Geotargeting on the same domain – using XML sitemaps

I wrote a blogpost a few months ago on Searchcowboys about “How to use Multiple Sitemaps on the Same Domain for Geotargetting” and got a great response. Although a few of the readers commented that the instructions were a a bit “fuzzy” and that a step by step explanation would have been great. So I thought I would share it with the SEO Chicks readers and do a step by step guide on this method for geotargetting. But first, let’s get some background info on why and so on.

Issue and why we came up with this solution?
One of our clients (as so many other companies) have a .com domain targeting the UK, but in addition they are targeting five other European countries, on the same domain. They have (to their credit) translated content in each relevant language. The way that they are displaying this content is in quite simple and straight forward folder structure, i.e:

Samplewebsite.com/FR/
and further in pages like Samplewebsite.com/FR/page
and so on..

You might assume (wrongly) that it’s a strong enough sign for Google (or Yahoo or Bing) that the content is in the relevant language and thus know that you are targeting France with the above pages, but no. It is very unlikely those pages will rank anywhere in Google.fr for anything remotely competitive. This is because all other signs is telling Google that this site is targetting and focusing on the UK.

Now, I hear a few of you yelling: they should get country specific TLDs for each country. This isn’t always that easy, and for some countries like France, there is no way you can get a .fr TLD unless you can prove you have a business address there. In some countries its even worse, in Norway for example (.no TLDs) you not only have to prove you have an address and a company but also prove you have at least £10,000 in working capita (ehm, shit!) There are also loads of other reasons why companies wants to keep everything within one domain (costs being another).

Therefore we had to try to think of something that would help Google understand that we were targeting several different countries within one domain. In essence what we came up with was very simple, uploading seperate XML sitemaps for each geographic content and setting the Geo targetting in Google Webmaster Tools to the specific country. This will only work on a TLD that is non geo specific, ie: .COM, .ORG, .INFO and so on, you can not use the below method for Geo TLDs like .co.uk or .de. Here’s the step by step instructions:

1. Create separate XML sitemaps for each country specific content. For example samplewebsite.com/FR/ and all pages within that folder was in one XML sitemap (for example samplewebsite.com/FR/sitemap_FR.xml ) You will need a xml sitemap generator where you can specify folders to include. Then you create another XML sitemap for all the pages within then samplewebsite.com/NL/ and so on..

2. In Google Webmaster Tools click “add a site” and insert the specific URL including the folder, i.e samplewebsite.com/FR/

3. Next you verify the ownership either by a meta tag or html file

4. Once the site has been verified you go into the main “Home” area of webmaster tools, and click on the site you have just added.

5. Once you are within the dashboard clik on “Site Configuration” then “Sitemaps”. Now add the URL of the geo specific XML sitemap in the box. i.e samplewebsite.com/FR/sitemap_FR.xml just add sitemap_FR.xml.

6. Once the sitemap is uploaded comes geo targeting. Back into the dashboard for that “site”, click on “Site Configuration” then “Settings”, like this:

7. Within “Settings” you will get the drop down menu for “Geographic target” where you will be able to select the specific target country for that sitemap.

Et volla, Geo targeting on the same domain! Repeat all the steps for each specific language folder, ie samplewebsite.com/DE/ samplewebsite.com/NL and so on. Make sure that you add a “new site” in the main Home Area for each country specific folder. I know that seems a bit weird, especially as you probably already have the main samplewebsite.com already on there, but you have to include each one as a seperate site.

I would also like to add that I did run the above technique past a Google engineer before I did it, and they had no objections, so be reassured there is nothing even slightly grey about this method. At the moment my own company and a few other SEO friends of mine are testing it out, but please feel free to try it and let me know how it goes. Happy webmaster tools fiddling :)

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17 Responses to “Geotargeting on the same domain – using XML sitemaps”

  1. Grosen Friis says:

    Hi Lisa

    Great update, especially the first screen shot was missing on Searchcowboys.

    I’m still working on our inhouse based on your first post at Searchcowboys, and I’ll let you know when I’m done and I’ll also share my experiences, but it will take a while before I get to that point.

    Now there is one thing that I think it is important to keep in mind. Most websites that have several languages on the same domain (like we do at SPAMfighter.com) may provide one or more languages to several countries. E.g. english for USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc.

    If you do that then it is vital that you do NOT set a target country inside Google Webmaster Tool for the XML sitemap file. Instead you should set it to ‘unlisted’

    The reason is that use might suddenly lose relevant traffic from e.g. UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada because you set the target country to e.g. USA.

    In other words, you should only set a target country for a XML sitemap file, if you are 100% sure that the pages that are listed in the XML file is for that specific country alone. Otherwise you should not upload any XML file or make sure to set target country to ‘unlisted’

    /Grosen Friis

  2. Excellent post. The technique is excellent for use in professional web sites that require the local and international returns. I had not yet defined the geographic area to my web site because I did not want to limit or restrict the organic results to Portugal. Very good to use multilingual web sites.
    Thank you

  3. [...] pagina toevoegen in Google webmasters tools en geotargeting op het juiste land zetten. Dit wordt op seo-chicks.com erg duidelijk uitgelegd. Written by Melvin in: Zoekmachine Optimalisatie [...]

