Where is your Web site? Most people respond, "On the Internet?" Notice the question mark - they're not even sure it's on the Internet, let alone where or what that actually means. If you aren't sure where your Web site is, how can Google et al know the answer?
The concepts of DNS (Domain Name System) and IPs and other Web-hosting related acronyms often confuse most people. Add to that the idea that the domain extension you use (.com, .co, .uk, .dk, etc.) and the actual physical location of the server where your Web site resides play a role in how you rank organically in various regional Googles and Yahoos and you can nearly see eyes glazing over and minds wandering. Before you start doing that right now, I hope to simply explain why all this techno-babble is important and what you can easily do in order to deal with it.
First, some quick background: For years now, search engines have typically used a Web site's domain extension to determine that site's location: example.co.uk must be in the United Kingdom because .co .uk is the UK's country specific TLD (top-level domain). The same goes for .fr and .dk, etc. This works great for country-specific domains. It is a very simple and effective way to catalogue and categorize Web sites.
By now you're asking, "So what's the problem?" The problem is, for example, a global Web site that targets different countries with different products or offers and tries to run it all from example.com. They potentially have their Web site set up like:
> www.example.com for the United States
> Canada.example.com for Canada
> Japan.example.com for Japan
All of those URLs are sitting on a .com extension and ultimately get attributed to the country where the site is hosted, due to the fact that ".com" is so ubiquitous that geography is based on IP address rather than domain extension.
The ultimate solution is to have country-level domains for each country-specific Web site and then to host all those domains on servers in their respective locales. That is simply not possible for a great many companies due to a variety of reasons.
This isn't just a problem for Webmasters. It's also a problem for search engines. There is a great deal of opportunity for them to incorrectly catalogue Web sites. This leads to relevancy issues and, ultimately, a potentially bad user experience.
Enter Google Webmaster Central
Google has finally realized that allowing users to tell them where a Web site should be ranking geographically is a good thing and has released new functionality for their Webmaster Tools. Now you can log in to your account and specify what country your domain and subdomains belong to. Currently you can only specify a country for a domain, subdomain or directory. Eventually, however, it would certainly be nice to see this functionality on a page level.
Why has Google finally decided to allow Webmasters this level of control? Amanda Camp, an engineer with Webmaster Tools, says, "At SES San Jose last year, we heard from many Webmasters that this was one of the most important issues for them, so we've been working hard to come up with a solution that would be easy and would benefit searchers as well."
At this point Google is clearly leading the charge on issues of this magnitude, as they are prone to do, but it's an easy bet to assume that Yahoo and Microsoft are not going to be too far behind. Microsoft launched their tools suite (Webmaster Portal) to private beta at the end of August with a public release by year's end, so keep an eye out for your chance to sign up and have even more control over your global search presence.
Todd Friesen is director of SEO for Range Online Media. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tags: Search, SED, International