Google's dirty little secret

, # Zoekmachine optimalisatie

... 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: www.google.be.
  • 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: www.google.nl.
  • 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: www.google.com.
  • You might have to use a proxy: www.proxify.com, 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: www.-------.nl. 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.
Traffic numbers of the site
Result of the move: all Dutch traffic disappeared, while the small Belgian traffic remained.

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.)

If you found this article interesting, maybe you can digg this.

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schreef

Interesting, but that's a really stupid way of doing it. I mean I could have a site hosted on a German ip address, but my site could be written entirely in Arabic and if google used this ip system, then it would wrongly show my site to those looking for German specific content.


schreef

Strange!


schreef

real nice info.

Thats why I always say "google knows it all"


schreef

Great Nice story


schreef

Nice info you have there. Google really does know it all lol.

Dave


schreef

I think that its based more on website content, then your ip adress. If you use google in german, you will get german results, if you use google in dutch you will get dutch results.


schreef

What's so "dirty" about this? If I'm looking for something and I'm in Germany, then I want sites from Germany. Giving me sites in Australia would not be the most relavent. This is what search results are supposed to do... Give you sites relative to you and your search terms!

Your title wins the "Pull my Finger Award". Here... Pull my finger...


schreef

With regards to

"Go to: www.google.com.

You might have to use a proxy: www.proxify.com, as Google redirects you to the Google-site of your own country."

try www.google.com/ncr

it doesn't redirect to your local google site.

Cheers

CBAR

www.crellbar.com


schreef

why is this such a dirty secret? it was never really announced by google and because hosting bandwidth in some smaller countries is stupidly expensive and hosting within that country is just not possible


schreef

Good Info, things like this does help understand and fine tune a lot....in way this highlight some DUMB qualities of Google like blindly following the IP of the server.....

----

Regards,

Mehul Patel

Experience Designer Mobile Content, drop by at: http://wap.mozomo.com

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We could possibly love you too if you visit Mozomo right NOW :)


schreef

May be right to an extent in that google looks at the TLD while serving the results but I don't think the location of the server matters.


schreef

While losing the Dutch traffic sucked, I'm sure, I think that returning results you are most likely able to read is a "good thing".

If I were searching for essays on the "Unbearable Lightness of Being" and the first 50 results from Google were in Russian or Chinese, I'd go to Yahoo or Alloftheweb or some other search engine that would return results I could read.

Have you tried emailing anyone at Google about this? I'm sure if you have logs to back up yuur argument, they would lend a sympathetic ear. I'm really curious what they tell you to see if they really mean all of that "no evil" or if it's all bullshit.


schreef

Yeah I have also noticed this. When trying to determine how 'searchable' my site is, I find it comes up much better from google.co.uk than google.com.

Sometimes though it seems completely random, on one search my result might be the top one then repeating the same search it isnt there at all.


schreef

Really I did believe it was common knowledge - well the amount of digg's proves me wrong - at least most SEO's know it.

Regarding getting the Google.com results. Ever noticed the 'Google.com in English' link in the bottom right at a localized Google home page..?

But be aware that even though you're at google.com you still get localized results. You do need to go through a non-transparent proxy with an ip from the country you want to see the results for...


schreef

A local Tld does the job too - and makes the IP unimportant. But where your links come from also is a factor. Having only links from sites which are determined to be US to a local Tld website would make the site rank higher for US searches than the local searches.

So you could also just have a .com hosted in the US but with most links from NL sites, and that would do the job for getting good rankings for NL searches.


schreef

Like Stefan above said, this really is common knowledge to SEO's. Google factors in a lot of things to determine when to show a certain website in the results. TLD , server-location, site language, ...

I can understand Google preference for websites which are actually hosted at the location they target because of server responce time etc. But , in this age of broadband, this shouldn't be an issue (anymore) and local results should depend on language, not location of the server.


schreef

Well you can sellect from preferences :

Search only for pages written in these language(s) :

English

and Display Language English too...

then Save...

Refresh the page and you will see a secret menu..

SafeSearch Filtering

Google's SafeSearch blocks web pages containing explicit sexual content from appearing in search results.

