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Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Lost Google Rankings Could Be Due to Google Webmaster Tools

 

Synopsis: If your website is suffering from some dropped rankings on Google consider checking the geographic targeting in your Google Webmaster Tools site settings and read up on how to make the right selection (or not at all).

A screenshot of the Geographic Target setting in Google Webmaster Tools. In this case it is set to be saved for the USA

Did you know that changing your geographic target in your GWT site settings can have an impact on your rankings? The impact can be positive in one regard and negative in the other:

Google explains the Geographic Target setting (more info here):

If your site targets users in a particular location, you can provide us with information that will help determine how your site appears in search results, and also improve our search results for geographic queries. You can only use this feature for sites with a neutral top-level domain, such as .com or .org. Country-specific domains, such as .ie or .fr, are already associated with a country or region. If you don’t want your site associated with any location, select Unlisted. (Note: If you do this, your site will probably receive less traffic from Google.)

Example #1:  A USA-Based Site Catering to the USA and Canada

If the owner of this website were to set her site’s setting to target users in the United States there is a very real possibility she will be limiting her visibility on Google.ca’s “Pages from Canada” search; where part of her clientele is searching. On the flip side it is quite possible she would increase her foothold on USA-based searches; searches on Google.com. In this scenario it  is best NOT to set her site’s Geographic Target (totally leave it alone) which will mean stiffer competition; a necessary sacrifice since she is targeting two geographic markets.

A screenshot of the "Geographic Target" setting in Google Webmaster Tools

Example #2: A Canadian-Based Site Catering Exclusively to Canadians

In this scenario the Canadian site owner is targeting Canadians only. As a result, she should set “Canada” in her site’s Geographic Target setting in order to benefit from the possibility of higher rankings on Google for Canadian searches. She could end up having less top rankings on Google.com (vs. Google.ca) but that is not a concern for her so the decision is a simple one.

A screenshot of the Geographic Target setting in Google Webmaster Tools: in this case the setting for "Canada" is about to be savedSo What About the Unlisted Setting?

I do not use the Unlisted setting because, in my opinion, it provides unnecessary information to Google. After all, if you just leave the Geographic Target setting alone instead of choosing “Unlisted” the impact should be the same without introducing yet another variable to consider if your rankings falter; the more variables the harder it can be to determine the culprit that triggered a lower ranking.

If you would like more information on the Geographic Target setting here is a video from a Google engineer:

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16 Responses to “Lost Google Rankings Could Be Due to Google Webmaster Tools”

  1. Robert

    So would it be viable then to create two websites very similar, ie. a .ca and a .com.au, targeting different countries even if they are essentially the same site? Duplicate content, but just targeting a different audience.

  2. Bill

    Very helpful. I had just been having this conversation with someone a few days ago and hadn’t thought about this as a solution. Thanks for the clarity!

  3. Nick @ Brick Marketing

    This makes total sense. Especially if you target a business regionally you want to make these types changes. I can see how this would really benefit a website.

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  5. ilona@israel

    Really helpfull. My SEO work became much better)))

  6. Serrurier

    Quality read. I found your article on yahoo and i have your page bookmarked on my personal read list!
    I’m a fan of your site. Keep up the great work

  7. OM

    Can it penalize your ranking in the Google SERPs?

    Before my website was ranking well for certain keywords but then right after I set my geographic target to the US, I lost a bunch of high rankings.

  8. Ross Dunn

    Based on what happened to you I can see this is an excellent question OM. Can we speak further? In order to help you with this I need to know more about the circumstances leading up to the ranking drops http://www.stepforth.com/contact/#eMail

  9. confused computers

    http://www.stepforth.com/blog/2009/lost-google-rankings-due-to-google-webmaster-tools/ is a informative post yet it is spammed to hell lol

  10. Edwin

    All the information that I’m looking is all on your site. Thank you for the info.

  11. MajorPennyStocks

    Good article. Since we are focusing on viewers from both Canada and USA I will leave the box unchecked.

  12. Anil

    Can someone please tell me if its better to choose “unlisted” or not choosing anything at all, assuming I don’t want to target any specific geographic area.

  13. Ross Dunn

    It is definitely best to not pick anything if you want to target the world. Keep in mind, however, the top level domain (TLD) of your website affects this no matter what; if you have a .ca you will be relegated to Canadian results, .us for US, etc. If you have a .com and nothing about the site appears to be regionalized then you have a much better chance of succeeding internationally. Cheers!

  14. Jose

    There is a significant difference between not choosing anything and ‘unlisted’. By not choosing anything at all means you are letting Google to decide the site is relevant to which country according to IP, server locations, Location information on the siteetc. By choosing Unlisted means you are telling Google to consider the site as generic for every geographical area.

  15. Mike

    Good to know that setting the wrong geographical target will harm your rankings. We are targeting Canada and will make sure we are targeting users in Canada only.

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