Feature Article (Pub: March 05) The Perils of Web Hosting on Search Engine Placements by Paul Rudman
Yes indeed, who would have thought it - your web hosting provider could indirectly be costing you the chance of good placements in the major search engine Google.
How can this be? Well the problem is the physical location of the hosting centre itself. Now, while you may feel you have signed up with a UK hosting company, actually all their hosting centres can be in a completely different location such as the US or Germany.
Now this little quirk doesn't really have many side-effects, as you may well be getting very good value and good technical support from your host, but what it does mean is that if you do not have a geography-specific domain suffix such as .co.uk for the UK and instead you opt for a .org, .net, or .com, then Google will use the geographical location of your hosting centre as the method for determining which local index your results should be found in.
By this I mean if you were to search www.google.co.uk with the radio button switched to UK results only, and your .com site was hosted by a UK hosting supplier but in a German datacentre, then you would never appear in the search results. Of course, you would appear in the www.google.de search results, but obviously not many German google users are looking for websites and businesses in English or relevant only to a UK audience.
This is a big problem with hosting and SEO, 1and1.co.uk are a prime example of a hosting company advertised as UK hosting, but all customers are on servers hosted in Germany, so their results will only appear in the google Germany rankings unless they have a .co.uk domain suffix.
There are plenty of studies out there suggesting search patterns on Google that say it is approximately 50:50 as to the number of people that click the "all the web" results on google.co.uk compared to searching only UK results. However, I personally do not believe this, if I am looking for a business where a product needs to be delivered or a service provided to me that involves phone or person to person support and contact, am I really going to search every website on the Internet? No, I am only going to search across UK specific sites, and if I can't find what I want then I will expand my search to include sites outside the UK.
It is unknown to me at this time whether a .co.uk site hosted outside the UK suffers any form of penalisation from google in its ranking placements in the google uk index, and is quite difficult to prove either way as search engines are notorious for providing as little information as possible as to how they operate.
Unfortunately there is no real way around this problem if you are already caught up in it, other than to move your hosting to a service provider that is actually based in the Country that they claim to be from. Always check beforehand if you are looking at a non .co.uk domain name for your site, as you do risk never getting the 100's or 1000's of search engine referrals that google.co.uk can provide you.
Below is a link to a tool that is useful for telling you the geographical location of your website, make sure you check it out if you are concerned about your site not being included in your local Google index, because there is nothing your hosting provider or Google can or will do about this situation, so get educated and make sure your website gets seen in your local Google index.
- Using the "Ping" tool, type in your domain name and you will be given the IP address of the machine your site is hosted on.
- Copy and paste that IP address into the "tracert" tool, the final hop is the physical location of your website, so check this against the "Country" information on the right-hand side.
I don't see this problem changing or easing any time in the near future, as the service provided by Google for geographical indexing is fundamentally sound, and they have to use some method of discerning which Country group a site is relative to when it has a non-geographical domain suffix. However, more and more people are being caught out by this without even realising it, because they believed they were signing up to a hosting provider in their own Country.
I hope this article helps, and please contact me with any of your stories / problems in this area. Good luck!
Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.