Changing Google Rankings in Different Countries for Different Searchers

While you can search at google.com just about anywhere in the world, you can also access Google at a number of different country specific addresses, such as google.co.uk, www.google.fr, www.google.co.in.

Chances are, if you search at one of the country specific Google address, the results you see may be biased towards pages associated with that country. But, when you search at Google.com, the search engine may also try to send you results that might be appropriate for the country you are located within, or a country that you prefer to see results from.

In an Official Google Blog post from July of this year, Technologies behind Google ranking, we were told that, “The same query typed in multiple countries may deserve completely different results.”

So, for example, a seach for the query [football] should provide different results in the US, the UK, and Australia, because the term refers to completely different sports.

A patent granted to Google this week describes some ways that the search engine might try to associate web pages with country locations, and searchers with preferred countries, as well as a method that could take that information to bias search results based upon the preferred country of a searcher.

A preferred country might include the country of the searcher as well as other countries that searcher might find acceptable, such as showing search results from the United States to people located in Canada.

The patent was originally filed in 2003, and it is possible that if the method described in this patent has been used by Google, that it may have evolved over time, or have been replaced by newer techniques.

System and method for providing preferred country biasing of search results
Invented by Vineet Gupta, Ben Gomes, John Lamping, Mizuki McGrath, Amit Singhal, and Simon Tong
Assigned to Google
US Patent 7,451,130
Granted November 11, 2008
Filed June 27, 2003

Abstract

A system and method for providing preferred country ordering of search results is described. A search query describing potentially retrievable information provided in a plurality of search result countries is received. A search is executed by evaluating the search query against information characteristics maintained in a searchable data repository.

At least one preferred country applicable to search results generated is dynamically determined responsive to the executed search. At least some of the search results are ordered in consideration of the at least one preferred country.

How Google May Associate Countries with Search Results

In one part of the patent, we’re told how Google might determine which countries are associated with each search result by looking at:

  1. A country top level domain (tld) for the domain a page is on – it could be assumed that the page is associated with that country. The example the patent gives is of the URL www.whsmith.co.uk, which is assumed to be either located in or associated with the United Kingdom.
  2. The address of the domain registrar for the site might be examined to infer the country of business.
  3. The country where the IP address might be located for the Web server from which the search result was obtained, from the page, or from other pages on the same site.
  4. Information from anchor text of the links pointing to the page and text near those links, and the countries linking to the page are located.
  5. Information from anchor text of links pointing from the page and text near those links, and the countries where those links are pointed towards are located.
  6. A combination of the above methods.
  7. Other techniques that might be helpful.

How Results are Biased Towards Preferred Countries for Search Queries

This process includes a “country biaser” which determines one or more preferred countries for each search query – so someone located in Canada might have Canada and the United States as preferred countries, and Australia might be considered a neutral or less preferred country.

Pages listed in search results could be promoted or demoted based upon their standing as a preferred country for a searcher, or based upon a numerical score assigned to each search result.

Toolbar data could be one way to determine a country bias for a searcher, with a view of a log file associated with that toolbar which counts the countries of the web sites which a searcher might visit. The toolbar might identify sites that have a worldwide appeal, and not consider those sites assigned to a particular country.

Other information could also be used to determine a searcher’s preferred country, such as the location of the searcher based upon their IP address.

Conclusion

The patent does go into a lot of detail on a few different ways that search results might be reranked on the basis of a searcher’s preferred country, and on the country associated with each search result, and those details are worth looking through the patent more carefully for, if you’re interested in finding out more about how that could happen.

The patent doesn’t provide a lot of other details on how it might determine what the preferred country of a searcher might be, though it was interesting to see it mention the use of log files from the Google toolbar to be one possible source of information for making that decision. The information that Google collects for personalized search results probably is useful, also.

The patent does mention that some sites might be considered to have a “world wide appeal” and not be considered to be assigned to a particular country, but it doesn’t tell us how a site might reach that status.

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36 thoughts on “Changing Google Rankings in Different Countries for Different Searchers”

  1. Well, there are also language meta tags that describe the language of the website. That Google certainly could use for determining the origin of the site.

  2. Thanks for the informative article. I have also seen that the location of the webhost as well as the incoming links (country) matters a lot in country specific rankings. For example, my website ranks very well in google.com, but perorms miserably in google.co.in – even though the website is about SEO in India.

  3. This is pretty true and i discovered it some month ago when by mistake i started looking for my keywords by using different Google websites located in different countries. In the end i decided to care about the states and that’s why i used Google webmaster tools. Over there there is an option where you can target your preffered readers.

