How to Geo Target Your Site with Google Webmaster Tools

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Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Susan Moskwa made a video presentation titled Geo target Your Site with Google Webmaster Tools, in which she explained the basics needed to associate a website with a particular country in order to enhance its presence in the local search results.

According to Susan, Google used to (and still does) look at a couple of signals to determine where a site was located or what particular region belonged to. Those signals included:

  1. The server location of the website.
  2. The Top Level Domain (TLD).

Some Challenges with Geo Targeting

There are certain TLDs such as .com, .net and .org that by nature are considered geographically neutral.

One of the problems for websites using geographically neutral domain types was that they were hosted in different locations than where their actual business was. For example, let’s hypothetically say that was hosted in Montreal, Canada and the main business was located in Colorado, USA. With those signals it is most likely that would have not included in the local targeted search results for someone searching for Spanish SEO Services in Denver, Colorado.

The Google solution

To address the situation described above, Google created the geo targeting tool to help webmasters point a particular country/region their websites are targeting. With that in mind, Google will be able to retrieve more accurate natural search results for a specific geographical area.

When to use Geo Targeting

Geo targeting can be used for different purposes and with different variants. The following can be geo targeted in Google Webmaster Tools:

  1. Generic Top Level Domains (gTLD) such as .com, .net and .org.
  2. Individual sub-folders, i.e. for Spanish speakers from Argentina.
  3. Sub-domains, i.e. to target the Mexican market.

Global websites can make a great use of this tool for localization purposes. For instance, let’s say we want to target the US, Canada and the UK with different websites. In that case, we need to create the following sub-domains:

  • -» Site for U.S. customers.
  • -» Site for Canadian customers.
  • -» Site for British customers.

Then, we will have to add each of these sub-domains as individual websites in our Google Webmaster Tools account. Once the sub-domains are established as different sites, we will proceed to set the geographic location respectively.

To avoid duplicate content, the information of these sites (sub-domains), assumed to be in English, has to be different. Conversely, if the same content is translated in different languages, duplicate content will not be a problem for the sub-domains.

Another good example is to target the sub-folder to Argentina. If Argentinean users residing in Buenos Aires use and select “search only pages from Argentina,” it will be more likely for Google to return information from in their local results since the Search Engine considers this geo targeted sub-folder relevant to the search.

On the other hand, it will be less likely for Google to return results from the same sub-folder for Peru or Mexico. And if these same Argentinean users are searching directly from with the “search the web” option, any section of (sub-folders, sub-domains, main pages) can show up.

When not to use the Geo Targeting Tool

Geographic targeting is not the best option for targeting a particular language. If you are targeting Spanish speakers around the world, you shouldn’t geo target your site to Argentina for example. The main reason is that by associating your site to that specific country, you will be missing Spanish speakers from other Latin America countries, Spain, U.S.A. and other areas.

However, if you want to target a specific language such as German, to a locale such as Austria using a neutral TLD (.com), then geo targeting will be your best choice.

Another situation in which this tool should not be used is when targeting continents or entire regions with TLDs .eu or .asia. As of this writing, Google has not come up with an option for regionalization yet.

And if you are using a Country-Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) such as .us, .es or, then you will not be able to geo target sub-domains, sub-folders or the ccTLD itself. ccTLDs are automatically geo targeted by Google. A domain will automatically be set up to appear in the UK local search.

How to set up Geo Target with Google Webmaster Tools

  1. First off, sign up for a Google Webmasters Tool account, currently in 26 languages. Once logged in, you will see in the Dashboard a box with a message Click here to add a site. Enter your domain in that box and click Add Site. For canonical purposes, which means to use either or, stick with the option of your preference for your website.
  2. The next step is to verify your site. One of the requirements to use Google Webmaster Tools is to verify the ownership of the domain you are setting up. To do that, you will see a box with a light bulb and a link that will take you to the verification status page. If your site has not been verified, you will see the NOT VERIFIED message. Here you have two verification options:
    1. Insert the meta tag provided by Google after the head element of your HTML document. For illustration purposes, let’s use the following meta tag that should go right after <head> but before </head>:
      [code lang='html'][/code]
    2. The other verification option is to create an HTML file using the name provided by Google. For this example we are using a file named google8b50e744aeb3f03c.html. This file can be created with Windows Notepad or your preferred HTML editor. There is no need to include any information. Simply save the file with the name assigned by Google, which by the way already includes the extension html, and upload it to the root of your site. The file’s URL created for verification purposes will look something like this:
      [code lang='html'][/code]

Once this is done, click verify.

After you have verified your TLD, the sub-folders automatically will become verified too. For sub-domains you will need to verify each one of them in addition to the TLD.

You can set the geographic target by clicking on Set geographic target. The following options will be displayed:

  1. Do not associate a geographic location with this site.
  2. Associate a geographic location with this site. If you choose this option, you will have to select the country/region you are targeting. The last step is to click save.

If you already have a ccTLD such, your geo target will be automatically set up to USA. In a case like this, you will see a message like this after clicking Set geographic target:

Your site's domain (.US) is already associated with the country/region: United States

Final thoughts on Geo Targeting

The best use for Google Webmaster Tools is for geographically neutral TLDs and not for ccTLDs.

