How to use multiple sitemaps on one domain for geo-targeting

Wed 30 December 2009 14:00, Lisa D Myers

How to use multiple sitemaps on one domain for geo-targeting

The final top 10 post is yet again one of our columniste Lisa Myers. She adressed an issue which will become more important every day in the coming years: doing SEO in different countries and languages. Her post "How to use multiple sitemaps on one domain for geo-targeting" adressed the use of sitemaps to help you get those languages straigthened out.

How to use multiple sitemaps on one domain for geo-targeting
Originally posted on November 19th 2009

Working with websites that targets several countries is always challenging, especially from an SEO point of view, people just don’t seem to get that doing SEO in different countries goes way beyond different languages. I would go as far as to say there are probably more website struggling with geo targeting issues in one form or another than it is websites that are all ok and ranking in all the relevant countries they are targeting.

Lisa
If you can imagine that the different Google TLD’s are people, you have Francois (Google.fr), Ingrid (Google.no), Helmut (Google.de) and so on. They all want to rank the most relevant websites highly  in their relevant countries. How do they do that? Well, they need to find a way to separate the listings, making sure that a website selling iPhones but only to Helmut’s friends doesn’t end up on Ingrid’s list.The obvious number one rule of differentiation is 1.Language.

Obviously Francois, Ingrid and Helmut friends all speak different languages , easy right. But then sometimes, when Ingrid speaks to Helmut she speaks in English (as her German is just rubbish and she doesn’t trust Google Translate, who does..) so in this instance we need to make sure that Helmut knows she is talking to him and not to Francois (cause Francois actually speaks English believe it or not, he just pretends he can’t to piss off the English). So we also need to make a bigger differentiation, we need Ingrid to be on the same “wave” as Helmut, 2) ideally Ingrid also gets a .de TLD! That way Helmut knows that she is definately talking to him.

These are the most standard ways of getting the search engines to understand what country you are targeting and wanting to be listed in, you have your website in the relevant language and you have bought the country specific tld i.e .de .fr or .no BUT sometimes it’s not that easy, in fact it rarely is. Especially for targeting in France and Norway as buying a country specific TLD like .no and .fr is  restricted, in Norway for example you have to prove that you have a company that is based in Norway, you even have to have a minimum of 80k Euros in startup capital to be allowed to set up a company (feel free to correct me on the amount Norske folk).  So even if you would like to set up and target Norway or France it might not be that easy.

The other example is when websites have a portal, usually a .com domain where all translated versions of the website is located on the same domain. Usually this is built something like this www.samplesite.com/FR and www.samplesite.com/DE and so on. And the company doesn’t own the TLDs or they don’t want to buy them or move the site (maybe they can’t afford the multiple CMS costs or so on). In this instance they are relying mostly or often only on using the language itself as a differentiator. Now it’s quite obvious that a site on a .com/DE is not going to rank as well as a site competiting for the same keywords but is on an actual .de TLD Unless of course the link equity is INSANE!

So what do you do? Well, most people starts fiddeling about with geo targeting via cookies and IPs, now this is when it gets really messed up. I can’t count the number of times where I have evaluated websites and found that they are geo targeting and redirecting based on IP and forgotten to exclude the IPs of the search engine spiders (which is mostly on US IPs). Ouch!!!! Geo targeting via redirecting based on IPs is also very grey hat, although Google themselves is allowed to do it of course (you know when you try to go to google.com and they redirect you back to your own country! Like they are saying “go back to where you came from you crazy Viking!”). Also these solutions are never recommended long term. Obviously if people thought about all of this before they set up their websites you wouldn’t have these problems, but let’s be fair, it’s a wonderful world not a perfect world!

So what do you do? I had exactly this problem for one of my biggest clients; they have a .com website, mainly targeting UK but are also targeting Germany, France, Holland and Italy. They had created translated versions of all the main pages and put them in folders of website.com/DE /FR and so on. The rankings and traffic from the search engines in these different countries were nearly non existence. I couldn’t get the TLDs and duplicate the site and target each country (for several reasons including budget, CMS and so on). But I needed to improve the traffic, so here is what I tested out:

I’m sure most of you know that you can specify target country in Google webmaster Tools when you submit a XML sitemap, up until now this has mainly been useful when you have a .com but actually want to highlight to Google that you are actually targeting the UK rather than the US. But, did you know you can submit several sitemaps on the same domain?

