Exploiting Google's Geographic Targeting
Google recently introduced an interesting feature to their Webmaster Tools console. With this option you can specify the geographic region for which a website, sub-domain, or sub-folder is most relevant. This is particular useful for companies that have already dropped the SEO ball and chose to not register the country-specific top-level-domains (TLDs) for the international versions of their sites.
First, here's what the option looks like for those that haven't seen it yet.
What's got me thinking is whether this feature from Google actually turns the tables on the benefits of country TLDs by making sub-folders the smarter choice. Here's what I'm thinking...
Note: Before continuing please keep in mind that I'm simply exploring options from a theoretical perspective. The title of this post use the catchy word "exploiting", but that shouldn't be construed as a suggestion by me that you should look for ways to trick Google. Thinking about things makes you smarter and thinking is all that I'm doing here.
For each country TLD you have to expend effort to acquire inbound links to achieve decent rankings in competitive markets. The problem is that the work you do for one domain doesn't directly help other country-specific domains. Sure, you can use footer links and such to pass PageRank, but that's not as effective as direct inbound links. The situation is similar for sub-domains although there is some evidence that sub-domains obtain some value from the root domain.
Now consider the situation of sub-folders. A sub-folder can piggyback off of the authority of the domain if the right internal link structure is used. My question is whether a sub-folder that has had its geographic target set via Google will not only benefit from reduced competition in international markets, but will also get a boost from the links elsewhere on the site. Rather than working hard to get country-specific content out of Google's sandbox, you can now just drop all the content into a sub-folder and rank the next day. Interesting idea, no?
A variation on this idea is to duplicate your English content for the UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and any other country with a significant number of English-speaking search engine users. Each duplicate goes in to a separate folder and each is geographically targeted. Drop in some intelligent internal links and you suddenly have country targeted content with no duplicate content penalty issues.
Could this actually work? I don't know yet. There are some clever people out there so I'm sure this is already being tested. And who knows, maybe Google is already working on a fix.