If you are planning to go global, don’t use a ccTLD for your main site, because it will be automatically associated to a country. Instead, invest in a neutral TLD.

However, if you have no choice but to use a ccTLD and are aspiring to go global visit the post on How To Geo Target Your Site for Global Exposure coming soon.

As of this writing, there is no information on how Google geo targeting tool deals with International Domain Names (IDNs). Since IDNs are based on language more than geographical location, the most reasonable assumption is that Google will not automatically geo target them.

Finally, if you wish to watch Susan Moskwa’s presentation click play on this video:

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What a great post! Thanks for sharing Augusto. I’ve thought of geo targeting using Google Webmaster Tools. I wonder how often searchers use the “only search (country) pages” option versus the regular search.

Also, any thoughts on whether its better to have a sub-domain versus a sub-folder to target geographically?



Augusto Ellacuriaga

Augusto Ellacuriaga's picture

Hi Will,

Welcome to the blog!

I am working on a post to respond to your first question, because I think it’s really important. So please bear with me because I think you will find the details interesting.

Using a sub-domain versus a sub-folder really depends on several factors of your strategy. From my perspective, the most important one is language.

Sub-domains are better to host different languages mainly because we should try to make things simple for crawling:

1. By separating languages, we are avoiding confusing the bot with totally different content. Keep in mind that information is grouped semantically, hence the importance to keep them separately.

2. The meta language tags can be changed and other code altered without affecting the rest of the site.

3. The text orientation, numbers and other intrinsic elements of the language that affect the layout can be altered without compromising much the performance and design. This is relevant when you are dealing with languages that read from right to left like Arabic

On the other hand, if you are planning to put same language content under a folder, then this strategy can work better. Though, if you are targeting Canada, Australia, the UK and the USA, I’d rather go with ccTLDs (first option) or sub-domains (like in the Spanish version of this site about Posicionamiento en Buscadores).




I must say: This is the most comprehensive blog post about geo-targeting I have come across !

Well done. I also like the IDN issue, I never thought about that. 1+


Excellent read augusto…Good job :)


Joe's picture

do you know if its enough if i tell google in its webmaster tools which contry i target or do i also have to move my host to this country??

Augusto Ellacuriaga

Augusto Ellacuriaga's picture

Hi Joe,

Using Google Webmaster Tools to assign a specific geographical location to your generic TLD can be enough depending on your overall SEO strategy, your vertical, among other things. It’s not cut and dry. For ccTLDs, Google does assign the locale automatically and you have no choice.

Nonetheless, if you want to have an edge over your competition in terms of local search, hosting the TLD (Top Level Domain) or ccTLD (Country Code TLD) in the country you are targeting may help a bit. This can be tedious work though. So you have to assess pros and cons. Also, keep in mind that this does not mean you will immediately outrank your competitors. There are other variables to take into account when competing globally


de's picture

well this explains beautifully, the geo targeting, but i have geard that geo targeting in the webmasters tools does not work. The country level domain plus hoting in the country is best option

[...] How to Geo Target Your Site with Google Webmaster Tools [...]

I don’t believe Google webmaster tools work at all. I changed my targeting to US months ago and Google still thinks my site is Canadian. My site is hosted in the US.

I just now submitted the site to Google Maps with a US address.

I have a feeling that they are checking the WHOIS because I do have a Canadian address on the whois but my this site is for the US.

If you’ve set geo targeting for sub-folders of a site, should the xml sitemap also be in those sub-folders? Or can the XML sitemap still be placed at the root of the site and list ALL URLs including those that are for different countries?

Thank you for your thoughts on this!

Augusto Ellacuriaga

Augusto Ellacuriaga's picture

@Galen, there are other factors, in addition to Google Webmaster tools, that affect the geo location of a site. In fact, there are some tests going on about how outbound links may affect geo targeting.

@Marios, that would really depend on the depth and size of your site. I’d prefer to keep one XML and use the aggregation form to add individual geo targeted XML files. Just like big music sites with millions of pages do. You can use this method for sub directories, sub domains and other parts of your site.

[...] a site, but can be used as part of an advanced strategy for a site targeting multiple countries. Spanish SEO has a good article on [...]

Having used the go target some months ago for a country specific subdomain of mine I am now seeing the subdomain overtake my main sites geo rankings.


Established UK site is 2 in for “Computer Franchises”
New subdomain is created and targeted for Australia, now the new subdomain is 2 in and the original UK page has vanished completly.

This is playing having with my sales/leads/conversions and I only set up the subdomain instead of buying an australian name due to the fact that Google has a get target option.

So, something is not right! At the moment, and I do not want to scaremonger, I would advise not using subdomains for a similar purpose as I did and instead purchase a new domain outright.

Augusto Ellacuriaga

Augusto Ellacuriaga's picture

I believe subdomains work better for high quality, trusted websites than new or lower quality sites.

ccTLDs are probably more effective in the short and long run.

[...] Re: Geographical SEO This looks like a pretty good guide for setting up Geotargeting in Webmaster Tools. Google Webmaster Tools for Geo Targeting Your Website [...]