Off Target

If you’re not a provider of local search services you may want to skip this one as it’s very inside baseball.

When I see someone blogging about geotargeting it usually refers to making sure that a site provides relevant information for the user’s physical location. However, some sites use a technique called “geotargeting location by IP address” to serve up different content to a user based on where the geotargeting software thinks the user is. The idea is that if the software thinks you’re in Tuscon then it will serve you Tuscon content. For the user it can make them feel like the page or site is tailored specifically to them.

This is all well and good except that I have seen this kind of implementation wreak havoc on site optimization, particularly on local search optimization.

The problem occurs when the geotargeting occurs on a single URL (i.e. the person in Tuscon is on the same page as the person in Fresno except each sees content specific to their location such as “best restaurants in…”). Search engine spiders tend to enter a site from a variety of different IP addresses/locations. So one day Google may think a URL is about Tuscon (because it entered via a Tuscon IP address) and another day it may think the URL is about Fresno (because it entered via a Fresno address). This causes two major issues:

1. Google will rank the page (and probably the entire site) for the last location it identified since each page can only have a single location for any given session. So the site may have content for the entire country but it will likely only rank for one city at a time (usually Mountainview, CA – home of Googlebot’s main IP address).

2. Users who click on a link from a search engine to the site and are not in the last location identified will have a jarring experience (e.g. someone traveling to Tuscon but living in Los Angeles will click on a Tuscon link in Google and might get Los Angeles content).

So if a product manager suggests you do some geotargeting by IP address you may want to make sure he/she thinks through this issue before proceeding. As you can see on Insider Pages, when we implemented geotargeting we did it only in the search box to avoid this issue.

If you are having problems with geotargeting on your site please drop me a email at localseo at

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19 Response Comments

  • Boris  October 16, 2007 at 12:12 am

    Well, How interesting… I am in Tucson and I practice Geo-Targeting for all my clients. Our work simply involves location, location, and location… Which is Tucson. Since I only work the local market, it always amazes me when I read how difficult SEO can be beyond our business model. That is why I like local so much… It’s simple and straight forward… And much easier to get great results. The downside is we have to work harder on the educational component of our marketing plan. Tucson is quit ready for SEO prime time!

  • Andrew Shotland  October 16, 2007 at 8:41 am

    Boris I believe the town fathers of Tuscon would be proud of your boosterism.

  • Dave  October 16, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    It depends on how you serve the personalized content. You can serve the personalized content onto the page in an iFrame and Google shouldn’t care. Many people serve personalized content this with ad servers. There are some fairly cheap ad servers out there like AdButler which can detect geo-location and serve a pre-selected message to that segment as well as a different message per referring URL. The more segmented you get, the better it seems to work but the grater the labor requirement to manage. At some point, you might run into diminishing returns.

  • Andrew Shotland  October 16, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Hawaii, you’re quite right if you are talking about serving a module of content inside a page. The problem arises when you use geotargeting to set the location for the Title, H1, etc.

  • Lucio Dias ribeiro  November 1, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Andrew, beauty of article mate!
    I’d suggest target using subpages with a piece of PHP and ASP code to solve the problem.,
    Depending on what you want to do a good solution is to use the new tool on webmaster tools “Set geographic target” allowing you to associate a particular geographic location with your site if you are targeting users within that area.
    Lucio Dias Ribeiro

  • Victoria BC Photographer  November 28, 2007 at 11:46 pm

    Thats right up there with using Web 2.0 / Javascript to serve up content 🙂 But as long as there are bad SEOs, and designer / developers we will all be in business 🙂

  • David Saunders  October 6, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Mmmmm 🙂 I have a website in my native England that is ranked # 1 where I want it to and the host is US based.

    I have another site hosted in LA and shows up #1 in Charlotte, NC

    I have a blog hosted in Canada and is #1 in my area – are you guys kidding?

    Happy 1st Andrew – I always enjoy stopping by here

    David Saunders

  • Andrew Shotland  October 6, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Thanks David. As you can see from the post I am not talking about where you host your site, but rather if you target content delivery by the location of the user, which in some cases can be a search engine bot.

  • TraiaN  April 28, 2009 at 4:55 pm


    Either your opinion changed either you’re not working with Insider Pages anymore. As mentioned by you “we implemented geotargeting we did it only in the search box”.

    It looks like the title, description and keyword tags are all stuffed with geo location modifiers.

    I know this is an old artcile, but i just found it 😀

  • Andrew Shotland  April 29, 2009 at 3:36 pm


    I haven’t worked at InsiderPages for about three years now so in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they have changed quite a bit on the site.

  • West Coast Vinyl  September 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Great article and info, we don’t have much problems with the geo targeting for our industry, and its very competitive in our area. We combine regular seo with geo target!

  • Charlotte  October 30, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I never geotarget my seo. The only place geotargeting by IP address works is for PPC in my mind.

  • Seattle SEO  December 11, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Interesting discussion. Although I do use some form of geotargeting for most of my clients, geotargeting location by IP address is a bad idea.

  • What Is My IP Address  July 18, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I use Geolocation techniques but only on the content wise. Like if I have a website that have some pages targeting USA (for example) once a US visitor come to my website I bold the USA page link.

  • Devon  September 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    You can get around the Google thing by just picking some random city and displaying that if you detect the user as a Google Bot.

    People make a lot of mistakes when it comes to Geo targeting, believing that just using it will magically bring better results.

    For one thing, if you are targeting outside of the United States, be aware that most countries do not use the region hardly at all. So in most countries one might say they live in , whereas in the US we use , (Houston, Texas in the US and London, England in the UK).

    Another thing is that when targeting, don’t just use whatever city is detected. This is probably the most difficult part because it’s not easy to do. You want to display a city that is nearby but large enough to be believable. The *only* script I’ve been able to find so far that can do this is Lambda GeoIP, although I’m sure there are more out there. If you are a decent coder you can code up your own solution and get really fancy with how you do it.

    Hope this helps,

  • Devon  September 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Sorry my tags got edited out in my above comment. I meant to say that outside the US they often use *CITY*, *COUNTRY* whereas in the US we use *CITY*, *STATE*. The region part is rarely used in most other countries and would look very weird to a reader from that part of the world.

  • Asher Elran  April 7, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I was reading your article also on “Yelp” and i think that beside the ip address geo targeting the have lots of other issues…..

  • Dirk, SEO Guy  April 25, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Before, people tend to equate SEO with global searches. Now, I believe that SEO is narrowing down to local searches. Unknowingly, we are shaping up to fulfill one of the biggest goals of Google: to provide the most relevant information to the end-users as much as possible.

  • John  November 17, 2011 at 12:34 am

    When I first get started to promote my website to Search Engine, I am very happy when I noticed that my site rank higher than I thought.

    So I tried to approach my friend telling him about the achievement that I had experience.

    What he did was confirm if my site really ranks higher on that keyword. But he told me that I am not even in the top ten when he tried to search.

    And that was the time that I heard about Geotargeting.

    – John