Update 1/1/2023: This article includes information about setting a geographic target in Google Search Console, a feature that is no longer available. For current methods of country targeting, see the “Alternatives to the Geographic Target” section below.
Alternatives to the Geographic Target
As Geographic Targeting is no longer available, here are some alternative ways to target specific countries:
- Country-Specific TLDs: Using a country-specific top-level domain (like .uk for the UK) can signal the targeted country to search engines.
- Hreflang Tags: Use hreflang tags to specify the language and geographical targeting of a webpage.
- Server Location: Hosting your website in the country you are targeting can help, although the impact is often minor.
- Content Localization: Adjust your content to cater to the local language, culture, and interests of your target country.
- Local Backlinks: Acquiring backlinks from websites within your targeted country can help improve your visibility for that specific audience.
Outdated Information on Geographic Targeting in Google Search Console
Note: The information in this section is outdated as the Geographic Targeting feature is no longer available in Google Search Console.
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.
See examples of internationally-targeted websites and adequate GT solutions, based on my experience:
When to Use a Geographic Target
- You are targeting particular markets with TLDs
- You are targeting particular markets with subdomains
- You are a local business targeting multilingual audience within your country
When NOT to Use a Geographic Target
- You are a local business targeting multilingual audience abroad
In this specific case, I wouldn’t recommend setting a geographic target to specific countries. Just select “unlisted” for all instances.
- 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.
- 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
- Go to Google Search Console
- Click on the website (property) you want to set geographic target for
- On the left, select Search Traffic > International Targeting
- Click on the “Country” tab
- Select the region you want to target or select “unlisted”
- Click “Save.”
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).