  4. Hi Bill

    This is really interesting for us non-US search folk. We’re generally far more affected by this than others. I think in this case I’m going to head over and read the full doc.

    For what it’s worth – in my experience Google has a lot more difficulty with assessing country in some of their other EN locales such as .ie, .co.uk etc. I’ve seen some truly mystical results on those locales [read horrendous].

    One other idea I’ve always had was that the number of relevant results Google might have from any given locale might affect what is displayed for any given query. This manifests itself primarily in the “Web Results” Vs “Results From …” – sometimes you’ll get country-related results in both, other times from two or more different countries.

    I presume you made it to PubCon again? Hopefully all is well with you Stateside :)

    Rgds
    Richard

  5. Hi Web Design Beach,

    Thanks. That’s a very good question. There are ways of indicating what language a site is using, or indicating a preferred language in Google, and in your browser, but I’m not sure that those play a role in determining what country a site is from, or a searcher.

    Google was granted another patent last week dealing specifically with reranking search results based upon preferred language, so it seems like Google treats them independently of each other.

    Hi suzukikenichi,

    Good point – this is a question of localization. The patent doesn’t note the existence of Google at different top level domains (tlds), and they do specifically mention the concept of localization, so I believe it is geared towards the google.com URL. I’m making an assumption, but I would guess that maybe there is an automatic bias towards the country that the Google tld includes when searching at a site like google.co.jp since the use of a country specific version of Google indicates a preference for results from that country.

  6. HI SEO Training Mumbai,

    I agree with you, and the patent does mention that those are factors that they may look at – the location of the web host or web server, and the location of sites where incoming links are from. I’ve felt that might be happening after working with some sites for other countries, so it’s good to get some confirmation from a Google patent on the subject.

    Hi online utilities,

    Excellent point about the ability to use Google Webmaster Tools to look at results from different countries. Definitely worth checking out.

  7. Hi Richard,

    Good to see you.

    That’s definitely something to think about. I think the number of relevant results does make a difference in what we see when looking at something like this. Google does try to provide a decent number of results to searchers, and if that means displaying results from different countries, then they will. Under this approach, we wouldn’t see more or less results, but rather the ones from preferred countries might be boosted, and the ones from countries that aren’t preferred might be demoted.

    So a site from another country that is very relevant might be demoted, but not enough to rank lower than a site that is much less relevant, but from a preferred country and boosted.

    Google also discusses alternative preferred countries in this patent, and it’s quite possible that many English speaking countries that are in close proximity to each other are treated very similarly. The patent uses Canada and the US as examples, but they possibly could have used .ie and .uk as examples, too.

  8. I believe that this has been going on for quite some time. Here in South Africa most searchers are going through “Google.co.za” as opposed to Google.com. Unless you actually notice this and click on the “take me to Google.com” link you pretty much always end up with localised results.

    So that confirms that Google offer you localised results (well kind of).

    In the webmaster tools if you are setting a geo-location for a website you will automatically be set according to your domain extension. For us the .co.za websites are automatically geo-located to South Africa and for a few of our other clients that are based in Mautritius are set in the .mu area.

    This is great for local e-commerce as local suppliers are more likely to be able to ship at much lower rates. However information is rarely limited to borders. I guess as with all other services from Google (and the other search engines) it will just take time to refine.

  9. Hi Robert,

    I believe that this has been happening for quite a while, too. I do like seeing something from the search engines, like a patent, that may provide some insights into their approach, though.

    As you note, information is rarely limited to political boundaries, online and offline as well. I live fairly close to the borders of two other states (within a couple of miles), yet very rarely hear news or see advertisements from those states. Because of that, I’m not sure that localization is always positive. I do think that is an issue that Google might consider at some point.

  10. Hi Jon,

    You’re welcome. When we put up sites on the Web, we do create the possibility of having an international audience. It’s interesting seeing how search engines might address that idea.

  11. Hi Bill,
    Today I pointed to this post in a meeting to discuss localization best practices. I realized today that this is the third time I’ve referenced this post professionally. I just wanted to say thanks for writing such an informative post.

  12. Hi David,

    I’ll point to a blog post every so often in a meeting or email to a client to illustrate a point, and I appreciate when someone has written something that makes it easier to communicate with a client. Thank you very much for sharing your use of this post with me. It’s much appreciated.

  13. William, agreed. It’s always great to find good information online that supports an idea or theory that can be shared with a client or even colleague. Somehow confirmation by a third party seems to validate the point you are trying to make that little bit better.

