Google provides detailed advice for websites that need to target multiple locations, such as a business with offices in different states.
This topic is discussed during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on January 14.
An SEO professional named Gail (last name not provided) asks Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller about an idea her client has to optimize their website for several US states.
Their idea is to create landing pages for each state they operate in, and automatically send visitors from the homepage to the appropriate landing page via dynamic geo IP redirection.
On top of 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. This is not a good strategy.
Mueller explains the SEO implications of following through with this plan, and explains various ways it can be done better.
See his advice in the sections below.
First Consideration: Google Crawls From One Location
The first thing to consider when targeting multiple cities or states with the same website is Google only crawls from one location.
That means dynamic geo IP redirects, as Gail’s client proposes, would not help Googlebot find the different landing pages.
“I think there are a few things to keep in mind there. On the one hand… we generally just crawl from one location. And probably for most systems, that would map back to California.
And essentially what that would mean is that the content that we can look at would be the content for California, and we would not have access to the content for the other states, which depending on what kind of content you have there, for the other states, that might be okay but it might be problematic.
So that’s kind of the first thing to keep in mind is when you search for your company it’ll look like this is purely in California, or maybe even in San Francisco, I don’t know how the IP addresses would map there.
So I think that’s something that often throws people off, especially with geo IP redirects or dynamically swapping the content.”
While redirecting visitors based on their IP address may work in practice, it’s not optimal when it comes to Googlebot crawling.
Second Consideration: Do Not Redirect To A Noindexed Page
The second, and more serious, consideration of the plan proposed by Gail’s client is what happens when redirecting to a noindexed page.
Mueller explains this would cause the site’s homepage to drop out of search results:
“The other thing is if you noindex the individual state landing pages, then, of course, the state landing page that someone from California would go to would also be noindexed, which would basically mean that your homepage would drop out of search results. So that would be a pretty bad thing.”
Again, this plan might’ve worked for human visitors, but would cause major problems as far as SEO is concerned.
Here’s what Mueller recommends doing instead.
Mueller’s Recommendations For Targeting Multiple Locations
Instead of redirecting visitors to pages based on where they’re located, 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 redirecting automatically to a specific location, is to make it so that the user can find that content much easier.
So something like a dynamic banner on a page when the user goes to the homepage, there’s a banner on top that says: ‘oh, it looks like you’re in Texas, and we have an office in Texas, and here’s the information, and click this link to find out more.’
And that way the user has the ability to go to these individual pages. And ideally those individual pages would also be indexable, because that way if someone looks for your company name plus the state name they would be able to find that landing page, which would be essentially ideal.”
Another way of handling this situation, Mueller says, is to dynamically swap out some of the copy on the homepage based on visitor location.
Instead of multiple landing pages for different states, you could set the homepage to display different text for visitors that pertains to where they’re located.
“The other approach that you could take is to swap out some of the content dynamically on the homepage. So instead of having separate state landing pages, you have your general homepage and you have that state specific information dynamically swapped out.
The important part here is to make sure that overall that homepage still has enough generic content so that it doesn’t come across as like everything is for California, but rather it’s like this is lots of information about your business, and since it looks like you’re in California here’s specific information for California, or whatever state that you’re in.
So those are generally the two directions that we recommend there.”
Mueller clarifies that there’s nothing wrong with creating individual state landing pages if Gail’s client chose to go that route instead.
It’s not a great idea to create landing pages for every city in every state, but having landing pages for each state where a business is located is okay.
“With regards to the individual state landing pages for a handful of versions, we wouldn’t really see that as being problematic. If you had landing pages for every city in every state, then that would start looking a bit iffy for our web spam algorithms.
But if you’re talking about a handful of states, or maybe even all states, it’s something where you have 50 different versions of the homepage with your local address with phone numbers, opening hours, kind of that additional local information on them. From our point of view that’s generally fine.”
Hear the full discussion in the video below:
Featured Image: Screenshot from YouTube.com/GoogleSearchCentral, January 2022.