Geotargeting is a method used to deliver different content to visitors based on their geolocation. GeoIP filtering is a technology that can block web traffic from entire countries, and can be an effective way to stop hackers from attacking your business. Localizing your SEO strategy can help your company break into a foreign market. It can also help a young company establish itself. But for global brands, getting things just right across multiple languages and countries is often a very complex operation. Practices like geotargeting and geoIP filtering are interesting but can damage your marketing, and more specifically, your search engine optimization efforts.
The challenges of building an international online brand
Your company may need to support a variety of locations in terms of online presence and marketing efforts. When a regional version with location-specific pages is required, you need an international SEO and UX strategy to ensure the best experience for visitors by country of origin. If any of these scenarios sound like you, this article may be interesting for you:
- The branding for the website is different, depending on geographic locations.
- The brand is not able to provide the same products or services in all regions and needs to be able to display options.
- The brand is not able to fulfill shipping orders across regions, which impacts shopping experience.
- There is a significant drop-off in traffic when transitioning from one version of the site to another, which makes you think you have an issue with redirection on your site.
- Search engine robots are having a hard time figuring out the right version and show the wrong language or regional page in search results.
GeoIP redirects don't always deliver the best experience
In internet marketing, geotargeting is the method of delivering different content to visitors based on their geolocation. These types of geoIP redirects are controversial because they go against official Google indexing and crawling advice. This means that your pages could end up de-indexed, which, in turn, means less visibility, less traffic and less revenue. Clear directions to implement geoIP redirects in a compatible manner are not easy to find. The better option is to provide users from different IP addresses with prompts to switch URLs.
Common geoIP marketing issue #1: Googlebot might not be able to access pages outside of the US
Be wary of the ways you redirect visitors. Location-based redirects are complicated because if you serve the US version to Google, since Google bots tend to come from the US, you need to make sure you give Dex (that's the unofficial nickname for the Google crawler) access to the German content of your site from the US. We had a WPML issue on a site a few years ago for German content that had an automatic redirection in place for a few days. The result? All of the Germany content was removed from the index because we kept showing the wrong version. Organic traffic and user experience for that country tanked.
A quick word from Google
[I]f redirecting the homepage, make sure the country-target URLs don't redirect. Ideally use banners when users reach the 'wrong' version.
—John Mueller, Google Search Liaison
Geolocation is not spam as long as you're doing the exact same thing for Google that you would do for any other visitor coming from that IP address. Otherwise, it's called cloaking and Google may choose to not show your content as a result. A workaround that I actually tested a few years ago could be to use conditions in the scripts to geotarget only users but not the search engine bots. We can take advantage of the user-agent (a request header which allows us to identify who / what is visiting a page).
If your IP detection setup causes Google’s crawler to be shown the same version, no matter what, that means the bot is blind to the rest of your localization efforts. This perspective is not something many humans think about since a bot is not their main audience. But this bot is the gatekeeper, the first step in the process of getting your content shown in Google Search Results Pages (SERPs).
Directing your visitors and potential customers to the right linguistic version of your website is very important in order to offer them the best experience on your platform. Geotargeting or browser language detection is often the technical solution chosen to address this need.
Google.ca, Google.fr, Google.com: Show the right pages to the right location
If you provide content in multiple languages, you expect users to access the pages in the right version in each Google version you are targeting. Whether you serve five linguistic versions of your site or two, three countries or nine… it doesn’t matter. Some technologies or scripts can impact the ability of search engine robots to analyze and index some of your pages' versions.
International SEO is tricky
As customers, we know when you don’t care about our region as much. We can tell because we notice small cues, small differences that signal you are not as dedicated to our market. If you copy/paste your content but keep trying to convince Google and humans that your Canada online store is much different from the U.S. site, and not just the pricing, it is a waste of time for everyone. Dex does not want to crawl the same content twice, Canadians are tired of you pretending they are Americans, and well, your overall brand visibility and equity gets a chink in its armor. You don't get a cookie for this approach.
Here's a terrible e-commerce experience that impacts conversion rates
If you live in Canada, searching for products in English will often provide you with US-based results despite Canadian ones existing for the same brand. Ever get excited for a cheap product and then a redirection rule drops you in front of the homepage of the Canadian version...but not on the right product? With minor improvements, you can easily avoid these types of issues.
If you travel, your browser settings are clearly ignored and an IP address redirection onboards into your life to show you some foreign version of the content. If you don't speak Mandarin, how do you guess what a language selector is in China (this is a real question, I was struggling very hard in Beijing a few years ago)?
