International SEO & Geo IP Redirects
Before you think ‘not another International SEO post?!’ and move on because you have read great posts such as The International SEO Checklist from Aleyda, let look at some of the technical side “International SEO” specifically relating to Geographic IP redirects.
Caveat, Its important to note that this article is primarily aimed at business who are entering multiple English-speaking markets, however the details apply to all languages.
So the decision has been made to enter a new market, it may be to expand who you sell to, generate more leads or simply test out a new country, whatever the reason their is always a big debate about automatically redirecting your users to the correct site.
Surely if we have carried out the following technical requirements then there should be no need to automatically redirect visitors:
However you should also think about:
- What happens if you are restricted to what products your allowed to sell in certain countries i.e. You can sell in the UK but not in the US (Legal Reasons)
- Different Prices – You may have different prices because of shipping, creation etc and not want to easily share these differences with your potential customers.
- User error, people may simply go direct to your website through .com when actually you want to show them .co.uk (or similar).
There are three main potential options:
- No redirect – Let users choose their own path
- Automatic Redirect – Users have no choice
- Pop up choice – Example “You have landed on our US site from a UK location, would you like to go to the UK site or stay on the US site?”
Its always good to see how the big boys do things:
- Adobe – Pop Up
- Microsoft – Automatic Redirect
- Apple – User chooses own journey until click “Buy Now” and they are automatically redirected.
- Amazon – User chooses own journey.
So the choice has been made for Automatic redirects, as said before it could be down to selling restrictions or simply your a small site and want to ensure your users get the right information, the big question now is how will this affect your SEO?
Scenario – We are not allowed to sell to customers based in the US. So our US users are automatically redirected to a site without the ability to buy.
The selling restrictions can be a big issue, you may not be able to display related content or even the products so users from the US could be presented with a very small, unoptimized version of the website, while users from other countries are presented with full product details and information led content pages (great for search).
So what’s the problem?
Well if User “A” visits the site and comes from a US IP address, then they will be redirected to examplesite.com/us/ (Or whichever international domain convention you have chosen on i.e. Domains, Sub domains or sub folders.)
Where does Googlebot come from?
“Google does not, right now, have any crawling that happens from non-US IP addresses. […] Right now, we only crawl from the United States.” – 2.5 years ago – Matt Cutts
There has been debate on whether Google does use non-us IP addresses to spider websites, however this was also confirmed by John Mu in 2012 – “If you *need* to block the US from accessing your website, then you will almost always block Googlebot as well, which will make it very hard (or even impossible) for us to crawl and index your content.”
Ok, so if we redirect US users to the US website, then that’s all Googlebot will see and index, what about our other country websites, will they be indexed?
You can see there are two distinct problems with automatic redirects:
- Getting your other language sites spidered.
- Ranking in the US (when you have restrictions on content, or just want your content to rank)
Couldn’t we just show Google one thing and the users something different?
Sounds like a plan, lets go….
No. No. No.
Its simply against Google’s terms of service to “cloak” a page.
So is redirecting users based on their IP location Spam?
“Redirects for Geo-location isn’t SPAM” – Matt Cutts, (2013)
This is as long as you treat Googlebot the same as a user, so presenting Googlebot with content X and users with content Y would be considered as cloaking.
So if Googlebot comes from a US IP and I redirect them to a US site, how will my other language sites get indexed?
This is fairly simple, you need to make sure there is a link back from your US site to the other languages, so in affect the redirect is only applied first time round. i.e.
- US user / Googlebot goes to “Site A”
- They are redirected to “Site A – US Version”
- They are then able to click a physical link to “Site A – UK version, French Version Etc.”
- They are not then redirected back to the US version the second click should supersede the redirect.
- Googlebot will follow the same principle and is then able to index the other country versions.
It should also be best practice that you have:
- Added hreflang tags to the website
- Added your site to Webmaster Tools and applied the applicable Geolocation settings.
- When linking across to the other Geo websites, try and link to the applicable page as appose to just the home page.
- https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/webmasters/fRILw_z4yso – John Mu answering question about Geolocation and Cloaking
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7paVYBgH0Hw – Is changing the language of page titles based on the user’s IP considered cloaking?
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFf1gwr6HJw – About IP Cloaking and Geolocation