Google provides detailed guidance for websites that need to target multiple locations, such as a company with offices in different states.
This topic is discussed during the Google Search Central SEO office hours hangout recorded on January 14th.
An SEO professional named Gail (last name not provided) asks John Mueller, Google’s Search Advocate, for an idea from his client to optimize his website for multiple US states.
Their idea is to create landing pages for each state they operate in and automatically send visitors from the home page to the appropriate landing page via dynamic geo IP redirection.
In addition to that, they also plan to add a noindex tag to each of the separate landing pages.
If you hear alarm bells ringing, your instincts are correct. It’s not a good strategy.
Mueller explains the SEO implications of pursuing this plan and explains different ways to do it better.
See his tips in the sections below.
First consideration: Google crawls from a single location
The first thing to consider when targeting multiple cities or states with the same website is that Google is only crawling from one location.
This means that dynamic geo-IP redirects, as Gail’s client offers, would not help Googlebot find the various landing pages.
“I think there are a few things to keep in mind there. For one thing… we usually crawl from one place. And probably for most systems that would come down to California.
And essentially that would mean that the content that we can review would be content from California, and we wouldn’t have access to content from other states, which depending on what type of content you have there, for the other States, this might be acceptable, but it might be problematic.
So that’s kind of the first thing to keep in mind is that when you search for your business it will appear to be purely in California, or maybe even San Francisco, I don’t know how the IP addresses would be mapped there.
So I think that’s something that often turns people off, especially with geo IP redirects or dynamic content exchange.
While redirecting visitors based on their IP address might work in practice, it’s not optimal when it comes to Googlebot crawling.
Second consideration: do not redirect to an unindexed page
The second, and most serious, consideration of Gail’s client’s proposed plan is what happens when redirecting to an unindexed page.
Mueller explains that this would cause the site’s home page to be removed from search results:
“The other thing is if you don’t index every state’s landing pages, then of course the state landing page that someone from California would go to would also be unindexed, which would mean basically that your homepage would disappear from search results, so that would be a really bad thing.
Again, this plan might have worked for human visitors, but would cause major issues when it comes to SEO.
Here’s what Mueller recommends doing instead.
Mueller’s Recommendations for Targeting Multiple Locations
Instead of redirecting visitors to pages based on their location, Mueller says it’s better to offer visitors links to relevant pages with a dynamic banner.
“My general recommendation for these kinds of situations, instead of automatically redirecting to a specific location, is to make it much easier for the user to find that content.
So something like a dynamic banner on a page when the user goes to the home page, there’s a banner at the top that says, “Oh, it looks like you’re in Texas, and we have an office in Texas, and here is the information, and click on this link to find out more.’
And in this way, the user has the possibility to access these individual pages. And ideally those individual pages would also be indexable, because that way if someone searches for your business name plus the state name, they could find that landing page, which would basically be ideal.
Another way to handle this, Mueller says, is to dynamically swap some of the copy on the homepage based on the visitor’s location.
Instead of multiple landing pages for different states, you can configure the home page to display different text for visitors based on where they are.
“The other approach you could take is to dynamically swap out some of the content on the homepage. So instead of having separate status landing pages, you have your general homepage and you have this state-specific information exchanged dynamically.
The important thing here is to make sure that overall this homepage still has enough generic content that it doesn’t appear like it’s all about California, but rather like it’s Lots of information about your business, and since it sounds like you’re in California, here’s specific information for California, or whatever state you’re in.
So those are generally the two directions we recommend there.
Mueller clarifies that there’s nothing wrong with creating individual landing pages if Gail’s client has chosen to go that route instead.
It’s not a good idea to create landing pages for every city in every state, but having landing pages for every state where a business is located is fine.
“In terms of individual state landing pages for a handful of releases, we wouldn’t really see that as problematic. If you had landing pages for every city in every state, it would start to look a little uncertain to our web spam algorithms.
But if you’re talking about a handful of states, or maybe even all of the states, that’s something where you have 50 different versions of the home page with your local address with phone numbers, hours of operation, some kind of additional local information about them. From our point of view, this is generally good.
Listen to the full discussion in the video below:
Featured image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.