So as at a Search Engine conference I spoke to one of the Google engineer to make sure what I was doing wasn’t deluded/waste of time, and for once in my life I heard a Googler say something else than the usual FBI line of “I can neither confirm or deny but there is an indication that this possibly definitely maybe could work”, no no she didn’t say that, she said “yeah that could work”. Which in Google land means “I think you are on to something and you have my permission to proceed”. Ehm I think...or it might have meant “whatever blondie, you are annoying me and I will say anything to get you out of my face”...But the point is that what I did seem to be working, so I thought I would share it with you guys:

  1. I created separate XML sitemaps  for different subfolders on the same domain. One for samplesite.com/FR, one for samplesite.com/DE and so on..

  2. I then uploaded these new XML sitemaps on the root, making URLs like this: samplesite.com/DE/sitemap_de.xml
     
  3. I then verified the sitemap on Webmaster Tools

  4. Once the site has been verified I clicked on each sitemap => Settings (see below screen) and selected target country.
SetTargetGEO

Et Volla....fast forward 4 months later and here are the results so far:
Since we implemented the country specific sitemaps we have seen an increase of traffic and rankings. For the German version of the website the rankings in google.de has improved and thus generated an additional 27% increase in organic traffic, the French version has increased by 32% and the Dutch version has seen a 25% increase, so far! There are still loads to do from an SEO point of view on all of these different language versions, but I am pretty sure the geotargetting using the sitemaps have had a positive impact!

So if you are working under the same restrictions it might be worth testing out my method, it would be great to get some feedback once you have tried it and let me know how it worked for you. Good luck!


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Comments (49)

 

  • Thanks Lisa for this great post, I am dealing with an alike situation for a client right now and this is some really good advise :-)

    Do 19 nov 2009, 11:13


  • Lisa,

    You did a great job. Unfortunately, I can't test it out as My clients doesn't have multi-language targeted sites.

    Is it possible to Geo-target differently for each xml sitemap?

    Thanks
    Sankar Datti

    Do 19 nov 2009, 11:27


  • @Martijn: Great, let me know how it goes as it would be good to get some more data/proof that its working :)

    @Sanka: Yes it is possible to geo-target differently for each XML sitemap. That's kind of the breakthrough I found, if you have all country specific pages in a subfolders such as samplesite.com/DE you can create a XML sitemap just for the pages which is in the /DE subfolder then submit that to webmastercentral and specify country targeting like explained above! It's not much point though if the sites are not in the relevant language though, that's a must!! This is just to help Google understand that you are targeting different parts of your site to different countries!

    Do 19 nov 2009, 11:33


  • Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for this interesting article. But now I'm wondering on if this could work on for instance a Belgium site. We do have the TLD, we are in the progress of splitting them into .be/nl and .be/fr but I assume submitting the different sitemaps in Google Webmaster Tools won't help in targeting them to the 'good' country.

    And for Switzerland (with 4 languages) I assume the same....

    Do 19 nov 2009, 11:57


  • @Leon, good question. I must admit I haven't had any experience with targeting Belgium. BUT in your instance you already own the .be TLD which is already telling Google you are targeting Belgium, just having the translated versions in subfolders should be adequate (obviusly not guaranteed you will rank highly but from a geo targeting point of view its adequate). One thing I would advise you to do though is to carry out link development using anchor text in the different languages!

    Do 19 nov 2009, 12:54


  • Thanks a lot Lisa for providing the article. I really liked the information.

    Do 19 nov 2009, 14:09


  • @Leon - this probably wont work for you as you cant geotarget the .be domain, so if you want to target NL country it will be more difficult to do so on the Belgian ccTLD. If you simply want to target both languages in Belgium then splitting the sitemap probably wont matter too much. What will be important is internal architecture and ensuring that you only publish one language on any page.

    @Lisa - I fist used a split sitemap approach in late 2008, but for management more than any other reason. From what I've seen it's generally more to do with the geotargeting setting, but it may be that the separate sitempa under each verified subfolder/domain helps also.

    Good post, and great to see more and more international SEO coming to the fore (an area our US counterparts often fall down on IMO).

    Rgds
    Richard

    Do 19 nov 2009, 16:29


  • brilliant tip!

    do you have any suggestions for a site on a .co.uk that is trying to be multilingual using folders as webmaster tools sets this by default to a UK audience without the ability to change it.

    Do 19 nov 2009, 17:00


  • @Mark: Yep your example would work the same as my example above. Just create seperate folders with the translated versions .co.uk/DE .co.uk/FR and so on then create seperate sitemap for each folder then submit to Google Webamster tools and chose target country like above. Let me know how you get on :)

    Do 19 nov 2009, 17:31


  • @Lisa - you cant select target country for .co.uk domains.

