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Google’s View on Geo-Based Redirection and Geolocation SEO

Google’s View on Geo-Based Redirection and Geolocation SEO

Geo-based redirection is a much-debated subject in the realm of search engine optimization (SEO). The majority of experts see no problem with the practice; however, a small minority believe that geo-based redirection could lead to de-indexing and thus impact website rankings.

This post aims to clear up the confusion over these opposing views. Read on to learn more about Google’s advice on geo-based redirection (also known as “geolocation SEO”), as well as the search engine authority’s recommended best practices.

What’s the Concern with Geolocation SEO?

Geo-based redirection or geolocation SEO, also known as “cloaking” or “IP delivery,” is the practice of redirecting users to another website version based on their IP address or geolocation. The debate lies in the fact that when search engine bots or spiders crawl a particular page on your site, they may occasionally see a different version than what humans will.

Now, Google has explicitly mentioned that you would want to show consistency in the way you display content. More specifically, it wants site owners to treat bots the same way they treat site visitors.

What does Google mean by this statement? Like user agents or devices, bots have their respective IP addresses, too. Most bots that Google uses to crawl sites come from the U.S.; thus, their IP addresses are mostly associated with IP ranges from the country. If you prevent users from a particular country, say, the U.S., from accessing your content, then your server should automatically also block bots from the same source.

Examples of IP-Based Redirection

Cloaking is generally frowned upon, however, it is necessary in some cases. If you don’t know your users (i.e., when they don’t allow you to set cookies), the only way that you can identify them is through their IP address so you can redirect them to their desired pages. Many big-name companies do this, from The New York Times to Amazon and even Google for different reasons. These include the following scenarios:

  • Users are always redirected to their country versions every time they load the Google website or any Google product on their browsers. You may also notice the same thing with the official website or even the Facebook pages of some brands. Moreover, the universal resource locator (URL) that appears in the search results for these brands’ homepages markedly differ from those that users land on.
  • Publishers with paywalls such as Forbes and The New York Times show different content in their cached and live versions. They typically apply cloaking for interstitial ads and login pages. In some cases, only users who enable cookies see pop-ups.
  • Cloaking also comes in the form of a tactic called “URL rewriting.” With it, websites may show a shorter and more straightforward URL on users’ browsers for affiliate landing pages. Affiliate URLs are usually long and include multiple parameter values. These parameters are dynamically set and are used by marketers for tracking, among other purposes.

Cloaking has a bad reputation because many blackhat SEO specialists abused the tactic to make sites rank in the past. Rogue SEO users utilized the technique deceptively to show bots keyword-padded content, often fabricated and plagiarized, to boost their site rankings. It stopped working, however, when Google rolled out algorithm updates in 2011 (Panda) and 2012 (Penguin).

However, Google’s new search filters don’t necessarily penalize sites that implement cloaking. As long as the goal falls within whitehat territory, such as improving user experience (as opposed to pointing users to a malware-ridden site), geo-based redirection is fine so long as users stick to best practices.

Geo-Based Redirection Best Practices

It’s best to err on the side of caution by sticking to established geolocation SEO practices that major brands also observe. Here are some best practices from Google and other industry experts for site owners that host locale-adaptive pages or smart content:

  • 1. Strengthen your local SEO efforts if you want search engines to recognize your website in a specific country or region. You may let search engines know your website location by using a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD), subdomains or subfolders, and localhost. Other relevant tactics include adding your address to your website, building backlinks from local websites, or configuring your preferred site version and geo-targeting in Google Search Console.
  • 2. When A/B testing, make sure to only show a single version of the page to search engines. Only show the final page for both bots and humans to see once you’ve finalized which one to go with.
  • 3. Take your primary market into account before implementing international SEO rules. Before setting your website’s preferred language or language/country by default, for example, consider its advantages and disadvantages. Are any users bound to get lost when they land on a U.S. version of your site? Or is a language/country selector at the root domain better, perhaps? Are 301 redirects more practical in your situation?
  • 4. Ensure that there are no page duplicates. Assign canonicals or redirects for preferred homepage versions. You may do this via Search Console or by adding canonical tags to individual links and pages.

Where IP Geolocation API Fits In

IP Geolocation API allows marketing professionals and web developers to gain deeper insights into their target users with location-based intelligence. With it, they can pinpoint the geographic location where users are from to enhance their experience. The API lets users identify visitors’ country, region, city, time zone, postal code, and geographic coordinates by using their email, IP address, or a domain as search terms. It can also help with:

  • 1. Dynamic creatives: With a creative management platform (CMP), marketers can create localized dynamic ad banners for their sites by using a visitor’s IP address as a touchpoint. IP Geolocation API can retrieve the location data to choose the right banner settings. A meta tag or script only needs to be added to an individual page to show the right banners to users; you don’t need to point users to other page versions.
  • 2. Behavioral prospecting: Marketing professionals can also use location data derived from IP Geolocation API to show dynamic creatives to profile users. This experiment has many benefits, such as let consultants trace the path users took to land on their sites and find out what they were searching for. They can also use the data to attract new audiences and focus on the ones who are likely to convert.
  • 3. IP-based redirection: Your business operations need to be capable of redirecting users based on their IP addresses. You can do that using a third-party geo-redirect tool. IP Geolocation API can be integrated into this tool to automatically determine your site visitors’ IP addresses and show them the intended smart content for them.

Geo-based redirection or geolocation SEO rules can baffle even the most seasoned marketer. IP delivery is very tricky, and unless you know the ins and outs of IP-based redirection, you will have to redirect users the conventional (i.e., Google’s) way. Should you have any questions on the subject and the use of IP Geolocation API in that context, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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