Geolocation – Improving Navigation for Web Users Worldwide

  • 0
  • October 7, 2008

This is a guest post by Quova, geolocation experts. Click here for a 16 page whitepaper relating to the research they have carried out in this area.

Right now, there are more than 1.2 billion Internet users around the world, most of which speak a language other than English and most live outside of the United States. In a multilingual world, the odds are that Web users will get lost in the online space as it can be hard to control how people arrive at a Web site and ensure that, once they’ve arrived, they easily find where they need to go.

This research illustrates how companies are using geolocation to greatly improve the user experience across languages and borders – resulting in increased click-throughs and conversions – with the consumer being totally oblivious that, their online experience is being personalised for them. For example, if you have an ecommerce site, you could present prices in Euros instead of dollars without the user having to go through the pull-down menu process.

More than 12% of large multinational companies are currently using geolocation to improve global navigation, which is a 200% increase over a year before. Geolocation is rapidly becoming a mainstream application for companies across all major industries. Below is a selected list of identified companies that use geolocation to improve global navigation:

  • Adidas
  • Amazon
  • Bose
  • Google
  • Hertz
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • PayPal
  • Samsung
  • Skype
  • Yahoo!

To reach 90% of the world’s 1.2 billion Internet users, companies must support 20 or more languages, and an increasing number of companies are doing just that. Some statistics show that when local language is not presented, the drop-off rate can be as high as 50-70% of visitors. One company, a large US software outfit, reported recently that 70% of the visitors to its .com site were international. Unfortunately, this company also noticed that many of these international Web users were not able to find the country sites that had been developed for them. They were getting lost, resulting not only in missed opportunities – but lost revenues.

Geolocation combats this dilemma by acting as a form of global “air traffic control,” ensuring that everyone gets where they need to go and can see the content most relevant to them. The foundation for geolocation is the Internet protocol (IP) address – a numeric string assigned to every device attached to the Internet. When an individual surfs the Web, their computer sends out this IP address to every Web site visited. Geolocation service providers build massive databases that link each IP address to a specific location, and due to its fluidity, many providers update their databases on a daily or weekly basis, sometimes reporting a 5-10% change in IP addresses locations each week.

Geolocation can provide much more than a geographic location. Many providers supply up to 30 data fields for each IP address that can help to further determine if users really are where they say they are. These may include:

  • Country, region, state, city, ZIP code, area code
  • Latitude/longitude
  • Time zone

Equipped with this information, you may respond to the Web user with a wide range of localised content.

Other popular ways that companies are currently using geolocation include: localising products and services, local search and geo-targeted advertising, enhanced web analytics, preventing card-not-present and identity theft fraud and enforcing digital content and territory rights.

Further reading

Quova research paper
Guide to geotargeting for SEO

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • Charles

    Geolocation by IP is a fickle mistress.

    It has to be handled very careful to provide a good user experience.

    For instance, I often find that most hardware manufacturers have regional sites, but that most of the firmware updates only ever appear on their USA site. So when you get pushed off to a regional site you have to try and navigate your way back to the parent. Basically, most regional sites are very sub-standard.

    Another poor example is eBay. Every time I visit the USA site and I want to search for something it pops up telling me I really want to use the UK site instead. Once or twice at most should be enough to tell it that no, I actually want to use the USA site, I’m not being a tard.

    A good example is Amazon. You almost always hit USA Amazon results in search engines, or follow a link from a blog. Amazon just gently reminds you at the top of the page that you can get the item from the UK site instead and links you to a search to find it.

    Plus, IP geolocation always has a margin of error. I remember when I was in the DRM business (lolz) – it was an issue with AOL IPs. Wherever you are in the world they are flagged as USA IPs because AOL just has one enormous netblock.

    How do Quova solve that?

  • Vinay

    Very informative article from Quova, I have been doing some research over this strategy for a client of us who wanted to expand to EU market. Geolocation is indeed a very effective way to market your service to users locally and improve click-through!

