Utilizing Google Search Console’s international targeting feature, also known as “geotargeting,” may negatively impact your SEO strategy, according to Google itself.
According to the giant search engine, the tool can hurt your site’s search rankings if your goal is to reach a large audience of viewers.
This explanation was given by Google Search Advocate John Mueller during a recent hangout on the Google SEO office-hours while answering a question from viewers.
What does that mean anyway? And what do you, the marketer, need to do to prevent your SEO strategies from being harmed?
Follow me, I’ll explain.
First, Let’s Understand the Case…
During the hangout, an SEO analyst responsible for a major financial news portal located in Pakistan—but with content targeting worldwide—brought up an issue relevant to internet internationalization strategies.
Even though the portal had good Google ranking potential and published exclusive firsthand content, as soon as other smaller sites with less ranking potential started to republish that same content, it lost space between the first search placements.
“We’ll have a story. We’ll be the exclusive, the first one, the whole E thing will be trustworthy, we’ll rank very high. And as soon as other websites publish the same story, even if they do a spin on our take, they suddenly start ranking higher, and we immediately start disappearing into oblivion. I’m tasked with improving the SEO, and the editors are frustrated.”
According to the SEO analyst, this happens even when the smaller sites in question correctly reference their portal in reposts.
Why did this happen?
After examining the site and ruling out any issues that could hamper the portal’s higher rankings in search engines, Mueller concluded that the cause could be in the International Targeting settings in the Google Search Console.
And what is Google Search Console Geotargeting for?
Before talking about how Geotargeting may negatively impact your SEO strategy, we need to remember what this function is intended to do.
Basically, the tool allows you to display the correct version of a website to local customers from a particular country or specific region. For example, if you have an online store and you only sell to customers in the U.S., this region will be defined as the store’s destination country.
That way, when a person interested in your product searches for stores in the U.S. or uses Google’s “near me” function, search engines will return results from sites with domains specific to the buyer’s country or region.
How International Targeting Can Damage Your Business Strategy
After delving deeper into the site targeted during the hangout, Mueller noticed that the site’s Geotargeting settings in Search Console had been configured for Pakistan.
In other words, Pakistan was defined in the tool as the destination country for the site. This directly affects its ranking in search engines in other countries, compromising its reach.
According to Mueller:
“When it comes to search, if you want to target countries other than Pakistan, like an English news site, then I would definitely turn it off. Because that can have an effect, because it really focuses on Pakistan, and then it focuses a little less on other countries.”
In other words, if you’re invested in reaching a worldwide audience with your website, it’s essential to pay attention to the settings in Search Console and disable targeting.
Thus, your site will be able to reach a more general audience, with more views and a better ranking in search engines, as is the case of the “sister site” of the example brought in by Google’s hangout.
When Should International Targeting Be Used?
The answer to that question is: it depends.
To enable Google Search Console International Targeting, you will need to assess your current business strategy.
If you intend to invest in a more local reach for your website, such as virtual stores that only serve a specific region, activating segmentation will make a lot of sense for your strategy and help better segment and qualify your customers.
If your focus is on having a more global reach, like world news sites, you should turn off targeting in Search Console. This will help your site reach audiences anywhere in the world, facilitating greater reach and better positioning on search pages.
There is no rule or cake recipe—examine your SEO strategy, and choose the option that makes the most sense for your business.
So, which strategy works best for you? If you want to better understand content internationalization and how Google sees it, I strongly suggest that you also read this article.