|GWT country association and international sites|
If one associates the domain with a country through Google Webmaster Tools, will it hurt rankings in all other countries?
Our website is global in its purpose, and has subdomains like fr.*, de.* etc, but still, its core visitors come from UK and others are distributed mostly around Europe. So we are thinking of moving from the US datacenter to the datacenter of the same company (hence the good deal) in Germany, in order to decrease the network latency.
However, it would mean moving from an English-speaking country to a German-speaking. What if it damages our ranking for searches from English-speaking countries? We could counteract by associating the website with UK through Google Webmaster Tools, but wonder if it can have bad side effects too.
It certainly may hurt rankings in the non-associated countries. However, you can assign a country association to each of your SUBdomains by setting each one up in Webmaster Tools as a separate website.
However, I would not take any such steps yet. If you are using one of the global TLDs, such as .com, .net, .org - or even .info and .biz - the hosting change may not be a problem at all.
Thank you for confirmation of our suspicions.
Of course, we could assign fr.* to France, but what do we do with Switzerland then?
We may end up having ch.example.com/francais/ and ch.example.com/deutch/, which is a monstrosity given the required amount of duplication.
After all, our website is not for the locations, but about locations - say, for tourists who may think about visiting a place in Switzerland. And these visitors may speak any language.
I agree with your thinking - that's why I would not suggest using country assignments unless things get really dicey after you move the server. Even then, the best solution might be to move the server back to the US and just find a way to deal with the expense.