All the major search engines offer a .com search engine and a number of country-specific engines, like Google.ca, .co.uk, .com.au, .fr, .de and so on. These are local search engines, and often use geo-IP targeting to show the local search engine as the default when a searcher lives outside the United States.
If you've never seen a localized search engine, this is what it looks like:
As you can see, a searcher has the option to restrict search results to only pages from his or her country. This is particularly helpful for searchers who are performing transactional searches - they're looking for products to buy. Using the general "search the web" will often deliver US sites which requires the shopper to dig through the sites looking for shipping information and costs. Searching only pages from their native land, searchers can save time and discover online stores they purchase from over and over again.
Not only that, but if searchers are looking for your store name and can't find your domain, you will lose traffic and conversions to pay-per-click ads, shopping engines and affiliates, reducing your profit margin. This should be a big concern for Zappos, who runs a Canadian version of its site. Despite it's stellar word-of-mouth success, it does not appear in Google.ca "pages from Canada" search for "Zappos" or "Zappos Canada":
Canada.zappos.com should appear #1 for both terms, as it's considered a "vital" result for its brand name.
It does show up #1 or #2 in regular "search the web" results (users do not restrict to only their own country). But the issue is it's not included in the "pages from Canada" database, so it will not appear for unbranded product searches, either. And according to Netconcepts research, unbranded search happens 40 times more often than searches for a specific store or brand.
While we're at it, let's pick on Apple too.
But you don't have to suffer the same fate. Google has provided a way to target your site content to different countries when you use:
- different TLDs (top-level domains like site.co.uk and site.ie)
- subdomains (canada.site.com, australia.site.com)
- subdirectories (site.com/en/us/, site.com/en/uk/)
It's easy, just sign up with Google Webmaster Tools if you haven't already, and go to "Tools" and "Select Geographic Target":
If you are using TLDs or subdomains, you will have to add and verify each separately. If you are using subdirectories, you can add them one by one and they will be auto-verified so long as your .com domain is verified.
Here's more information on how to do this:
Please note that if you have a country-specific TLD like site.co.uk, you can only target to that country. If you want to target more you will need to set up subdomains or new TLDs for your brand. Keep in mind your click through will be lower if you use canada.site.co.uk - because the .co.uk tells searchers you are located abroad.
This is probably the only time you'll hear me tell you "don't be a Zappos." Enjoy it while it lasts.