A few testimonials from humans
I was trying to buy a ferry ticket while standing in my hotel lobby in Sydney. I wanted to pay with AU. Because my cell carrier is US, the site literally would not allow me to buy it. I ended up having to connect to hotel WiFi just to buy my ferry ticket.
—Jenny Halasz, SEO expert and US-based traveler facing many obstacles put in her path by geoIP redirects.
Haa I love it when they think I am Spanish - I honestly don't understand why; German, okay, Netherlands or Belgium, why not, but why do they think that I speak Spanish?
—Stéphanie Walter, UX expert and online shopper living in Luxembourg.
So, how do you implement geoIP redirects?
The reality is that website owners do not have the time, resources or know-how when it comes to producing localized content that would actually help increase traffic and conversions coming from search engines. If you must implement geoIP filtering or redirections, do not automatically redirect a user to a different language based on location. It's fine to suggest an alternate language version but don't assume you know that the French query belongs to a francophone. You don't know (without asking) if the person behind the search query is an expat, a student of foreign language, or someone who's lost on the internet.
Best practices to keep in mind: Implementing geoIP redirects without causing issues
Keep it simple. Use a map selector, then cookie the user based on their selection. Explain that you’re setting a cookie and give them the ability to opt out (GDPR). Give them the option to switch it later through a footer link to “country selector”.
- Include tracking data in your redirecting URL.
- Always provide clear access to other international versions of the site.
- Always provide easy access to different language versions of the site.
- Connect users to the same landing page on the selected version.
- Whenever possible, redirect the user to the proper version of the page they were on, not to the homepage of the website assigned to their geolocation.
- If you need to geo-redirect, do not geofence users in their IP version of your website. It's bad for SEO and illegal in the European Union.
How to solve geoIP issues for SEO?
If you have an existing website with a potential issue related to a geoIP setup, the first thing to do is to audit the situation and see what is happening. To do so, we recommend you to use a tool such as WonderProxy, since it allows you to see how users around the world see your website.
Getting the right tools: VPNs aren’t always great when it comes to auditing your site
VPN providers are in a lot of countries. But proxies are much faster. You can switch proxies much faster than VPNs. WonderProxy capitalizes on the fact that proxy servers were baked into the architecture of the early web. Depending on the markets you are targeting, you may need to run multiple tests. Automated testing in multiple locations is a breeze if done with proxies. For instance, if you have a website that targets France and Canada in French with three dedicated versions, you can automate the test in France and Canada.
WonderProxy allows you to choose among 252 cities and 88 countries so that you can make sure your tests are as accurate as possible. You can even use it within your browser with the WonderSwitcher extension for Chrome, Edge and Firefox. Extra tip: make sure to test with the incognito mode activated so that your browser history or extensions don’t mess with your test.
If your website automatically redirects you to a version based on your location, it means that you have a script in place which is based on geoIP. Extra tip: make sure to test multiple pages because sometimes, geoIP redirects are only in place for the homepage.
Check how the Google bot sees your website
Another important step is to check how the Google bot sees your website. For that test, you have several options, but we recommend you use the Google Search Console. Copy paste the URLs you want to test in the search bar at the top. When the data is loaded, click on the “Test live URL” button at the top right of the screen. Then, on the left of the page, click on the “View tested URL” button. On the right, you will be able to see the content the Google Bot saw and the page code. Test your homepage, then other URLs. If you have dedicated URLs for each language, test each of them. Again, if you notice weird behaviors, take some notes to try to identify patterns. This is how you will be able to know if something is off.
If you wish to do the same with a more advanced version, check out the Tame the Bots Fetch and Render Tool, made for developers and technical SEOs by Dave Smart.
I built it as a way to quickly test a URL, and see how a page might get rendered by a search engine, particularly in offering a full length screenshot. Although the rendered HTML is what matters, humans aren't browsers, so seeing it visually can be helpful
International SEO testing with WonderProxy
You can add localization and internationalization tests into your existing automated test suites with our network of proxy servers and API. Check that your site displays the correct language, currencies, shipping methods and more. If you want to go further, we have some advice for you:
What does your site look like around the world?
WonderProxy provides access to a global network of proxy servers. They ensure the users see the right content with manual and automatic geoIP testing. Here's what we recommend you check to ensure your website is serving visitors location-based content that makes sense for them:
- Payment & shipping
- Targeted content
- Licensed content
- Local regulations
- Trust signals (logos change depending on the location)
- GDPR banners
- Checkout experience
- Price parity
- Photography (cultural preferences matter)
Want to know more? Get in touch with us!