Use strict filtering (Filter both explicit text and explicit images)

Use moderate filtering (Filter explicit images only - default behavior)

Do not filter my search results.

Try , Do not filter my search results.

And search again ;)

Greets,

Fallen


schreef

I systematically use google.com instead of google.be. And I don't have to use a proxy. How? Use the Google Toolbar, and choose google.com in the preferences.

And by the way, localization of the site is done by TLD *and* IP address, not by IP only. So a .be hosted in the US is considered to be Belgian, just as a .com hosted in Belgium.


schreef

I didn't realize that Google was a force of regional segregation. I just don't see this as something that would be useful to most people. Language is important, if you speak one but not another, but region, or the location of a site with information relevant to your search is only relevent in a very small number of cases, like when ordering a pizza.


schreef

Nice.


schreef

"...localization of the site is done by TLD *and* IP address, not by IP only. So a .be hosted in the US is considered to be Belgian, just as a .com hosted in Belgium."

Now, that might might be true.


schreef

My site www.onlinearcade.ws is in the u.s. and gets mostly u.s. traffic even tho the ext. is .ws


schreef

knappe observatie!


schreef

als je voortaan nog eens een test doet, zou je misschien beter eens eerst een engels woordenboek aanschaffen.. "webdesign" bestaat namelijk niet in het engels, maar moet zijn "web design", in twee woorden.

Het enige wat je gevonden hebt zijn dus krakkemikkige spellingen. Wat je test dus zo goed als waardeloos maakt. Daar komt nog bovenop dat een theorie opzetten gebaseerd op één enkele zoekterm ook nogal bijzonder onprofessioneel is.


schreef

I had an idea they do this. I just never thaught it would make such a massive impact


schreef

No kidding...thats been known for years....2006 I'd like to meet 2003.


schreef

Comon guys, stop it...

Google is pure of any kind of Evil.


schreef

It's about time people discover google ranks sites based on very poor values. Pitty for those companies (like Netlash) who build their bussines on the way google works.


schreef

I tried as mentioned in the article, but did not work for me.


schreef

I always suspected this. I sell books which are purchased in the following ratio:

America : 60%

Saudi: 20%

India: 10%

Others: 10%

Visitors are in the ratio:

America : 30%

India: 60%

Others: 10%

When i do a google search on the keywords : develop accounting using vb or asp or sql server the site is listed on top. However, (this is where

i think i am loosing out), i think, google is sending more visitors from India rather than from other countries. BTW: the site is in English (american!). Wondering whether i should relocate the site.


schreef

Thank you for your article. There were times I wanted to target a certain country with my product, yet I was subtly directed to the Google.com US segments instead. If found this annoying - your article confirms what I've felt was happening. I not only have a .com site, but also promote a .ws site as well. I want to know how these search engines function in order to best use them.


schreef

First of all, this is not a secret. Anyone with any sense would realise there results have been localised. Secondly, while Google redirects you to a more local version of their page, they provide a link for you to return to the main Google if you like (if you missed it, it's the "Go to Google.com" link).

Secondly, there is nothing dirty about Google's implementation here. It is provided as a convenience for the user - and convenient it is. I often need to search for Australian/UK/American/Japanese pages, and that Google automatically refines it's results according to the nationality of the Google you use is most helpful.


schreef

I hate the Google redirect, I am a Canadian living in Thailand and it's really annoying! Google just keeps taking me back to Google.co.th


schreef

ya...i agree with u ..BUT THIS IS NOT DIRTY...!!!


schreef

Sign of things to come. Google wants to build their own internet backbone and offer free wireless client access so they can control the localization more effectively. This isn't a secret, it's just that some pieces have to be in place before others.

