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Ranking differences between Google search engines

     
5:40 pm on Jul 15, 2016 (gmt 0)

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So I currently have a shopping cart setup with 4 different stores that all share the same products, categories, etc. They include example.ca for Canada, example.co.uk for UK, example.in for India and an example.com for every other country including the USA.

What is strange, we rank VERY WELL in Google.ca with our .ca domain, VERY WELL in Google.co.uk with our .co.uk domain and VERY WELL in Google.in with our .in domain. The .com domain is a bit more tricky. So, we are literally nowhere to be found with many keywords we want in Google.com but at the same time, we rank very well for top keywords on search engines such as Google.nl or Google.au.

My question is, for example, how does Google determine a site's ability to rank on Google.au specifically? I mean, do they look for healthy .au backlinks pointing to the .com site? Could my .com ranking problems simply mean that there are more toxic US .com backlinks pointing to my .com site than toxic .au backlinks pointing to my .com site, or is there something else going on here? I don't believe my .com site was banned by Google.com because we do rank for some long tailed keywords and some specific keywords, but they are often on like page 8 or 9 vs 1-2 in other search engines.

I just find it very strange that the .com site could thrive in Google.nl, Google.au... heck even Google.in all show me listed for a top keyword as the first result of page 2! That same exact keyword on Google.com? Page 7. Again it does fluctuate a lot but it's never been under page 5 in Google.com.
5:01 pm on July 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Even though your intent is for the .com to cover the rest of the world, the reality is that Google will determine it's primary Geographic Target to be the country where the server that hosts the site is located, based on its IP address unless you select a Geographic Target in the Google Search Console. While it's true that geographic targeting is also influenced by the links pointing to a site, the effect of that influence is relatively small - which is why you rarely see Country Code TLDs ranking outside of their designated country. Websites with generic TLDs can attract traffic from multiple countries, it will always perform best in its primary Geographic Target.

The bottom line is that if you want your .com site to perform well in the US, either host it in the US or select the United States as its Geographic Target.
3:02 pm on July 18, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Rainborick for the reply. I see major companies like Google that have domains for every single country you could imagine. For a small business like mine, it's tough to imagine investing in all of those domains! Over the years, I have collected about four and I figured I could assign every country left over, including the USA to the .com domain but I understand what you are saying.

Although I don't want to start buying up thousands of domains, would it be wise to invest in something like example.us for the USA? THen still keep .com for everything else?

I guess the problem with selecting USA as the .com's target geographic location is that it seems like right now, without having an assigned location, I am targeting many additional countries like Australia, Netherlands, Norway, etc? Correct? Let's just say that I only list USA, will my .com site instantly fall off of Google.au listings?

PS: As far as where the site is hosted, it's in Europe. So that may be a problem but I do use a content delivery network and it shows my ip as being in the USA but I guess Google can see past that charade?
3:42 pm on July 18, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You don't need a domain for each country. You can set geo-targets for subdomains or subdirectories of your .com domain for additional countries.

I wouldn't rely on the CDN's IP address being recognized. Set the Geographic Target in the GSC to USA so you can be sure.
1:16 pm on July 27, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I know I don't need unique domain for every country. Most Google search engines rank our .com site just fine in each country's search engine. Like I said before our .com site ranks very well in Google.nl for instance. The .com site just struggles at Google.com. I just launched example.us and I hope I see good results? I know I could have simply done something like us.example.com but just thought to go all out.

What is also bothering me now is, in Google.com our .ca and .in domains rank very well. Is this a problem? In Google settings, the international target is set to India and Canada, so why is Google.com showing it? Should I be concerned? I noticed sometimes Amazon.ca results appear in Google.com, so am I worried about nothing?
2:38 pm on July 27, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If you see your ccTLD domains ranking AT ALL in countries outside their target, it's almost certainly due to Personalized Search. In other words, you see them ranking because of your search history. You've visited those sites or clicked on the results from those sites at some point in the past where Google has noticed, so they offer them to you again. Next time you run those tests, try adding "&pws=0" to the query string in the URL shown in the address bar of your browser and I bet those domains disappear.

As for ranking in Google.com, keep in mind that the US is a much larger market than most other countries, so the competition is going to be much greater as well for almost every search. So if you want to rank well in the US, you should do everything you can to be competitive, including setting the Geographic Target in the GSC. Try it for a while and if you don't like the results, you can always set it back.
3:06 pm on July 29, 2016 (gmt 0)

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rainborick, thank you so much for replying to this thread. Your suggestion WORKED! I have struggled for almost 3+ years now trying to figure out why I can't rank at Google.com. Within a week or setting up a .us domain we have reached page the bottom of page 1 or the top of page 2 for our most desired keywords and we keep climbing! I had always felt our problems were something simple but I couldn't put my finger on it. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
3:48 pm on July 29, 2016 (gmt 0)

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rainborick "The bottom line is that if you want your .com site to perform well in the US, either host it in the US or select the United States as its Geographic Target."

