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We've had similar reports here, some recently, and the best I could say is that something about Google's handling of geographic targeting is not working well in every case. You might want to find those threads through our Site Search [webmasterworld.com] and read the earlier discussions. But unfortunately, none of them have resulted in a "fix", just a description of the problem.
You've mentioned one critical item - server location, and especially the IP block's location. Have you directly checked that?
So there still is mystery around this odd behavior - sometimes in spite of using every best practice we know of, rankings seen from the US are still unexpectedly low. You might want to provide Google with feedback about this, through one of the reporting avenues mentioned in the Hot Topics thread [webmasterworld.com], which is always pinned to the top of this forum's index page. With enough data points about the behavior and they may be able to track down why it happens.
That said, I have seen a site coming up in google.co.uk when the radio button "pages from the UK " is selected and this site has nothing to do with the UK and the IP is registered to a Canadian hosting company. I believe Google may be having some problems with its GEO location/targeting…
You should still be able to rank in the US market/serps, but ranking positions will be relative to the number of search results returned between google.ca and google.com for the same term.
I am also a firm believer that hosting location has nothing to do with geo ranking on Google - I have quite a few websites which had proven this wrong.
I have no idea what you mean by "white hat" SEO, but you may want to check for incoming links from Canadian websites. I would, however, still go with what TheContractor suggested.
I am also a firm believer that hosting location has nothing to do with geo ranking on Google
Google reps have stated that they do use IP location, but as just part of the mix. This blog post from Matt Cutts [mattcutts.com] about a PubCon site review session describes just some of the complexity Google tries to evaluate with regard to country locations.
“a server location cannot, by itself, constitute a proof of residency or relationship of that business with that certain Country”
If it plays any role at all, is very small and almost irrelevant. In this day and age going by server location would be silly(i.e. something Yahoo would do). Does Google use a separate local server for every TLD extension they have? I don't know but I'm guessing they don't. :)
On a side note, I think the whole FORCED geo-thing was a bad idea from the start and they deserve to crash and burn with it.
If it plays any role at all, is very small and almost irrelevant. In this day and age going by server location would be silly
I have the opposite view, actually: IP location is pretty significant, although it isn't the sole factor that it once was for non-regional TLDs.
Does Google use a separate local server for every TLD extension they have
They don't need to, because they use regional TLDs, a much more reliable method to declare the target audience.
a server location cannot, by itself, constitute a proof of residency or relationship of that business with that certain Country
Say I have a .com with no regional content whatsoever on it, non-regional links, and non-regional language, even overseas WHOIS. If I put it on a UK host that I know Google locates correctly, I'd be very confident it's going to start showing more prominently in Google UK results, and also within 'pages from the uk'. I'm not sure I've seen any exceptions to that, but then I'm choosy about hosting ;)
Perhaps 'proof' is not what Google require?
IP location is pretty significant, although it isn't the sole factor that it once was for non-regional TLDs.
If that's true, then too bad. You may be choosy about your web hosting, but most people are either not, have no knowledge about it or find it burdensome to email hundreds of web hosts to ask for their location, before signing up.
As for your example - WebmasterWorld has non-regional language and I am sure it gets more links from US websites, all while being hosted in the US. Yet, for "webmaster forum" it ranks worse on Google.com than google.co.uk with the exact same number of results returned... Obviously IP address is insignificant.
Bottom line, unless it's regional TLD, Google has no idea what they are doing with the whole geo-targeting thing...
I think it can be overcome by using a WMT account and specifying the location, but that seems to be less than perfect sometimes too.
burdensome to email hundreds of web hosts to ask for their location, before signing up
I actually go for a more technical and less labour-intensive solution. I use both geo-location tools and check out serps for existing sites on the same IP ranges. One I have a few hosts that meet my requirements, I don't need to go looking for any more. I don't think Google emails anyone about location either ;)
ranks worse on Google.com than google.co.uk with the exact same number of results returned... Obviously IP address is insignificant
Again, I would disagree. There are a number of factors at play in ranking on regional Googles and I wasn't suggesting that IP location was the only thing involved. You can check out the Google.co.uk SERP Changes - July 2008 [webmasterworld.com] to see discussion for Google UK in particular.
Bottom line, unless it's regional TLD, Google has no idea what they are doing with the whole geo-targeting thing
I think locating based on IP is accurate often enough to be worth paying serious attention to, for any search engine. A large volume of sites choose local suppliers, including for hosting. The overwhelming majority of UK sites I've worked with also have UK hosting. Again, I'm not suggesting it's 100% reliable - that's why Google introduced options like "set geographic target" in Webmaster Tools.
We changed our geographic target to the US on 11/1/2007 and almost exactly 6 months later our .ca traffic plummeted. Sadly, it had little effect on our .com rankings although recently we have seen an increase in the long tail.