Recently I decided to switch Web hosting companies (again — I don’t seem to have much luck with them). I agonized over the decision. One of my concerns at the time was that I’d heard hosting overseas could hurt your SEO efforts. So I wanted to stick to hosting companies in the U.S. where I’m located. There was one problem. Only one company I found would allow me to customize my package to the degree that I wanted to. And that company was in Canada (given, not technically “overseas” but still international hosting).
I did some further research and found that feedback about the SEO pitfalls of hosting overseas varied greatly. There really wasn’t much agreement about how bad it could potentially be for rankings. I decided to give it a try and see what happened. And I’m happy to say my sites have seen no ill effects whatsoever from hosting in another country and some have even improved their rankings.
While hosting in another country clearly isn’t guaranteed to tank your search engine rankings, there are some legitimate concerns to keep in mind. There are also things you can do to minimize any potential risk. Let’s talk about both of those things.
Potential Problems with Overseas Hosts
Here are two of the biggest reasons why people worry that overseas hosting might hurt their rankings.
- If you host your website in a country other than where your target visitors are, your site will load more slowly; Google takes loading times into consideration in site rankings. In my case there wasn’t much difference between hosting in Toronto or Texas, but for longer distances it could be a problem. You might overcome that by optimizing the site for speed in other ways.
- Search engines may factor the location into rankings based on your site’s IP address. (Note that this is especially true if you use a general TLD — .com, .net, etc. — as country-specific TLDs can counteract this affect when targeting a local audience.)
How to Avoid Ranking Drops with Overseas Hosts
Even if overseas hosting might slightly affect your search engine rankings negatively, there are some things you can do to overcome that.
- Choose your geographic target in Google’s Webmaster Tools if you have a general TLD. You might have a bigger chance that your IP address will play a role if your site doesn’t tell search engines of its geographic target in other ways. This is one way you can do that for Google.
- Include a physical address on your website. These are increasingly considered when showing results targeted to a search engine user’s location.
- Build incoming links from sites in your target country to emphasize the fact that you’re targeting that country’s audience.
- Make sure support is available when you need them (different time zones and language barriers can cause problems). This way you can quickly address speed and downtime issues with your host before they have a chance to negatively impact your site.
- Make sure your domain name is country-specific when appropriate, even if hosting the site elsewhere. Using a ccTLD is another way to tell search engines where your target visitors are located, regardless of where your site’s servers are based.
Remember that “overseas” hosting is relative. The concern is when you host overseas from where your target audience is more than overseas based on your own location. For example, if you live in the U.S. but target a U.K. audience, an overseas U.K. host might actually be your better option.
Have you hosted websites overseas? What challenges did it pose? What benefits did you get out of it? Did you notice any negative impact on your search engine rankings? Why do you think that happened (or didn’t)? Share your thoughts in the comments below.