    Great minds and all that. Then again fools and all that ;)

  14. Hi Robert,

    That kind of confirmation can be nice, especially when it’s something like “how will Google treat xxx,” and there’s a post over at the Official Google Webmaster blog on that topic exactly.

    The wisdom of crowds fools er, ouch. crowds?

  15. We are B2C company, located in Mexico, targetting USA, Canada and Mexico. Our primary market used to be the USA, however Canadian customers have become the most important for us now. Our Internet sales have dropped significantly compared to other business units.

    We offer a wide variety of products. Unfortunately, the SEO results for related keywords are very good in Google.com (top 1 and 2 positions), however for some keywords in Google.ca we don´t even end up on the first page, let-alone above the fold on the first page! The difference is huge.

    We will launch a new website soon, developed by an external party, with a CMS updated to the latest standards. We will have full control over content, metadata etc.

    The question for us is now how we should optimize our website (.com) for Google.ca?

  16. Hi Tom,

    Sorry to hear about the slow down, but it’s good to hear that you’re working on steps to try to focus more upon your shifting audience.

    It’s good to hear that you’re still doing well in the .com version of Google.

    Do you think that if you rank well in the .ca version of Google, that it would drive more traffic from Canada? What percentage of people in Canada who search Google use the .ca version rather than the .com?

    My post above provides some ideas on how to try to make Google see your site as one preferred by people from a specific country, but I wonder if some other steps might help you become more visible in the .ca version of Google. More links to and from your site from Canadian sites might be one step that could help. Hosting your site in Canada might be an indication to the search engine that your site is relevant to the .ca version.

    Does your site contain references to locations in Canada? Do you have physical locations in Canada, which are mentioned prominently on the site? Does the site include ways to pay in Canadian currency, shipping information for Canada, and other indications that the site provides goods or services for Canadians? If so, could it make that more prominent? If not, making more references to Canada might be helpful.

  17. Pingback: SEO Daily Reading - Issue 135 « Internet Marketing Blog
  18. With so many factors to consider in SEO, using relevant but crucial tidbits like in these primers is one way to incrementally improve your search ranking easily and painlessly. Obviously everyone cannot change their domain name, server location, languages and links all at once, but those things that can be optimized, should be, if ranking in the search engines is important for your site.

  19. Hi Vijay,

    Good points. Making massive amounts of changes can be harmful to the traffic that you do receive, but making informed and controlled changes, with a more educated idea of the potential impacts that those changes may have can be helpful.

  20. Nice to learn why google search results have deteriorated so much in the last years.

    I was wondering why search results favoured sites in languages google assumes are more relevant to me, even when these sites are not at all authoritative, and sometimes are just mere automatic and poor-quality translations from other languages.

    I’ve been trying to return to the old behaviour by using the search preferences, but looks like that is only a language filter.

    IMO this kind of big changes should leave a door for the users that prefer the old way. Maybe allowing us to type google.com without being redirected to the country search engines, to get the old pagerank logic. I don’t know.

    Overall, maybe guys at google have made a very clever algorithm to solve a technical challenge, but I think quality of results has suffered a lot.

  21. Hi Albert,

    It can be really hard to pinpoint one specific aspect of Google’s ranking algorithms as a reason for the quality of search results, for a few reasons.

    One of them is that how Google may rank and filter search results is based upon a fairly complex system that takes many different factors into account.

    Another is that sometimes when results aren’t all that good, it isn’t always necessarily Google’s fault – sometimes there just aren’t good results for some queries.

    One of the areas that Google seems to be focusing upon lately is in multi-language search – hopefully they will improve upon the kinds of results that you are seeing.

  22. it’s interesting to read this blog in 2011 because i have noticed that google still have some trouble with this. If you search for the word trust deed in the uk then some results will show the American meaning as supposed to the Scottish debt solution. This problem is should be sorted more so than ever considering the panda update wants websites which are relevant to the searcher.

  23. Hi Craig,

    It is a challenging undertaking for the search engines to try to bias results based upon what they might perceive to be an intention to find relevant local information when a query might have a local meaning.

    The term “trust deed” is also a pretty popular one in the United States when it comes to real estate. The process described in the patent may mean that US based results for the query may continue to be shown for you in the UK, but the more local results (for you) may be boosted higher then they are for me here. The process involved doesn’t strictly rank all results on a preferred country basis, but it may rerank results for a query and boost some that it believes are more relevant for you based upon what it considers to be your preferred country.

  24. Hi Bill,

    I want to clarify this point

    “The address of the domain registrar for the site might be examined to infer the country of business.”