Consider this, phase 1 :)


schreef

Im pretty sure its common knowledge but adding something like "site:be" on your query bypasses this.


schreef

hellloooo


schreef

Dit is inderdaad al jaren zo, alleen weet ik niet hoe je hier nu het beste mee om kunt gaan. Mijn bedrijf verkoopt huizen in Thailand, maar onze klanten komen voornamelijk uit het buitenland, maar soms ook weer buitenlanders die in Thailand wonen. Dus wat is nou het beste, hosten in Thailand of hosten in de V.S. Daar komt nog bij dat het internet in Thailand dramatisch is en Thais gehoste websites vanuit het buitenland regelmatig slecht bereikbaar kunnen zijn.... lastig


schreef

Excellent, I had a feeling this was going to happen, that is why I have purchased local hosting for our content serving the english speaking countries we serve, as we want to deliver localised content.


schreef

That is interesting. Does yahoo and msn do the same thing?


schreef

This is quite true n kool.....I wonder if anyone has seen http://IndyChai.com

??


schreef

I guess it's not that important, althought, it does that even when searching with my locale (google.ca) against Google.com the results still are different. It is useful if your looking for a company that is near you, if you searched for "automotive repair" and you were in Canada but got a bunch of US sites.

To answer Mr. Hendersen's guestion, yes, I have searched for webdesin in Live and Yahoo using Canada and US search and they have different results.


schreef

Well what really sucks is that there are countries in the middle east where they disable 'google images' for whatever reason. SO if you are trying to find a picture for research or a picture of your favorite car this is the message you end up with-Network Error (dns_unresolved_hostname)

Your requested host "images.google.com.om" could not be resolved by DNS.

For assistance, contact your network support team.


schreef

I have noticed this too, while using proxies at school. I am in the states and my school district blocks almost everything, unless you use a proxy. I hate some of the search results from the Thaiwan google.


schreef

Google's little dirty secret? Nou, mooi geformuleerd!


schreef

tried as mentioned in the article, but did not work for me.


schreef

localization of the site is done by TLD *and* IP address, not by IP only. So a .be hosted in the US is considered to be Belgian, just as a .com hosted in Belgium.


schreef

@ Livesets

You are partial right, because of the fact there could be a localization to in another place. If you understand what I mean!


schreef

Very interesting.

What are peoples thoughts on the effects of setting your geographic target in Google webmaster tools?

I have set mine to target the United Kingdom where I am based, and also included a local business page to google maps, my sites are hosted in the US.

http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/


schreef

I don't agree while naming this fenomenal thing a Google's dirty little secret, but the word's chosen in this case are rough. haha!

googlewack

googlewack
schreef

I've noticed something strange with google lately....I live in Germany (using german computers!). When I first came here I would put in Google.com and get the US site....over the years that has changed and when I put in Google.com I would get the local German google....ok fair enough, makes sense, but recently something odd has been happening.

I type in Google.com and sometimes I'll get the German google, but sometimes get the Dutch one! There seems to be no way of predicting which one you will get either and this can change several times each day!

I have also noticed that normal sites like BBC.com always used to give me British Adverts and banners, then I would get German ads instead...again which makes sense but now I can go to bbc.com from Germany using a German computer but get ads and banners for Dutch companies! any ideas!


schreef

Very strange!!


schreef

Of course it's very strange. But I think that's why he names this article: Google's little dirty secret :p


schreef

I liked your article....

wish to read alot of your articles in English.

Max

Max
schreef

More to know when G had scan your block for supplying streetview they have collected pictures, GPS and most WIFI ssid.

Whith new browser version, browser scan all SSID and send it to google on demand, this is your WIFIprint (thumbprint), so even if your IP show you at a 1km or 100km from where you are, all WIFI SSID around you point to you...

Nice


schreef

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schreef

This is also the same comment that I posted in Digg on your post.

I very much agree with this post. I previously worked for a contractor for Google for a year and we rated websites on their relevancy, and believe it or not, the location really matters. If a certain keyword will be shown and a list of websites with their landing pages will be shown to us and one of the criteria to rate these sites is its relevancy to the citizen of that country that will be browsing on that specific landing page. Even if you have a very good landing page that is trustworthy, it can be rated as equals to or might be lesser in value than the other website that might be under the local language of the country that you are rating for...sounds confusing? it is really simple. SEO specialists thought that all are crawled and automatically rated but it is not. Mostly real people are the ones who rate websites that you see in SERP.


schreef

Goed artikel en duidelijk beschreven!

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