Cross-border Selling

SEO: Grow Multinational Sales With Geo-targeting “Signals”

Driving organic search traffic and sales through multinational search engine optimization requires a fusion of keyword relevance and geo-targeting to send location relevance signals. The search engines have to decipher a site’s geo-targeting signals to deliver the right page in the right language with the right SKUs, pricing, currency and availability. Optimizing the geo-targeting signals a site sends is critical to driving organic search traffic and sales in multiple countries.

Consider a searcher in the U.K. who wants to buy a toy for her daughter’s birthday. She searches Google U.K. for “dolls house.” Along with her query, the searcher is unconsciously sending location signals that the search is coming from a U.K.-based IP address and the query is in English. She may have also set her Google preferences to favor certain languages or countries. In response, Google quickly serves up all the pages from U.K. sites with English content relevant to “dolls house.”

An ecommerce merchant in the U.K. that serves only the U.K. market is most likely sending U.K. signals without even trying. Google can easily match the U.K. seller’s location signals plus its “dolls house” signals to the searcher’s desire to buy a doll’s house in the U.K. However, merchants with sites based in the U.S. who also serve the U.K. market and other English-speaking countries have a much greater challenge. Regardless of the strength of the keyword’s relevance, the number of relevant product offerings or customer service, U.S. merchants are not going to win the U.K. search or the U.K. sale if their multinational sites don’t geo-target their content to send U.K. signals.

How to Send Geo-targeting Signals to Search Engines

  1. Register all relevant country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), such as and .ca, even if the site’s content will be hosted on a general top-level domain (such as a .com). The ccTLD can then be redirected to the content’s true home on the .com to channel link popularity and customers.
  2. Host the site’s content locally in each country. This can be fraught with business issues, and it isn’t a deal breaker if it’s not possible; but it’s a strong signal if it can be accomplished.
  3. Build local links (ccLinks) in each country. The strongest ccLinks will mirror the site’s desired geo-targeting signals. For example, strong ccLinks for an English-language Canadian site would be hosted on a .ca ccTLD in Canada, and the content would be topically relevant and written in English.
  4. Establish crawlable country navigation. A simple HTML country sitemap or crawlable navigation ensures a clear path for search engine crawlers to find and index country content.
  5. Offer content in the local language. This signal impacts SEO by distinguishing between countries that speak different languages natively, such as geo-targeting the U.S. and France.
  6. Register each country “site” in Google Webmaster Tools and geo-target each to a specific country. This is helpful whether a country “site” is hosted on its own ccTLD, or as a subdomain or subdirectory of a multinational domain.
  7. Use the standard language and country codes in the URLs as the country’s subdomain or root directory, especially if it’s not possible to host the content at the ccTLD. These URL identifiers serve as a signal to observant humans to influence click-through in the search results, as well as sending a small signal to engines.
  8. Establish language meta tags. While not generally considered a strong geo-targeting SEO signal, accurate use of country and language metadata can only help. Use the standard language and country codes to identify each site’s target either in a language meta tag or in the language attributes of the HTML tag.

Geo-location Challenges

Geo-location refers to the delivery of a default country/language content based on the visitor’s geographic location. Generally considered to be good usability practice, it can be disastrous if SEO concerns aren’t taken into consideration.

Consider the geographic footprint Googlebot leaves: California, U.S. Same with Yahoo’s bot, Slurp, and Bing’s MSNbot crawls from Washington. If geo-location occurs on every page of a site with no persistently crawlable navigation to all country/language sites, the search engines may only be allowed to crawl U.S. content based on the IP address. If this happens, only the site’s U.S. content will be able to rank in Google, Yahoo! and Bing, seriously limiting international traffic or sales. Analyze the URLs indexed in each country to determine if geo-location may be impacting SEO.


International SEO can be a tangled web of structural, content and linking signals. Most sites face business challenges like taxation and government regulations that prevent merchants from implementing every SEO geo-targeting best practice, but the more geo-targeting signals a site sends the stronger its location relevance will be. The fewer signals a site is able to send, the more local link building is required to compensate.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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