International SEO: Is server location important?

Blank business diagramManaging a successful international web strategy would be much simpler if one hosting company
could host multiple local domains on local servers through a single control panel. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

If you have purchased unique domains for the different languages of your website, you can:

  • host all of your languages/domains in one country OR
  • host individual languages/domains in the target countries

Where should you host a multilingual website?

It’s a question our customers have been asking us for years. Back in 2011, our MD, Daniel Rajkumar, blogged about server location for multilingual websites, writing

“the first thing to observe is that for the purpose of SEO the benefit is negligible and there are other things you should do first that will contribute to your multi-domestic SEO.”

This remains true several years later – and that’s a mighty long time in digital. In its current FAQs, Google states that server location is not overly important for geotargeting:

Q: Is the server location important for geotargeting?
A: If you can use one of the other means to set geotargeting (ccTLD or Webmaster Tools’ geotargeting tool), you don’t need to worry about the server’s location. We do, however, recommend making sure that your website is hosted in a way that will give your users fast access to it (which is often done by choosing hosting near your users).

Also, Google’s John Mueller discussed the connection between IP address and SEO in a Webmaster forum, saying

for search, specifically for geotargeting, the server’s location plays a very small role, in many cases it’s irrelevant. If you use a ccTLD or a gTLD together with Webmaster Tools, then we’ll mainly use the geotargeting from there, regardless of where your server is located. You definitely don’t need to host your website in any specific geographic location — use what works best for you, and give us that information via a ccTLD or Webmaster Tools.”

This emphasises the fact that Google uses ccTLD over location of the server, which is why we recommend using a ccTLD and setting your geo-details in Webmaster Tools to improve Google rankings in your target market.

There are still some advantages of local hosting, in addition to its possibly “irrelevant” and “very small role” in geotargeting:

  • Speed. Your page load rate may be quicker with a local host, or with a local proxy server.
  • If you later want to sell part of your business. Being able to easily ‘separate’ a website can be advantageous, and if it already has local hosting, this may be a positive point for local buyers.

From an IT perspective, managing and maintaining multiple servers is administrative (and expensive if they are dedicated servers). It’s much better to have one well-managed & maintained server, than multiple ‘budget’ servers.

If you decide that local hosting is unnecessary, and you are happy with your current web hosting company, check with them about the possibility of hosting your new country-specific local domain names, as they may be able to host the ccTLD or IDN ccTLD domain names that are part of your existing and future international marketing strategy. If they can’t help you, they should be able to point you in the right direction. We have found that companies like fasthosts.com and justhost.co.uk can host a good range of ccTLDs.

Key Terms in Simple Language:

IP address
A number assigned to a computer (or server, printer, etc) in a network. It contains information about the location of the computer.

Proxy server
A local server through which you can route your website, no matter where your server actually is. This gives the appearance of being hosted locally. Caching your website files on the proxy server may also reduce your site’s page load time, which will improve the user experience and bounce rate.

Geotargeting
This is when a website visitor is delivered different content specific to their location. Google uses geotargeting, meaning the geolocation of someone searching Google will determine the search results. Google’s FAQs say that in order to improve how your site fares in a particular locale, you should make it “clear what your pages are trying to target: for example, physical addresses, a local phone number, a Google+ Local listing, the use of the appropriate currency, etc.”

TLD (Top-level domain)
In the internet hierarchy, a TLD is at the top of all the other domain names. TLDs include the 7 generic TLDs (gTLD), such as com, net and org, as well as the country code TLDs (ccTLD).

ccTLD (Country code top-level domain)
A ccTLD is a type of TLD which is reserved for a particular country or territory. For example, domains ending in fr and de are ccTLDs. (Interesting note: .co.uk is actually a second level domain, not a ccTLD. The uk extension is the ccTLD for the UK, and the co part of a .co.uk website address indicates that it’s a company website.)

IDN ccTLD (International country code top-level domain)
This is a ccTLD in non-Latin script, such as Chinese or Arabic. These are becoming more common.

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