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May 1, 2008

Adopting a Local Search Strategy for Multi National Clients

When you say “Local Market Strategy”, most people think of local as at the city level. In search that means Google Local, using Geographic delimiters in keywords, Local Directories, etc.

But for large enterprise sized clients, a local strategy is one for a particular country. Multi nationals typically are faced with the decision:

Are they going to have one overriding strategy for all markets


Are they going to have a local strategy (including different products, pricing, etc) for each market (country) that they play in.

and how this question is answered has a HUGE impact on your Search Strategy (at least it should).

Why is a Local Search Strategy Important?

Google gives preference towards local websites within the search results. Canadian companies get special treatment on .ca; Brit’s on and recently American’s on .com.

As the search engine algorithms change, it is very likely that more weight will be given to local factors. Although it is currently very common to see a handful of large powerful sites dominating the results on a multitude of extensions, in the future it will become more difficult to rank in another country.

How does Google determines a websites nationality?

There are many factors that help the search engines to determine the nationality of a website:

1. the extension – is it a (.ca); (; (; (.com); ect, etc.

2. Hosting – where is the site hosted?

The best way to be considered local to a particular extension is to either use that extension in your url or be hosted in that country.

If you have a .com and are looking to rank outside the US, beware of your hosting solution. Hosting companies may appear to be local when in fact they’re hosted in another country themselves.

Other signals to the search engines that help with the nationality of a website include:

3. Google Webmaster Tools – country selection

4. Whois – address of register

5. Contact us page

6. More difficult to control but – the country that most of your links are coming from. For those of you who outsource most of your link building to another country, this could have serious implications in the future.

What are the considerations when determining whether to adopt a Local Search Strategy?

Essentially there are three major alternatives to evaluate. Each with it’s own pros and cons.

1) Do nothing – try to rank with the .com


  • Do nothing is an alternative that should always be evaluated. It’s the least costly of the alternatives (at least from a developmental standpoint) as there is no need to invest in a new website.


  • This alternative is more viable if you are already a hugely powerful site.

If you’re not, then chances are that it may take a lot of time and effort to catch up to your competitors. Sites that rank well for reasonable competitive terms on many extensions typically are older sites (5 to 10 years old) with typically ‘000’s of links and ‘000’s of pages indexed.

  • This strategy may work in the short term but may be less reliable 2 years from now. If the search engine algorithms evolve to take more of a local market strategy you may find that you lose your ranking in countries that are not your local market.

2) Set up geographic specific pages using sub domains

For example This strategy would be supplemented with a link building strategy focused on pointing links to the sub domain.


  • It is possible to associate the sub domains with a specific region to Google
  • Sub Domains can be hosted separately from the parent domain so can make local to the search engines.
  • Also, you can define geographic region in Google’s webmaster’s tools at the Sub Domain level so targeting a specific country is do-able.
  • There is speculation that there may be a “sharing” effect on the link building so that links built to the Sub domain benefit the Parent and visa versa. If true, then this might reduce the “sandbox” effect on the sub domain.
  • From a branding perspective, this solution allows a company to keep it’s brand intact as each country lives off the Company’s domain.


  • There will be a lot of work involved in setting up the new domain including creating new content specific to each domain.
  • There is likely be some “sandbox effect” on the new sub domain. This is an important consideration as it will impact the ability for the sub domain to rank within a period of time.
  • This alternative splits up the link building effort across multiple urls

3) Set up entirely new websites for each country


  • This is probably the best way to rank in any one country over the long run
  • This is definitely region specific to the search engines.


  • Unless you had the foresight to buy up a bunch of domains years ago, it is unlikely that you will be able to obtain all of your brand’s domains for each extension that you need. If you haven’t’ already done this DO IT NOW whether you’re considering a local market strategy or not.
  • If you can’t get all the url’s that you need then there will be some impact on your brand.
  • There will development cost and time involved in setting up new websites for each market.
  • There is likely be a “sandbox effect” on the new site.
  • This alternative splits up the link building effort across multiple urls

Ultimately there is a lot to consider when determining 1) if a local search strategy makes sense for your company and 2) how best to implement it.

This is definately a case where one solution does not fit all.

Jennifer Osborne writer and marketer for Search Engine People.