This is new information to me, can you rpvide evidence. Based on my hosting and ranks it doesnt matter where its hosting. Is this really true or are you guessing
7:55 pm on July 29, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I think it has a lot to do with competition. We can rank our .com site in Google Netherlands because there are not a lot of times competing for our keyword there. In the USA our .com European hosted site struggled to get traction in Google.com. The .us site I guess tells Google we are a USA site and boosts us up. Our .com was always being held back. Sure I could have spent less money and set something like example.com/us or us.example.com but investing in a .us site was smart. I also noticed it work in India where my .in site ranks #1 too.
8:04 pm on July 29, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I would like to know, in the eyes of Google, what holds better value... an international tld like website.com.au or simply making a au.website.tld domain and targeting the domain to Australia in Google Webmaster Tools? If you could afford it, I would assume a .com.au domain is more powerful than simply making a subdomain up? I ask because now I want to invest in .com.au domain but Australia does not allow non-Australian citizens/businesses to buy them. I rank OK in Australia like page 2 but think au.website.tld and target it for Australia in GWT would work better?
3:03 am on July 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The default methods Google uses for determining a site's geo-location haven't changed much since I started working in SEO in 2002. The only significant change is that for generic TLDs, for the past 5 years or so Google also started to look at the origin of the links that point to a site, and they sometimes look at local addresses and telephone numbers on the site. But the broad rules remain intact. ccTLDs are set to the corresponding country. For generic TLDs, if you don't choose a Geographic Target in the GSC, they use the location of the server that hosts the site. BTW, Bing and Ask operate the same way. Bing also offers a tool for selecting a geographic target.

There's a good article in the Google Webmaster Blog titled Working With Multi-Regional Sites [webmasters.googleblog.com] that discusses this issue, I also found a Google webmaster video from 2008 titled Where in the World is Your Site? [webmasters.googleblog.com] that shows how long things have worked this way.

Geo-location is such a strong signal that if you have a generic TLD, it makes a lot of sense to explicitly select a Geographic Target in the GSC or Bing Webmaster Tools, rather than rely on/pray/hope the search engines' default methods to get it right.
8:08 am on Aug 1, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I need to mention that for businesses that target truly global audience (like B2B travel for example), the only way you can get away ranking for all geo-locations (and even then the geo-location of your host servers will play a big part) is to place your .com in "not defined" . Keep in mind though, that this will make your .com site mediocre compared to the local players, so you better have a really nice keywords that a global audience is looking for.

Always go for ccTLDs if you can afford it. If you can't sub-domains can work too (but not as well from my own experience). Google and Rank Brain specifically hates "global" and will shove your site in to a geo-location niche one way or the other. Even big brands (like global reach magazines, news websites and the likes) have a separate US sub or TLD and separate global one.
1:22 pm on Aug 1, 2016 (gmt 0)

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No, if you don't explicitly select a Geographic Target in GSC, Google will select one for you - almost exclusively the location of the server that hosts the site. In other words, selecting "Not Defined" does not leave your site un-targeted. You're just allowing Google's default processes to determine things.

Yes, generic TLDs can rank outside their primary geo-location, but they'll rarely be strong enough to rank well elsewhere overall. You'll tend to have the best performance only in other countries from which you have incoming links. Outside of that, ranking in other countries is down to the rest of the algorithms.
1:58 pm on Aug 1, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Nutterum. Like right now, I have a default .com site that is not targeting any specific country and it ranks pretty good in a number of countries. The .us domain ranks exceptionally well in Google.com, same with .co.uk domain in Google UK, .ca domain in Google Canada and my .in domain in Google India. All of the .us, .ca, .co.uk and .in domains are on the first page for top keywords, top 3/4 results or closing in fast. The .com site is like page 2 in most other search engines. Well except Yahoo where it ranks on the first page and the other domains are ignored. For some reason, Yahoo doesn't care about international targeting from my experience?

So anyway, as far as the other Google search engines (Netherlands, New Zealand, etc) the .com's ranking isn't bad, but it isn't nearly as strong as the .us, .ca, .co.uk and .in results. I bet if I change the .com domain to target Netherlands, it would rank very well at Google.nl but the trade off would be, the .com ranking at Google Zealand or others left over would suffer.

I do use hreflang tag in my header though, so I hope that any .com traffic somehow ends up their suggest site? Not sure what else I can do to prevent any problems. It looks to me that Google sees my .us site as being for the USA because .com results are filtering off of Google.com now in favor of .us results. Meanwhile .com still does fair enough elsewhere.

I would love to build an entire army of sites for EVERY country and have a TLD for each of them but financially it isn't possibly. Plus like I said before, some countries like Australia don't allow it. It's one thing if you are a huge corporation like FedEx and have offices globally. Then you can do that. Most of us don't. I have heard of businesses like MarkMonitor that will buy an international TLD under their corporation for you because places like that, have representation in different countries? I have never talked to a place like that, but I am sure the fees for such a service are crazy.