  4. Luci says:

    Hey great post, I’d have never thought of doing that! Mostly I work with .co.uk domains, but there are a few .com’s that always make me worry.
    If i ever have any multiple language sites, this’ll be a great reference. thanks!

  5. Dustin says:

    Great post! I will be testing this out in the very near future since geotargeting is going to be a huge part of our website. It’s great to have a reference like this to go back to for some ideas.

  6. Craig Sutton says:

    Thanks for this post, great idea that I can use for at least 2 of my current clients targeting multiple countries!

  7. Alana Burton says:

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks to @NicholaStott for bringing the post to my attention as I was just reading up on Geo-targeting this afternoon! I’m just working on a few sites now that are in 5 languages and will categorise them as “Unlisted” in the Geographic target area. Do you recommend doing separate XML sitemaps in addition to that? Do they do the same thing? Can you recommend an XML sitemap generator that allows you to dictate which folders to include? Thanks! x

  8. Lisa Myers says:

    Hi Alana,

    Yeah I would try seperate sitemaps for each language, as long as its on a non geo TLD (i.e .com .net etc)

    You can use http://www.xml-sitemaps.com to create xml sitemaps within a folder, just specifiy the folder http://www.samplesite.com/FR/ and it will include only pages within the /FR/ folder.

    Good luck, let me know how it goes. ta.

  9. Amanda says:

    Hi there, thanks for this article. I’m trying it out now. Can I just clarify one thing? Now that you have changed the different geo targets for each countires sub folder, for your original webmasters account samplesite.com, have you changed the target to ‘unlisted’ in the settings, and is the XML sitemap for the straight .com account a sitemap for the entire site?

    Thank you!

  10. Christian says:

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for this great post! My question: how is your experience concerning this method so far? Do you think it is as good as using various TLD (assume that you own them)? I have to make a choice for one of my projects. What would you recommend?
    Thank you! Best, Christian

  11. Adam says:

    Hey, great post on an increasingly popular subject.
    Any progress reports from anyone, or anyone else that could chime in and tell of their actual experience?

    I am in Australia and would like to start targeting different markets including AUS. However, web hosting in Australia is horribly expensive and not as reliable as in the US, for instance. I intend to build a number of sites in different niches. The challenge with this is, that I will not be able to get ccTLD’s (.com.au domains) for most of these sites, hence I will be relying on .com’s hosted in the US.
    Will I still have the same chances of ranking high on the Australian Google SERPs…simply by using the geotarget settings in GWMT?
    I have read so many times that hosting in the country where your target audience is would be vital (and better even: use the respective ccTLD), yet I would like to hear people’s actual success stories of achieving the same goal by geotargeting a site hosted offshore.

    Anyone?

    Would also be interested to see a reply to Amanda’s post from 24th Feb :)

  12. How about sites based on parameters? I was so happy following every step on your tutorial, until i crashed my face on the fact that i am integrating in Joomla. Im working with SEF links, so there is no way to make a relative path for each website language version. IE: http://www.samplesite.net/index.php/es is my landingpage for my sites version in spanish language. WHERE ON EARTH DO I HAVE TO PLACE MY sitemap_ES.xml at Google Webmaster Tools admin? It’s a little a paradox!! if you know a way, i’ll thank so much for the info. Meanwhile, i’ll try some other tricks. If i get it to work, i’ll come to leave the seed.

  13. mrJan says:

    I face a little problem with the geo targetting.

    The structure of my site is;
    mysite.com
    mysite.com/en/
    mysite.com/de/

    The problem is with the english content.
    mysite.com/en/ is targetted on the UK, and an XML sitemap is included with all the pages with English content

    I want to target mysite.com also to the rest of the world.(For the domain not a specific targetting)
    Can I use the same urls as in mysite.com/en/ or should all the urls be available in mysite.com/ (without the /en/ folder) ? This would implicate double content.

    If using de mysite.com/en/ urls for the world wide targeting would be no problem, then it would also be wise to include the other languages in the XML sitemap. Spanish is spoken in several countries besides Spain.

    I think this is a hard one, does anyone know a solution ?

  14. Grosan Wrote “…f you do that then it is vital that you do NOT set a target country inside Google Webmaster Tool for the XML sitemap file. Instead you should set it to ‘unlisted’…”

    Is that an official statement? I ask because say you have a subdomain or even a folder specific to a country. With three language spoken in the country eg India with Hindi and English, if we do not specify geo target, then it is going to be a bigger mess.

    Well…now that I read the last part of your comments, it makes sense…
    “…In other words, you should only set a target country for a XML sitemap file, if you are 100% sure that the pages that are listed in the XML file is for that specific country alone…”

    It would be great if these search engines allowed us to :
    1. Mass upload multiple domains with Geotargets.
    2. Allow us to use one xml file after step 1 above.
    Although google allows #2, one has to Authenticate each domain through webmaster.

  15. Amanda Jacobsen says:

    And oh by the way, the title of this post is misleading.
    You are not showing Geotargetting with XML sitemaps. It gives an impression that one can specify geotargets through xml sitemap link.
    But anyways a good post.

  16. [...] several countries within the same domain; again I blame the big brands for this. There is however a way that you can target several countries on the same domain within webmaster tools. What you would need to do is create [...]

  17. Farrukh says:

    Is it possible, if someone visits from franc and result would be .com.fr ?

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