If you’re interested in Search Marketing and running a website that targets multiple countries, you will undoubtedly have come across the topic of local hosting. Unlike other SEO factors, local hosting is a topic of heated debate and opinions on the actual impact of local hosting tend to differ. Unfortunately the answer to this question, quite literally, is that “it depends”.
Obviously that would make both a short and rather unhelpful article, so let us investigate the various situations you could find yourself in – and whether or not local hosting could help you.
What is Local Hosting?
When we refer to Local Hosting in the SEO industry we describe the physical location of the server your website is hosted on. If your website is targeting people from The Netherlands and your server is located in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, you would be hosted ‘locally’.
Why does Local Hosting matter?
When you are targeting a specific demographic, in this case a region, your prime objective should be to be visible for your target audience. One of the biggest challenges for large international businesses is to show up in the local search results. So if a visitor from The Netherlands searches in Google.nl with the option “Pages from The Netherlands”, you want your website targeting The Netherlands to show up.
One of the ways in which Google determines ‘where your website is from’ is by reverse-ip-lookup, to determine the geographical location of your web server. If your website lacks another method for Google to easily determine it is a Dutch website, Local Hosting might be your only solution.
What about Page Download Speed?
This is unfortunately a bit of hype, brought into the world by Google making a vague statement about using this information and various SEO’s were getting a bit overexcited. Unless your pages do load exceedingly slow, this is one of the last things you should be worried about. (At least in terms of rankings and SEO, there are obvious usability advantages to having pages load more quickly.)
Do I need Local Hosting?
Let’s look at some of the most common situations. Most likely you will fall into one of the categories and you can make a decision for yourself.
My website has a .com domain
or another generic ccTLD.
This is by far the most common situation in which the question of Local Hosting arises. Switching to Local Domains would be the first thing to look into, but is not always viable. You might not be able to obtain the right domains or you might not be able to do it from a technical point of view. If Local Domains are not an option, looking into Local Hosting is highly recommended. Please do yourself a favour and research webhosts thoroughly before moving your website as there are thousands of webhosts out there and not all of them are very reliable.
This is what Google has to say on the matter:
Does location of server matter? I use a .com domain but my content is for customers in the UK.
In our understanding of web content, Google considers both the IP address and the top-level domain (e.g. .com, .co.uk). Because we attempt to serve geographically relevant content, we factor domains that have a regional significance. For example, “.co.uk ” domains are likely very relevant for user queries originating from the UK. In the absence of a significant top-level domain, we often use the web server’s IP address as an added hint in our understanding of content.
If, like some of the clients I have worked for, you are looking at having to find Local Hosting for dozens of countries, you really should get in touch with an Agency.
My website has a .com but local hosting is not an option
You might want to look into Proxy hosting, a technique which routes internet traffic through a local web server to ‘appear’ local. I’m personally not a huge fan of this method if there are alternatives available, but if you are in a business where every single visitor counts it is worth looking into. I have seen very positive results from clients in specific industries.
My website has a Local Domain
Great! This is the primary method for Google and other Search Engines to determine the relevance of your website to a specific region. Unless you have the budget and resources to host your regional sites locally, I would advice to focus on other SEO aspects first. You might get a marginal benefit by hosting locally, but it depends completely on your market and what your competition is like. Honestly, there are probably much better strategies to focus on first.
I was hoping for an answer that fits all bills
There is none, sorry. The issue is complex and completely dependent on your personal circumstances and the type of business you run. To get the most accurate answer possible you will have to engage the services of an SEO Specialist and provide a detailed analysis of your situation.