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Helen FaberThis is the third in the series of SEO Wednesdays Canada. I’m Helen Faber, President & Lead Search Strategist at WebFuel. We are a Canadian Search Results Agency – based in Ottawa, Canada. My last post was related to targeting both Anglophone & Francophone audiences via one bilingual (English & French) website. This post focuses on geographic targeting the Canadian marketplace.

What is SEO Wednesdays?

The concept behind SEO Wednesdays is education. It is based on Canadian Search – or in some cases Local Search in Canada. Why? Because of the general lack of understanding, confusion and too often misinformation that is frequently published on this topic.

Geographic Targeting

Websites issues related to geographic targeting are quite common in Canada. There is still a real lack of understanding when it comes to optimization of a site for a specific location(s). The majority of the SEO Site Audits we have completed found that this was an issue for most business (some worse than others). A recent comment from a prospective client, one that we hear too often, kicked off this topic.

“When we realized that we did not have location keywords in our website, we just implemented them.

Not quite…

Let’s Start with Basic Truths

The web is a global marketplace. It can provide great opportunities, but also can result in issues from a geographic perspective. There are millions of geographic searches performed every day. Unlike PPC campaigns whereby you can bid on location keywords and identify placement by geography, appearing in this type of search on the organic side is more complex and challenging. SEO & PPC require two very different strategies. Understanding and determining your target geographic area is critical to your overall digital strategy.

Here are the some of the different types of geo-targeted searches that you should be considering:

1. Country Search / Canada Search (English & French)

Are you targeting Canada? If so, your web traffic should be coming from this geographic area. Simple enough. But does it? Check your web analytics data to determine if this is indeed the case.

Google Analytics Location Data – Country Level

Google Analytics Location Data – Country Level

It likely goes without saying, but traffic from countries you are not targeting do not convert. Receiving traffic from non-targeted countries is also a good indicator that you have geo-targeting issues.

Canada has two official languages. If you are targeting both, you should get web traffic from both Anglophones & Francophones Canadians. Again, your web analytics data can provide you with a Language report.

Here are the biggest issues I find related to targeting Canada when I perform SEO site audits:
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  • Too many web visitors from other countries (i.e. USA, UK, France which is not relevant web traffic)
  • High number of web visitors from the area where the office(s) are located (rather than across the country)
  • Lack of French Canadian website visitors (should come from the province of Québec as well as French specking cities and communities across Canada)

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Sidenote: In some cases, a Canadian company is targeting primarily the USA but most of their web traffic comes from Canada. This is a very common issue as well.

The geographic target locations at a country level need to be clearly defined – and optimized for the relevant Search Engines. For Canada, that would be Google (as in Google.ca). You may also consider Bing (common with those who are on a PC platform and use Internet Explorer by default).

2. Provincial Search / Regional Search (English & French)

Canada has ten provinces and three territories. In some cases, you will want to target a specific province or territory. For example, a law firm may only be able to provide legal services in the province of Ontario. Or… a business that operates in French may want to target Francophones only. Are you getting web traffic from this area (either Ontario or where target audience speaks French)? Again, check your web analytics data to determine if this is the case.

Google Analytics Location Data – Province Level

Google Analytics Location Data – Province Level

Google Analytics Language Data – French

Google Analytics Language Data – French

The biggest issues I find related to targeting a province or a particular geographic region within Canada when I perform SEO site audits are the following:

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  • High bounce rate from provinces / regions where services are not provided (landing page is also the exit page)
  • Lack of French Canadian website visitors beyond the province of Québec (should come from French specking cities and communities across Canada).
  • Too many visitors from other French speaking countries (which is usually not relevant web traffic).

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The geographic target locations for provinces and/or regions as well target language needs to be clearly defined – and optimized for the relevant Search Engines. While Google Canada is popular with Anglophones, it is less so with Francophones.

3. Local Search / City Search (English & French)

Are you targeting a specific city? This is the most common scenario in Canada (no surprise). It should be easy right? Well… that depends. If you have a business in one geographic area but are targeting another (from a search engine perspective), it can be an issue. For example, your shop is located in Nepean, but you are targeting Ottawa. Or even more complicated, you are located in the West Island, but you are targeting Montréal in both official languages. Another popular scenario is when an office moves locations or when there are multiple offices in different locations. Are you getting web traffic from the area where you provide your services / or sell your products? Again, check your web analytics data to determine if this is the case.

Google Analytics Location Data – City Level

Google Analytics Location Data – City Level

FYI: If targeting the Ottawa area, note relevant traffic is not only coming from Ottawa but also from Kanata, Nepean and Gatineau (in Québec). This is the Ottawa region. Non-relevant web traffic could be coming from Toronto, Richmond Hill, Mississauga, Vancouver, Brampton and Montréal (check the bounce rate).

The biggest issues I find related to targeting a city and/or surrounding geographic area within Canada when I perform SEO site audits are the following:
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  • No local web traffic (Search Engines just don’t know where you are located / targeting). This is quite common.
  • Getting found based on office / retail shop location (i.e. Nepean) rather than the target city (i.e. Ottawa).
  • Not appearing via Google Places for Business (critical for local search)
  • Google Maps / Street View issues (Incorrect information / Multiple listings / No listing)
  • Too many visitors from other French speaking cites / towns where services are not provided (which is not relevant web traffic).

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The geographic target locations for city and/or surrounding geographic region (i.e. 20 kms) as well target language (if applicable) needs to be clearly defined – and optimized for the relevant Search Engines. While Google.ca is popular with Anglophones for local search, it’s not for Francophones.

Did You Know: Searches by postal code can be done in Canada to find local businesses?

Google Analytics Location Data – City Level

Google Search Results for “gyms L5C 2V1

And don’t’ forget…

Keyword Analysis

In addition to checking out the country, province and city level data in your analytics, we also recommend that you perform an analysis of the organic keywords that are driving traffic to your website. Are you getting found for relevant location keywords related to geographic queries? Or are they misaligned? Or are they not sending any traffic at all?

Sidenote:  We have found more geographic targeting issues with websites that do not use the country domain .ca when targeting Canada (i.e. generic top-level domains / gTLDs such as .com, .org, .net etc…).

A Final Note:
Geo-targeting is critical for SEO. Not appearing in relevant search results and/or getting unqualified web traffic will not result in web conversions. This holds true no matter which geographic location you are targeting.

About SEO Wednesdays Canada

SEO Wednesdays is a Canadian Education Series hosted by WebFuel. It is intended for those who need to get found in a Canadian Search. Topics are driven by real search related scenarios in Canada.

Got a question? Just ask!