Google’s Evil Geotargeting and How to Bypass it
You’ve probably noticed that whenever you search on Google you are always automatically redirected to your country’s Google domain. I am in Canada, so even if I type Google.com, I’ll be automatically redirected to Google.ca.
This means that when I do search on Google, I am no longer seeing all possible or best results available on the web. Google intentionally pushed to the top of their search results only the results from sites (businesses) that have geographic location similar to mine.
This is called Geographic Targeting, (or Localization), where Google tries to determine user’s geographic location, based on their IP address (and/or their location settings in Google) and then try to match the user with the sites that also have Geotargeting setup to the same location.
Google’s goal is to return the most relevant and useful sites in response to a user query. As a result, the results we show to a user in Ireland may vary from the results returned to a user in France. ~ Google on Geotargeting
In theory, this sounds like a great idea, especially, because all this is done in a name of proving users with “the most relevant and useful sites”. On practice, it doesn’t work all that well.
Here is why I think Geotargeting is Evel
From Users’ Perspective:
- Google is effectively altering our reality, and for the most part, we are clueless about that.
Not all users are web-savvy and realize that their search results are localized. Most users probably think they are looking at all available results on the web. After all, we search the Web and not local directory of business listings.
If you ever observed users 60+ using web or Google search specifically, you’d notice how little they know about browser or Google search settings. This group of users probably never changes any default settings that their computer comes with. So they definitely have no clue what information is pushed at them through altered search results.
- In addition to that, web users are usually in a hurry and don’t always pay attention to the details, so they may never inspect the results that Google is presenting to them.
- Google on other hand, is not making this apparent to the users that they’ve omitted or pushed down thousands (possibly millions) of other relevant results, because those results didn’t match user’s geo location.
And as we know, if something doesn’t appear on the first page of Google SERPs, users move on, assuming whatever they are looking for, is not there.
- Web was suppose to be this truly global tool, allowing us to reach far corners of the world. Localization seems to be putting an end to that. We’ll only see as far as our postal codes allow us to see.
- Google relies not only on users’ geographic location, but also on site’s geographic targeting, assuming both are setup correctly, which is not always the case. For those reasons alone, users won’t always get the most relevant search results.
- To me, the whole idea of Localized Results only works in situations with implied local intent, when I am explicitly stating that I am looking for a physical location or a business nearby. But what if I don’t? What if I am looking for the best places in the world to buy Celtic Jewelry? How does Google’s localized search results help me with that? I should be able to buy online from international businesses, if I choose to, right? Yes, only if I could see them! But with localized search, local business listings will push down more relevant international results.
- Here is another situation. What if I am on a vacation in UK, but searching for Canadian content (both in English language)? Google would still favour results from UK sites, even if it’s not as desirable for me, as a user.
- There is no way of turning off location-based customization.
I personally find this appalling. So as a user, I have no choice, but to see what Google thinks I should see! Isn’t that censorship in a pure form? What about offering options and letting users decide for themselves what’s best for them?
The customization of search results based on location is an important component of a consistent, high-quality search experience. Therefore, we haven’t provided a way to turn off location customization, although we’ve made it easy for you to set your own location or to customize using a general location as broad as the country that matches your local domain. ~ Google on Location Customization
- Google says you can set your own location, as broad as country, using “Location” link under their Search Settings tab.
However, if you try, most likely, you will not be able to break from their auto-detection, even if you enter correct address from another country. I tried many addresses from UK with no luck.
You can only specify a location within the country of your current Google domain. For instance, it’s not possible to set a U.S. address on www.google.es, the Google domain for Spain. ~ Google on Location Customization
Hmmm… but if I am always automatically redirected to my country’s Google domain, this means I’ll never be able to change my location to anything else anyway. So this “Location” option basically would let me narrow down my results to a Province or a City within the country that I am already associated with, but never to another country.
From Site Owners’ Perspective:
- How many site owners (millions of individual bloggers and small business owners) are even aware of Geotargeting?
- Google assigns Geotargeting to your site’s content based on different factors (domain type, link profile etc.), even if you haven’t specifically set Geotargeting for your site. And it doesn’t let you, the site owner, know what that Geotargeting is or how your content is displayed in different search results. So its possible for you not to know that your content is showing up in wrong SERPs or not showing anywhere at all.
- If you’ve purchased a country-specific domain, like domain.ca or domain.co.uk, you are stuck with Geotargeting the country with which your domain is associated with. And if your business moves to another location or if you realize that you don’t want to have Geotargeting associated with your domain at all, you can’t change that. In fact, you are are screwed!There is no way to remove Geotargeting for non-generic TLDs.
Why is it such a big deal? Well, because if your business is not geared to a specific geographic location, your site will be virtually invisible in Google International (Google.com) and your business will be losing a ton of organic traffic, no matter what you do. Even if you’ll add amazing content and do great job marketing your site, Geotargeting will always drag you down and limit your visibility in Google SERPs.
Google has been criticized in the past for possible misuse, manipulation and censorship of search results. That’s exactly what they are doing with Geotargeting (or location-based customization) with no option to opt-out.
If you search for “Geotargeting”, you will notice that this topic is highly connected with “Ad Conversion” topic. So that’s probably the real reason why Google introduced Geotargeting. It gives them a more precise way of serving ads to Google users, whom, after their latest controversial privacy changes, they pretty much know by name.
This is coupled with Google’s disturbing announcement that they’ve switched from free Google Product Search to paid Google Shopping model. And again this was done in a name of “better shopping experience”.
It looks like until Google is in the business of selling ads, they’ll keep altering search results the way that serves them best (making money). So what happened with Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ manifesto, I wonder?
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely” ~ Baron Acton
What can you do to Bypass Google’s Geotargeting & Localized Search?
- Install Google Global– a Firefox extension that allows you to see what Google search results look like from different geographical locations, including Google International (not localized results).
This is a great tool for SEOs and site owners as well, allowing them to check their site rankings in different Google domains.Once you install this extension, right-click within your Google search results and click on different Google domains from Google Global options menu.
You can change the list of Google Domains, if you click on “Show Options” and then on “New Search”.To add Google International, put .com as “Extension and leave the rest of the fields Blank.
- Site owners that have Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) can remove or change their Geotargeting through settings in their Webmaster Tools.
- Site owners that have country-specific domains don’t really have many options available to them.
One option is to get some local listings for their domain and gain some backlinks from the sites in a desired geo location. Though this is not going to solve the problem with traffic completely. It’s like swimming against the stream. You’ll always have to work twice as hard to get the positions that .com sites get without all this work.
Another (better) option is to move their site to a generic TLD, like .com or .biz, if they want to have any presence in Google International and to grow their traffic.However, this is a costly option, especially if you can’t purchase exactly same domain with .com and have to completely re:Brand their site, and then set up million of permanent redirects to the new domain. It’s a Branding and Marketing nightmare. I am speaking from experience. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
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