    Do 19 nov 2009, 17:46


  • huh really? You sure? Shows how much I work on .co.uk domains (most of my clients although targeting UK are on .com domains)

    Do 19 nov 2009, 17:55


  • Yep - fraid so :(

    But I'm interested to hear if anyone using this technique with ccTLD sees their inner folders treated as geotargeted to another locale :)

    Do 19 nov 2009, 17:59


  • Yeah just checked and you can't for .se .no either. I suppose that makes sense though as having the cc TLD is already a good enough sign. It's just .com, .info and all the non specific country related ones that needs specification. But usually websites that targets more than one country on the same domain are on .com domains...

    Do 19 nov 2009, 18:07


  • The geo targeting is available for any sub-folder you register within the Google Webmaster Tools interface. You don't actually have to upload a sitemap although it certainly makes sense to do so to get segmented index counts.

    Vr 20 nov 2009, 03:48


  • Lisa,
    I didn't understand one thing if you upload the sitemap at root how could u give this path "samplesite.com/DE/sitemap_de.xml". I think you have uploaded the each sitemap in the country specific folder.

    But anyway ur trick is amazing. I will surely apply it in near future.

    Vr 20 nov 2009, 07:45


  • @Arnie: yep you are right (too much coffee when writing this post I think) we put it on the /DE folder...

    Vr 20 nov 2009, 12:48


  • always looking for better / easier ways to do anything tech is a recipe for success.

    Vr 20 nov 2009, 18:12


    • Marcela Plana - 10enSEO.es
    • [website]

    Lisa,

    Great post, and the greatest of all: my relief to see I have been doing it right for the last two years. Phew! :-)

    TLD domain is _very_ important, I agree on that. Our company targets European business and we would not be happy if the .eu TLD had not been implemented. They took their time!

    Keep it up!

    Za 21 nov 2009, 13:23


  • No sure what did you mean by "3- I then verified the sitemap on Webmaster Tools"
    Did you mean that you verified every folder as a separate account with Google Webmaster Central?

    Zo 22 nov 2009, 14:11


  • @Rami: Sorry for the confusion, you only need to verify once as it's on the same domain. Then upload each sitemap URL...www.example.com/DE/sitemap_de.xml
    www.example.com/FR/sitemap_fr.xml and so on.

    Does that make sense?

    Ma 23 nov 2009, 10:58


  • Sure, thanks for the quick replay, I am not sure if adding each folder as a new URL in Google Webmaster Centeral and verefy it seperatly then associate it with its pertinent country is something you recommend?

    Ma 23 nov 2009, 12:24


  • @Rami - if you want to use geotargeting that's what you must do. You cannot use the geotargeting feature to target multiple countries with one domain otherwise.

    Ma 23 nov 2009, 12:35


  • I'll try it with our hotels website, which we address to UK, Germany, France and Spain. Most of our visits, are comming from Spain, but not our guests.

    From a previous experience with a larger website, creating a country specific domain for Germany, we got involved in duplicate content issues, and at the end we came back to the .com domain. If this tip really works, it will be a great improvement.

    Thanks in advance from Mallorca Island ;-)

    Di 24 nov 2009, 12:43


  • Good post! Very inspirational!

    Di 24 nov 2009, 16:31


  • We run a tool www.geoedge.com that lets you examine how exactly your website is viewed by users internationally on the local servers. Just choose a country from a list and you're there.
    Might be complementary to the article.

    Ma 7 dec 2009, 13:12


  • Geotargeting an seo campaign has its own set of challenges. Great post.. very informative.

    Di 8 dec 2009, 03:27


  • Excellent post!!

    Wonder if you could help with our current dilemma: We have several regional websites targeting different geographic areas. At the moment we are trying to improve our link-building by submitting these sites to relevant directories. However, some directories are not specifically geo-targeted.

    Would we be penalised by search engines for submitting several regional sites with the same domain, e.g. site.co.za, site.com.au, site.in, etc. into the same directory?

    Do 10 dec 2009, 13:08


    • Vyyt

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks a million! I thought of the same approach, but was not sure if it would work or not. I tried to find some information at the Google forums in vain, then other resources about web-design and SEO until I finaly stumbled onto your great post!

    I think Google should include clear intructions about creating multi-language and multi-country-targeted web-sites in their Webmaster Tools.

    Thank you again!!!

    Za 12 dec 2009, 16:42


    • affordable web page design
    • [website]

    Thanks for the share, it gonna be useful for my site. .I'm planning to implement it as soon as possible.

