Google's dirty little secret

24 september 2006 Inzichten / Googles dirty little secret

... and how it can make or break your search engine traffic

Most traffic to websites nowadays comes through search engines. In Europe, this means mostly Google. However, Google segments their traffic based on location. Not only on location of the surfer, but also on location of the website.

I''ve done some observations, while surfing on a Belgian computer (my location is in Belgium).

Observation 1

  • Go to:
  • Search for ‘webdesign’.
  • Look at the top-5 results.

You''ll notice that, while surfing on a Belgian computer, on the Belgian Google site, you''ll get results that are all Belgian companies.

Observation 2

  • Go to:
  • Search for ''webdesign''.
  • Look at the top-5 results.

You''ll notice that, while surfing on a Belgian computer, on the Dutch Google site, the results are sites in Dutch, and are both Belgian and Dutch sites.

Observation 3

  • Go to:
  • You might have to use a proxy:, as Google redirects you to the Google-site of your own country.
  • Search for ''webdesign''.
  • Look at the top-5 results.

You''ll notice that, when Google thinks you''re on an ''American'' computer (through the proxy), the results are international sites.

So Google determines the location of the surfer, probably based on the IP-address of the computer, and serves results based on that location.

This means that, somehow, Google must classify sites too, based on their location. If a Belgian surfer gets Belgian sites as a result, Google must know which sites are Belgian.

How does Google localize sites?

Sites can not be localized by Google based on TLD (Top Level Domain). You''ll notice that the Netlash website is classified as a Belgian site, despite its .com TLD.
I would doubt very much that Google classifies sites based on their meta-information. This information is controlled by the webmasters, and as the meta-keyword case shows, can and will be abused.

My conclusion is: just like the way Google determines the location of the surfer (by IP-address), it determines the location of a website by the IP-address of the server.

Why should I care?

If you would like search engine traffic from a specific location or country... you better make sure that the IP-address of your server is located in that country!

Case study

I have a case study to strengthen my theory.

Consider this (existing) site: It''s a Dutch site, written in Dutch, with a Dutch TLD (.nl). Traffic comes 95% from Google. The bulk of the visitors are Dutch, with a small minority of Belgian visitors. The server is located in Amsterdam.

Due to circumstances, the server was moved from Amsterdam (The Netherlands) to Brussels (Belgium). All other parameters were unchanged.

My conclusion

Location of your website''s server can make or break your search engine traffic. Especially if you''re depending on local traffic.

PS: this is a useful tool to compare different country-versions of Google.

(This article is a transcription of a speech given on Barcamp. You can download the Powerpoint presentation of 5.9 Mb.)

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