Geographic Target in Search Console for International Websites: Whether and How

There has been a lot of confusion about whether and how to set a geographic target in Google Search Console. The important things are that:

  • GT serves to determine country targeting, not language targeting.
  • GT is intended for website structures whose country targeting is unclear: i.e. when using gTLDs like .COM, or using language codes that are identical to country codes: e.g. /ru/ or /fr/.
  • GT affects geo-targeting of a website, not rankings (explained below).

See examples of internationally-targeted websites and adequate GT solutions, based on my experience:

When to Use a Geographic Target

  1. You are targeting particular markets with TLDs

geographic target TLDs

  1. You are targeting particular markets with subdomains

geographic target subdomains

  1. You are a local business targeting multilingual audience within your country

geographic target subfolders

When NOT to Use a Geographic Target

  1. You are a local business targeting multilingual audience abroad

geographic target subfolders2
In this specific case, I wouldn’t recommend setting a geographic target to specific countries. Just select “unlisted” for all instances.

  1. You are a global business targeting global customers with /subfolders/

If you are a global business based in the US, DO NOT set a geographic target to the US, as all of the subfolders will be considered to target US customers only. I recommend setting GT for the subfolders ONLY if you use country targeting.

  1. You just want to achieve better rankings within your country

Choosing a target market via Webmaster Console is intended for Google to determine the country of targeting in case of gTLDs (.COM, .NET, .EDU, .ORG etc.). Providing this, it doesn’t affect rankings directly. Additionally, as any other geo-targeting signal, it may improve rankings for locally-sensitive queries. On the other hand, you can lose valuable traffic from other countries.

If you are targeting local multinational customers with subdomains or TLDs

E.g. have an .ES domain for Spanish-speaking audience in the US. There is no particular reason to do it this way, as a local business should benefit more from a single ccTLD with /subfolders/. Moreover, ccTLDs are a definite country-targeting signal, so a .DE domain is primarily thought to target Germany rather than a German-speaking audience. If you need to do that, I recommend setting the geographic target for the individual sub/domains to the country you are in, regardless of the language.

How to Set a Geographic Target

  1. Go to Google Search Console
  2. Click on the website (property) you want to set geographic target for
  3. On the left, select Search Traffic > International Targeting
  4. Click on the “Country” tab
  5. Select the region you want to target or select “unlisted”
  6. Click “Save.”

search console geographic target

Avoid

DO NOT leave this option unticked if you are using a gTLD. Google then uses different factors for determining the target audience and might misinterpret your intentions. Rather than leaving the box unchecked, select “Unlisted”. This will let Google know that you are targeting a broad, global audience or region. Find more info here: International targeting (Search Console Help).

unlisted geographic target

What the Result Can Look Like

geographic target case study

The above image shows organic traffic for a .COM domain targeted at the USA via Google Search Console’s geographic target. Organic traffic coming from the USA represents 73 % compared to the rest of the world. The setting of the target doesn’t restrict organic traffic from other countries, but helps Google determine the country of targeting. Once Google knows, it can increase relevancy and favor your business in local search. After that, you can get secondary local backlinks or mentions from users etc.

Geographic Target FAQs

Indiatravelz asked on Moz Q&A Forum:

In the list of all the countries in Google webmaster tools what does is mean “unlisted”?

Answer: With the option “Unlisted,” you can tell Google that your website does not target any specific market. Doing this, Google will not try to determine geographical targeting from other signals.

Question:
can I choose geographic target for two countries

Answer: It depends if you are using a ccTLD or a gTLD. If you are using a gTLD like .COM, I would suggest selecting “unlisted”, otherwise Google may determine the targeting incorrectly. I also recommend creating so-called local landing pages under a /subfolder/ for one of the markets. Use a proper country code in the subfolder’s URL. You can also set the geographic target for it specifically.

Question:
ccTLD associated with a country

Answer: You can change the geographic settings in Search Console, but .IT domain still will be a prevailing factor for determining the country of targeting. It very much depends on where your audience is and why you have chosen the .IT domain. If you are a local business in Italy and want to attract international audience, you will be fine when you’ll leave the geo-targeting in Search Console on “unlisted,” so that it is not restricted to the place of your business.

Question:
geographical targeting how long

Answer: You should see the change in Google Analytics > Audience > Geo + only include organic traffic using Segments. If you don’t see any change in a couple of weeks (there should be more and more organic traffic from India compared to other regions), you might have other geo-targeting factors wrong: e.g. inbound links should also be from Indian sites etc. All in all, geo-targeting doesn’t affect rankings directly, it’s not a substitute for standard SEO.

Question:
geographic target global versus local

Answer: This is a strategic decision of yours. If you want to target global audience, select “unlisted” as a GT. If you rather want local visits, select the country you want to target. You can always go with a global and a local version at the same time, targeted respectively.

Question:
geographic target redirects

Answer: It depends on the type of the redirect. If you are using a 301 redirect, the pages will be substituted in the Google’s index over time, so in SERPs, the target URL will become visible. You should register the target site for Search Console and set the geographic target to Japan there. If you are using a different type of redirect, both of the sites may appear in SERPs. So, you should set the target for both of them.

(By the way, why redirect users from such a clean URL to that ugly one?)

Question:
geographic target panamanians abroad

Answer: That’s a very good question. From my point of view, the decision depends on what keywords the Panamanians use to find your business. If they use location-specific keywords, Google takes those as local search queries and usually shows local results. Make sure these keywords are present on your website as well as NAP information; get local backlinks and citations, set up a local G+ page. Set the GT to “unlisted”: Google will then have plenty of geo-signals and will not restrict where the site will appear.

Question:
geographic target rankings

Answer: You are not mentioning what country you want to target. Google uses a variety of other geo-signals for .COM domains when the geographic target is not set. Typically, local backlinks, currency, NAP information, local keywords, local citations, local reviews, anchor text etc.

Question:
geographic target duplicities

Answer: It’s not a problem as long as there is a clear geographic distinction, e.g. a TLD or geographic target set in Search Console. To be absolutely safe, you can use hreflang annotations. I don’t recommend using canonicals in this case: otherwise, you could lose rankings for one of the domains.

Question:
IN domain for global users

Answer: By moving it to a gTLD, 301 the old site and setting “Unlisted” as a geographic target in Search Console.

determining location without geographic target

Google uses a variety of other signals when the geographic target is not set. One of the strongest signal is the ccTLD. Source: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/62399

 

Questions were taken from the following sources:

https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.cz/2008/04/where-in-world-is-your-site.html
https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.cz/2007/10/better-geographic-choices-for.html
https://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.cz/2010/03/working-with-multi-regional-websites.html
https://webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/49236/can-i-choose-two-geographic-target-countries-for-my-website
https://moz.com/community/q/geographic-target-set-up-in-google-webmaster-tool

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Martin Kůra

Martin a.k.a. @HermanTinkura helps international and local companies enter new markets by creating a vast multi-cultural SEO strategy. Martin writes for SEMrush and likes to explore different cultures of the world, which is his favorite part of his work.

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