    Was this intended to say registrant rather than registrar? That seems odd as lots of US companies use Fabulous.com as their registrar who are based in AU.

    Greg

  25. Hi Greg,

    The patent pretty clearly states that it’s the address for the domain registrar that would be looked at as a possible location for the country of business in both the claims for the patent and the description section. It’s not the only thing being looked at, and I suspect that the patent inventors were aware that in some cases the country of the registrar might be different. But I suspect that they were assuming that in the majority of cases, someone registering a domain would do so with a registrar from their own country.

  26. Hi Bill,

    Excellent comment on http://www.seomoz.org/blog/understand-and-rock-the-google-venice-update . While looking into the screenshot. I was expecting some one to give some valuable comments about the post, and about the authors view.

    Well. I have a small question, might be stupid. But it will really help me to figure out something.

    Humm. Im from india. Basically Chennai. I made a search “Plumber” in Google.co.in. As usualy i got the local results in the main page. All those Local results were perfect.

    I asked Google to show results only from india.

    When i looked into the SERP reuslts. I saw few sites called “plumbersphoenix.org”, “www.myplumberofsouthflorida.com/” .. I even had a doubt, checked the server location in Whois.hm , it showed it is hosted in some part of United States.

    Can you please tell me, why i am seeing this kind of strange resuts.

    I know that those companies are outsourcing their SEO job to some XYZ company in India.

    Even after the recent search updates i am seeing this kind of search results.. Is’nt something that has to be considered. ??

    I will also give you another information. There are very less people who looks for a plumber in our Country :D :)

    Please help me out. :)

  27. Hi shivabharathy

    Thank you.

    Those are pretty odd results.

    I recently wrote a post about data centers, and how they might include content that’s considered regional and content that is considered global in separate indexes.

    http://www.seobythesea.com/2012/03/google-data-centers-split-regional-global-data/

    That particular query, and those particular pages don’t seem like ones that seem like they would be considered “regional” in India, but under that patent, if it seems like a lot traffic is going to those pages from India for one reason or another, they might be considered regional, especially if they aren’t getting a lot of query traffic from other places. If there aren’t a lot of people in India searching for plumbers, and these two pages are being searched for and selected very frequently by people at the company or companies working upon them, it’s possible that the algorithm that could be considering them as regional might just be.

    They don’t look like they would be considered “global” sites that would be replicated across many data centers. They may not be very popular in the US either.

    Here’s a snippet from my post:

    Content that isn’t world-wide could be included within a particular index as regional content, and may be located within a regional index at a data center based upon being similar to characteristics of the queries received at that particular datacenter. For example, if 75% of web queries from Lithuania are in the Lithuanian language, then many of the pages within the data center for those searches may be in Lithuanian. Pages that are popular in Lithuanian that aren’t in the Lithuania language may also be included in the regional index for that data center if those pages aren’t popular enough elsewhere to be included in the global index.

    Very interesting problem. Thanks for asking.

  28. Thanks for your reply man.

    Its really valuable. And it does make sense. But when it comes to relevancy, considering pages and picking up pages based on traffic sources also considered to be little bit unwanted thing i guess.

    They do have the ways to find the nature of the domain.(Server location, Phone number, Address.

    What i am saying is, when it comes to relevancy, instead of giving the non-relevant popular pages, I think relevant crappy pages would be far better and accurate right ?

    Its just my thoughts. What do you think about it:)

    And btw “http://www.seobythesea.com/2012/03/google-data-centers-split-regional-global-data/” was really great.

    You have inspired us to write oiur first post “http://searchmonkeys.us/venice-update-how-far-are-we-localized/”

  29. Sorry, Mistakenly i have hit the submit button

    “What i am saying is, when it comes to relevancy, instead of giving the non-relevant popular pages, I think relevant crappy pages would be far better and accurate right ?” because only this would serve my purpose or the nature of my query.

    And i would say may be companies would be visiting those sites. Do you really think that visitors from those companies would really make an impact on Search trends in india. ;)

    Again. just my thoughts ,.. What do you think . :)

  30. Hi shivabharathy,

    I really enjoyed your post, and I apologize for not getting back to your comments sooner.

    I think Google is still experimenting with the kind of pages that they should show as regional in different data centers, and they probably have to make some changes.

    I’m not sure how often they reassign that kind of “regional” or “global” classification to pages, but for their sake, I hope they get this straightened out. I don’t think that the activities of a company in India in working on a site, checking it for rankings, and searching for it and clicking upon it should impact search results like this.

    But what is described in the patent seems to be the best explanation, at this point, of why this is happening that I can find.

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