both countries I would need a .com domain hosted in the US as well as a .co.uk domain hosted in the UK. But this would mean having two identical sites, which Google doesn't like!


 11:37 am on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

if they began to give us more own country related search results, then I MUST change SE, because I can not use those results to anything, so lets just hope they keep there good solutions as there where, with just a click and you get more results from your country, instead of forcing those results to one.


 12:34 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Having started this thread, I d like to summarize all above as follows:

1. Local googles tend nowadays to give local sites a heigher weight in the local SERPs for "search the web"
2. From a webmaster/seo point of view one either likes that (when having a local site) or dislikes when runing a site targeted to international users
3. From a surfers point of view, it seems that many out there don't like this new behaviour

If you don't agree to this summary, please shout and explain why. This thread was born to find out if my finding was reproduceable by others and if yes, what does this mean for those interested in SEO their or their customer's sites.

Thus I would lay aside the discussion about whether this effect being good or a annoying to the surfers. It does not really matter, at the time being.

It would be very interesting to know if this "fallout"* has not only an influence on the SERP's but also on the traffic.

To both of you out there, the ones with local sites compteting for english keywords as well as the ones with international targeted sites:

did you notice that your traffic from localized googles started to change, lately? Got better or worse? (Please mention your site being a local site competing for english terms or a international site doin the same)

The other point interesting to discuss is:

- how to profit from this new behaviour of google's algo
(applies when you have a local site which is also competing for english terms)

- what to do when your international traffic is decreasing because of this
(applies for sites built for an international audience of english keywords)

*poor and confusing metaphor, should not have used it in my title. sorry for that.


 2:08 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

I don't understand why some folks think it is impossible for the statement I made about SEO and Google's changes to be reasonable.

I didn't say it would be easy, just that one doesn't preclude the other.

It could be that write good content will do it all by itself (but then I have seen Google's system take out content sites) maybe the only difference being that the good content will have to be in multiple languages and hosted in multiple locations.

Think like a bricks and mortar place. This creates the need for one to know the "local" lay of the land, such as sites in the local area to attempt getting links from, how the people there search.

Who knows, maybe they ask a simple question instead of just pluging in words or they always add words that mean "near me".

I think it is called know your mark in another profession.

Now everyone should remember my rules, this post might qualify under rule 4.

I am not a SEO so apply the proper amount of NaCl.


 2:47 pm on Feb 21, 2006 (gmt 0)

Geo-targeting doesn't necessarily mean the death of SEO, it just means a new type of SEO is warranted. The basis behind SEO will always be the same (to rank high no matter where you go), and the basic methods will always need attention (good content, inbound links, meta tags) so if you happen to market to an international audience, then guess what? You need an international site (or multiple).

Our company does market to several countries and therefore we have had to go through the trouble of SEO'ing multiple domains for .com, .ca, .co.uk, etc. I think this makes perfect sense because even in English speaking countries the wording of terms changes, often dramatically. Yes this increases the efforts you must make tenfold, but if you are big enough already to provide services on an international level, then you should be able to take the time to have an SEO strategy for each area of business.

Google vs. SEO has always been our battle, if they make it harder for us to do our job then they are doing their jobs. But every system has a key, and those that find the key will always prevail.

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