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The rights and wrongs of optimising a website for geographic locations

Posted on December 12, 2011

 

One aspect of SEO that many website owners (and indeed some SEO experts) often get wrong is optimising for specific geographic areas, such as towns and cities. If you have a business or service that operates nationwide in a specific country (let’s say the UK, for argument’s sake) and you want people to find your website whenever they Google for your service + their location, you’ll need to optimise your website for multiple locations throughout the country.

This is of course extremely time consuming, but one way that people often approach this is to set up location and keyword specific domain names. We see this often, even though it rarely works, is rarely done well and there is a much better way of doing it.

For example, let’s say you want to rank for blue widgets in Ellesmere Port, where we’re based. The quick and easy path (Star Wars fans take heed) is to buy a domain name such as ellesmereport-bluewidgets.com and fill it with text about blue widgets, mentioning Ellesmere Port liberally throughout the page. Then, and here’s the not actually very clever bit, you can also buy domain names such as liverpool-bluewidgets.com, chester-bluewidgets.com and manchester-bluewidgets.com and replace the ‘Ellesmere Port’ string in your text with the new location. This can create dozens or hundreds, depending on your scope, of websites all with keyword and location specific domains, each with identical text – save for the location.

Guaranteed to work right? Wrong. There are a few notable issues with this plan, so let’s go through them one by one.

1. Google has already stated that the significance of the keyword in the domain name is being diminished as a ranking factor, due to many companies and SEO experts doing just this – therefore buying obviously keyword-focussed domains isn’t a long term strategy
2. The text, even with the location changed, is still duplicate. Google will easily tell that each website is a copy of the other, and will probably penalise all of them – possibly chucking them out altogether, which is something others have experienced
3. Each website is an island, devoid of links, strength, trust and any form of history; each requiring link building work and promotion. The strength of your main website does not help these new sites
4. Cost – this may seem obvious, but each requires building, the domain name registering and hosting – plus, if you’re intending them all to rank, you’ll need to host them on different IP addresses, increasing the cost

As you can see, this isn’t a viable strategy. Instead, in order to optimise your website for different locations, this is what you should do:

1. Use your own, existing, website as its strength is paramount to success. This way, any content you add, links you build or links you acquire will aid your website and its general rankings anyway
2. Create landing pages on your website for specific locations. These landing pages should be organised in a directory format, such as /north-west/Liverpool/blue-widgets – with subpages for each of your keywords, optimised for one keyword specifically. These landing pages all require UNIQUE content, written specifically for that page. Simply copying content and changing the location name will not suffice, as Google will identify as being duplicate and your site will suffer
3. Links – and no, we don’t mean links to your website. If you intend your subpage to become part of the local community and rank for geographical searches, show Google that it truly is local and add links to local relevant resources of note, such as the local council website, local sports teams or universities. These really do help
4. Links – this time we do mean links to your site. Find local sites to your geographic location and add links on them, such as local business directories, blogs, forums etc. The more you can associate your landing page to the location for which it is being optimised, the better
5. News… lots of local news. We can’t emphasise this enough. One of the best ways of ranking for geographic keywords is to feature local news relating to your industry, and feature that news on the geographic landing pages. This news must be unique once again, it must be relevant and it must be well written

Following these steps you’ll not only rank for geographic keywords, for as many locations as you choose to optimise for, but you’ll also increase the strength of your website for generic keywords. Most importantly of all, and this is the real deal clincher, it’s ethical, i.e. natural, which is what the search engines want to see.

By adding specific geographic landing pages, content and relevant local news to your own website you’re giving Google what it wants to see. This is a much better, long term, strategy than creating a myriad of duplicate domains in the hope of ranking for regional searches.

Darren Jamieson

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 15 years’ experience in these fields.

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2 Comments »

  1. Hi.
    Great article. I’ve found it very useful..
    I just have a quick question…Do I need to include all the local area names in the title of the index page, or can I just use the specific names in the geographical landing pages?
    Many thanks.
    Andrew

    Comment by Andrew Owen — September 16, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  2. Hi, my main 2 targets were the US (entire country) and the UK. I have hosted my server in the US and told webmaster tools that was my target. Does that mean my site will rank really low in the UK? Do I need to create a separate site for UK?
    Cheers.

    Comment by Keshav Gurung — July 6, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

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