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Several months ago traffic/rankings on google for these sites tanked, but they continue do rank very well for their targetted terms on google.co.uk when "Pages from the UK" button is checked.
These sites have reasonable PR, and there is no crosslinking, bad neighborhood linking or any other common no-no's.
Should I assume that the physical location of the server is the problem, or could there be some penalty/filtering factors that may apply more strongly on US than on UK searches?
The most probable, in this case, is true. They are. On the searcher end, both by IP and browser language (see Google News thread coming up, currently in moderation). On the web site end, by TLD of site, and/or by TLD of site having links to target site.
IP of target site as a factor is new to me, but probable.
Added: Also, i agree with glitterball: You are getting a "local boost", it's not a penalty.
What I am wondering is if it would be worth the time and effort to move the sites to a US-based server. If the "boost" is only due to exclusion I've mentioned, then it would make no difference. I'm wondering if there really is an "extra point", so to speak, for physical presence in the region that the search is conducted from.
However, just to add to the confusion, I have been part of a google bombing test for a site that is totally hopeless in the eyes of the google bot. It has no content at all, just a 2000 chars long title and description, and opens a java-script popup with the real content in it.
A couple of us got together and did a three word google bomb (first middle last name of the site owner) linking to the site from a handful (eight?) sites and a couple of thousand pages. To my knowledge, all involved server are situated in Sweden. These are the results from google.se versus google.com after three weeks:
google.com place 48
google.se place 45
google.com place 31
google.se place 24
google.com place 34
google.se place 27
google.com place 37
google.se place 27
day 24 (today)
google.com place 48 out of 1,930
google.se place 28 out of 1,930
So. It has climed the .se search but is back at the original position with google.com.
Now, I'm not really sure I want to see the site rank any higher than that, and with the crappy layout it has today, I'm even e bit relieved to see it going down.
However, it is somewhat depressing that PR updated during the test period and the site has gone from PR 1 to PR 3.
However. The difference in results beween .com and .se gives me a strong hunch that when servers located in a country link to a site in the same country, it automatically receives better serps on a that countries version of Google...
I have also a problem with this "geotargeting" thing.
My website is in german and als written in german, but I am ranking much better on google.com than on google.de. My website is not very helpful for user who are not from germany because my products con only be shipped to germany.
I have absolutley no idea why google ranks me better when changing the parameter "hl=" in the google query string. When I set hl=de I rank #7 for my main keyword. When setting hl=en I rank #1. But it should be the other way round.
confusing for webmasters as well as for searchers.
Here's a small thingy from the W3C: the "lang" parameter. Employed in the body tag like this, it will tell a user agent that your page is in German:
I'm not confident that Googlebot will understand it though, i've seen no proof to this (or the opposite).
Otherwise there's always the HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE cloak, used by Google itself... as explained in that thread i mentioned above. It was posted more than 24 hours ago, it hasn't been approved yet, so i can't even access it myself and post the contents in this thread.
We have 100+ sites all hosted in the UK some of which we target solely for the UK market however mostly are for the international market.
All those in Google.com rank in the first three for their specific search terms, 90% of them at #1, and all of these also rank exactly the same in Google.co.uk except for the ones at #2 & #3 which are then at #1.
Interestingly one of our biggest competitors in Google.com, a US company, has their servers in the UK therefore they rank up there with us in the Google.co.uk results even though they do no business outside of the US!
Time to optimise better webzilla:-))