Edinburgh Web Development

Can Google's country redirect hurt your site?

by Iain Wilson

27 August 2007

domain name tldsSome time ago Google started directing search requests to their country servers based on the geographic location of the request. For example, if you were in the UK and made a Google search, the results would be served up by the google.co.uk service.

The theory was that the results would be oriented to the location of the searcher. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, and the logic does indeed seem reasonable. But when you pause for a minute and think how the geographic servers appear to select and rank sites, there may be cause to think about the domain names you use.

The Google country services have loads of criteria they use to rank sites, just like the vanilla Google, but they also appear to factor in the Country Code part of the Top Level Domain (ccTLD). For the UK this means that domains ending in co.uk can get preferences in a search on google.co.uk.

So you can have a situation where a .com site might be about a UK business, with better content than a similar one with a .co.uk domain name, and maybe have better links, but still rank behind the inferior site on a google.co.uk search.

If you do the same search on google.com, the .com site will normally be higher.

This didn't matter that much when most people used google.com as their default engine - the better site would rank better. This also let to people thinking there was not any advantage to be gained in choosing a specific TLD. In fact, many people recommended a .com domain over everything else.

However, with the country redirect to a country server, your choice of domain TLD becomes important again. If you are targeting the UK market, the best option is probably to go with a .co.uk domain.

So what do you do if you have a .com domain in the UK and you think you are suffering because of it? You may well have invested a lot of time and money in that domain name and would not want to change it, so just keep doing the good things - more content, good inbound links. You may have to work a little harder than your competitors, but so be it.

If you are able to change the domain to a .co.uk it may well be worth it, but there will be work involved in creating redirects and perhaps changing directory entries and backlinks - so don't think it is simply a case of changing the domain.

It may also be worth checking the physical location of the web server and the inbound links. They may all give you extra points on google.co.uk.

Incidentally, if you want to switch off the auto country redirect, just enter www.google.com/ncr into your browser and it will get rid of the internal cookies that store the setting.

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