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Why website hosting location is important for search engine position
What is web hosting location?
First, every web server is computer connected to InterNet. That computer is located in some country. It has IP address, and from that IP address , it is possible to know in which country/town server is located. Search engines know where your Web site is hosted, and they are ranking your site according to domain extension and website (server) geographic location. What means, if you are moving site (domain) to an other server (hosting account), you need to know where your future (site) home is located. In some cases that is very important.
To find server (website hosting) location, you can use whois.sc (there is a free tool for download also) or free online tools on dnsstuff.com
Importance of web hosting geographic location - real example
This is one real example how hosting location can affect site position on search engines.
Site was hosted in USA, 6-7 years old, targeted to USA visitors and using USA affiliate programs. Domain extension is .com. So, we have ideal situation here, everything on place. Traffic from main three search engines (Google,Yahoo, MSN) was near 80% of all traffic, all those years, with good position on all three...
Now comes disaster.
Hosting company decides that web hosting in EUROPE is better than in USA, and they moved all sites hosted on those servers to Europe, without any notice or explanation. Site is left as is, to check what will happen.
Now, six month later, here is the situation:
Google - international IPs (UK/INT boost), less from USA (Google.com down 20-30 positions)
Yahoo - Yahoo UK boost (top positions), less from USA (Yahoo.com - pages down for 30 - 50 positions)
MSN - no visitors, even from MSN UK (probably penalized, MSN is penalizing left and right, who cares)
After site IP changes, first reaction was from yahoo.com. Pages position lowered to death, some deindexed, appeared later on Yahoo UK. Google didn't care, traffic the same, PageRank the same. Last visitor from MSN disappeared three month later.
Interesting case with yahoo UK. Since yahoo "thinks" that site is UK site (English language, EU IP), now site is top positioned on Yahoo UK (pages are on/near positions where they were before on yahoo.com)
"Thanks" to the Yahoo UK, and various SERP scrapers, now this site is looking like real UK site. With more and more links from UK domains (search engine listing scrapers), those links shows to google and other search engines that site in question is UK site. End of story. Or beginning of localized site story...
Site is now receiving 60-70% less traffic from search engines, and most of visitors now are from UK and international IPs. For site targeted to USA market that is, in simple words, disaster. According to situation, that website is now used to test UK market.
Even when this is an one clear example how server location can affect website search engine position, take this with reserve, since there were a few SERP updates in these six months. So, it could be some coincidence here...
Here is update for above website. Year later, after monitoring traffic from search engines and making some changes (META language tag is en-us, google AdSense targeted to USA, more links from USA based sites), this website is back to Google USA results with even better SERP positions. Despite over 80% links from websites based in USA, Yaho and MSN/LIVE are still thinking that above website is targeted to UK market.
Here are details about these two and description of trap (catch 22) you need to take care about. It seems that both (YAHOO/MSN) are looking FIRST on server location, THEN on where links are coming from. (MSN more). Domain name here is not involved, it is generic - .com. Why catch 22? Because, for UK based website, it seems that those USA links are not worth too much. Only links from UK based websites are counted.
Due to small number of UK links, website is not popular even on UK SERP results (for MSN - only main and some less popular page indexed, but linked from UK websites, before - 100+ pages). Yahoo is acting little different. On pages with strong links from USA only based websites, Yahoo is sending both USA and UK visitors. Page with all those links and optimized for a given keyword, if server location is in USA, will be positioned on top of Yahoo SERP, just like before, but now it can be found on second or third page of USA SERP. And nobody cares about that small META language tag...
It is well known that search engines are using GeoTargeting to list sites related to visitor's IP (country) (trying to convert INTERnet to INTRAnet - joke, but...). This is one of the most important factors in ranking. Since TLD (.com,.net ...) domains are pointing to sites using different languages, to present better results, search engines are looking to language used on website and server location. For above site, English language and hosting in EUROPE (IP) shows that site is targeted to UK visitors. Links from UK domains are only confirmation.
So, to target USA market, .com domain, server location (hosting) in USA, English language, links from sites (.com, .net) HOSTED in US
To target UK market, co.uk domain, English, server location in middle of London:-), links from UK domains
Yes, you can now set target market in Google Webmaster Tools, probably another search engines will follow that.
Targeting Local Markets
Due to cheap hosting, many international sites are hosted in USA. For search engines, this could be a problem. Help them. If you are targeting some other Country, use domain with that Country extension, get links from other sites hosted in that Country, link to other sites in that country, use local language and keywords. If is possible, host your site in that Country. And that is all.
Local Markets - USA
It is not important where (State) is server located? Don't ask. If you are targeting local area, host your site in that local area, use local keyword in domain name, use local keywords on site pages, link and get links from sites with related subject and you are in.
Moving site on Web server located in different State only, can show you a (small) difference.
There is no META HTML tag that can be used to tell search engines "I want visitors from my village". Or maybe yes? Eventually, you can use "Content-Language" tag to determine language, and "Content-Type" for charset, content code.
Talking about META tags, check your pages, correct META tags could help you with correct geolocation, at least for Google. Also, it seems that Bing.com, newest MS search engine is not ignoring Language tags.
One more kind of tags - GeoPosition tags, are good for local business, because, adding these tags (latitude, longitude, country, region) you are showing to world where your business (office) is located.
Keyword in title and page content in combination with City or even street is one more way to localize site. For local business this is important. This kind of localization is used from search engine spammers, too (MFA sites).
WebLog expert (no link for now, search on Google) is one piece of software (web log analyzer), contains database of cities, so, it is possible to track down IP to the City and analyze how good is your website localized.
As said above, in example, links from another countries (domains) can "pull" your site (webpage) to that country (search engine results). Since many links are pointing to the main page, inner pages, with less or without any links from other sites, can be easily targeted to other countries. One, two words on English (UK) and two links from co.uk sites, and your page will pull UK visitors. Now you know why your pages are disappearing from search engines. Sneaky competitors, tc, tc...
Tools to find website server location
As mentioned above, you can download free tool from whois.sc, or search there for domain you want to find details (WhoIs). dnsstuff.com is set of tools, not only to determine website hosting location, it can be used to check server (where website is hosted) speed, along with another less or more important details.
Interesting handy tool is the FireFox browser add-on, FlagFox. Flagfox looks up the actual location of the server you're connected to using its IP address, displaying small flag of Country where website is hosted. Mouse over that flag shows IP and Country, clicking on that flag will transfer you to the GeoTool, where more details are available, including server location on the map. More details are also available, you can read about all features and install it from this page
Without targeted visitors, your site is worthless. So, help yourself and get targeted visitors. Even when website hosting location is not important when theme of your site is for international visitors, it is important when affiliate programs are in question. So, target your visitors better, localizing your site. Get domain name with appropriate extension, host your site on server located in that Country, get links from related sites, use local keywords...
Related : How to choose web hosting for website , where you can find a few tips how to find web servers location (when looking for a new web site hosting).