    But how would Geolocation help in SEO? Which page or version of a site is shown for a Search Bot visiting the site? If a version of site is dependent on a ip address, wouldn’t the other versions be ignored by search bot?

    Few of my thoughts which could be implemented if you or your client is expanding Worldwide/Europe, whilst Geolocation helps in large extend you might want to consider this.

    Ideally, to have as good a chance of ranking well in natural results as possible, a site should be,

    • hosted in the target country
    • have a domain name with a local TLD i.e. .fr, .de, etc.,
    • be fully translated into the local language to offer as many chances as possible to rank for pertinent search terms in the local country
    • have links from sites with the same TLD

    Let domain be used and the content for each market placed into a folder structure i.e. the content for French users would be placed in

    This might be suitable for Small Business while the E-Commerce giants might go for Geolocation.

    Few of Corporate Landing Pages you might want to have a look before your decide on your site. (Visitors select their region) (Visitors are prompted based on IP) (Visitors are prompted based on IP) (Visitors land on US version but have options to change Country/Region)

    In my opinion, eBay & Amazon have implemented an interesting landing page for visitors. Users with proxy (using IP from different country) might not want to land in different page, loading the page they requested and suggesting to move to appropriate Country/Region specific section would be more recommended.

    I am sure the Geolocation would be largely used in future as brands and etailers start to expand and attract local markets. Thanks again for contributing this interesting article & linking to download the white paper which I am sure will help us to great extend.


  • Patrick Altoft

    Search bots are US based so they will see the site as a US visitor. It’s important to link to all your page versions so Googlebot can still find them.

    The whole area is very tricky!

  • Potato Chef

    It seems like for every problem that is solved another pops up. The world is getting smaller, but remember the Tower Of Babbel? Maybe we are not meant to communicate so freely with each other… I’m not sure about that but maybe.

  • Stever

    Using IP locations to personalize content can really mess with your SEO goals. Andrew Shotland has a good post from a year ago about it here;

    I think having sections of the site via folders or sub-domains, or even separate country level domain names, dedicated to the other languages would be the way to go and use the IP targeting to provide a “suggestion” to link over to the other locations should the visitor land in the wrong location to start with. Or use country flag links that point to the other locations.

    Do let those other locations get crawled by the bots to increase the likelihood that a searcher lands at the right location to begin with.

    If your geo-location system is automatically redirecting visitors, by IP, to their personalized location you do solve the one problem of sending them to where they need to be. BUT, if poorly executed, you open yourself up to a whole host of problems that can cut down drastically on the full potential you could be achieving out of search engine traffic.

    Like you just said above Patrick, “the whole area is tricky!”

  • Kerry Langstaff

    Vinay is correct in that AOL used to be an issue with geolocation – often showing users as being in Herndon, Virginia where the servers were located. However today AOL usage has dwindled to < 2% of end-user traffic and the days of dial-up are gone. Many AOL users access the Internet via broadband and through non-AOL browsers such as Internet Explorer. As long as they avoid using the AOL proxy when browsing, their IP geolocation will be localized to the city/metro level.

    Regarding the issue of companies pushing visitors off to regional sites. In the whitepaper, John Yunker cites as a best practice that companies should always have a backup “global gateway” strategy in place to give users the ability to self-select their location, if needed. The global gateway should be highly visible and easy to use and it must allow the Web user to be and feel fully in control of selecting his or her language and country.

    Also a company doesn’t necessarily have to redirect Web users based on their country of origin. You can simply localize a bit of content here and there just to be sure
    your customers are finding their way.

    Kerry Langstaff
    Vice President Marketing, Quova. Inc.
    [email protected]

  • Kerry Langstaff

    Regarding the posts on using geolocation for SEO. Geolocation can be used very effectively in paid search advertising. For instance PPC ads can be targeted by zip code, city, metro area (DMA), state, country, and time zone and re-directed to localized landing pages. By showing relevant content such as language, currency, location-specific images, and Store Locators on these landing pages – your conversion rates will soar.

    Geolocation can also be helpful in detecting click fraud. If you sell products or services in only one country you could filter out clicks coming from other countries.

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