    Do 31 dec 2009, 00:46


  • @lisa, Great information. I read full article and gain use full tips about creating multiple sitemaps for Geo Targeting.

    Thanks!

    Di 2 mrt 2010, 06:30


  • I think you should use another index page to include another sitemap.

    Di 8 jun 2010, 15:27


    • Swank

    Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for the excellent research and tips! I have a quick question. From what we understand, Google considers sub domains as a new domain equity and thus the sub domain does not contain any link juice flow from the main site. But link juice still flows from the main site to sub-folders.

    However, if there are multiple sitemaps submitted to Google that belongs on the same domain, do you think Google considers the different sub-folders as sub-domains in terms of treating the different sub-folders as it's own unique entity without allowing the link juice to flow to the sub folder from the main site?

    Hope the way I phrase this qn is understandable. Thank you very much Lisa!

    Zo 4 jul 2010, 10:49


  • Lisa,

    Interesting article and I hope that the results you have received for the sites have continued to improve.

    I have a number of clients who want to promote their non English language sites and do not have the capability of purchasing French and German domains. This would be an excellent workaround.

    Thank you again I will let you know in a few months how it pans out.

    Regards

    Nigel T Packer
    Internet Marketing Author

    Ma 5 jul 2010, 13:34


  • Hello Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing this very useful information. Humor is always good, :) the FBI line is well known between Googlers, except maybe Matt Cutts, who always makes a good effort to help webmasters.

    Do 8 jul 2010, 21:17


  • Hi Lisa, v.interesting post. As a localization company, i'd like to know the results over the past 6 months? I think a multiple sitemap submission seems oversimplified, but I guess I could be wrong. Look forward to a follow-up. Cheers.

    Do 29 jul 2010, 04:46


  • Thanks for suggestion. Its really great. I will visit here for more....

    keep it up.

    Zo 1 aug 2010, 15:14


    • Brian

    Hi Virginia, While doing local SEO (Google Places as well as organic SERP's) how do you test you success in different zip codes? In other words, my wife has a massage practice the next zip code over 06117 and we live in 06119, I know that the results in her office's zip code area must be different than when searching from our home. She had a local seo sales person pitching here on the phone. My wife & this person were confused why they were both getting different Google 7-pack results. Of course it was due to geo-targeting, they lived in different cities and of course got very different results. As an seo professional, how do you test out seo results of neighboring towns for your customers? Right now I would need to go to a wi-fi hotspot in each zip code to check neighboring towns. Also, is geo-targeting even more specific than zip codes? So if I were to move around within a zip code, would I get different SERP results? Thanks for your help. Brian

    Ma 13 sep 2010, 06:14


    • Brian

    Ooops... sorry LISA!

    Ma 13 sep 2010, 06:15


  • What if I want to target multiple countries (e.g. middle east, india and UK) with .com domain? I want to target only english speaking people, so no subdomains or directories required. Please help!

    Ma 13 sep 2010, 07:20


    • cctv installation manchester
    • [website]

    Lisa, would you say its better to get several local domains or one domain that you can build up great authority with ?

    Ma 21 feb 2011, 02:07


    • frans

    the thought of "whatever blondie" doesn´t seem to apply. After 2 years you have proved to be right. Thank you very much and I will use it to my websit

    Do 29 sep 2011, 10:42


  • ein gutes laufband im internet kaufen

    Zo 6 nov 2011, 17:42


    • webmaster

    Is there any tool to create different sitemaps. And the procedure how to do

    Di 31 jan 2012, 11:48


    • Richard The SEO Knucklehead
    • [website]

    I'm trying to geotarget some websites that use query parameters to designate language and country. I know that's the NOT recommended format for separating target audiences. Is there anything that can be done with XML sitemaps to help them send a clear signal that each one is for a different audience in the case where several sitemaps are submitted under one root domain?

    Di 14 feb 2012, 22:22


    • Peter James

    Hi Lisa, Thanks for sharing the article. I really liked the information. Thanks again for sharing...

    Ma 5 mrt 2012, 13:09


  • I like your posts Ms. Myers!

    Di 6 mrt 2012, 15:35


    • Neil

    Using of kml sitemap can also be a smart way for targeting Geo-specific locations.

    Do 13 sep 2012, 14:02


  • very useful information. thanks a lot for this.

    Di 23 jul 2013, 09:38


  • This is very useful information shared here. I am really thankful for this.

    Ma 14 apr 2014, 07:29

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