Geotargeting is the practice of serving different content to an audience based on their location. A simple example would be a weather widget that displays the correct weather for the visitor’s location. It wouldn’t make sense to show a visitor from Beijing the weather for Chicago. Geotargeting lets site owners set conditions for which visitors see which content depending on where they are in the world.
Geotargeting works because it’s possible to find out a visitor’s location from their IP address. Every computer or router connected to the internet has an IP address, and each IP address — or block of IP addresses — is associated with a location. Geotargeting with IP addresses is not as accurate as GPS or WIFI-based location detection, but it’s usually good enough to determine which country and city a visitor is in.
There are many reasons a site owner might want to provide a different experience to users in different locations.
- To tailor promotions based on location.
- To provide location-specific content. A restaurant review site might want to foreground restaurants near the user. An eCommerce retailer might want to give directions to their local brick-and-mortar store.
- Geotargeting is often used for website security. If your WordPress site gets a lot of spam from a particular area, it might make sense to use geotargeting to deny IPs from that area access to your site’s forms. Although, for obvious reasons, care should be taken not to throw the net too wide.
Geotargeting on WordPress
For simple location-based content targeting, take a look at the GeoTargeting Lite plugin. Geotargeting Lite provides a couple of shortcodes that WordPress site owners can use to tag content that should be shown (or not shown) to visitors from a particular location. This is a fairly clumsy approach to geotargeting, so if you have more extensive geotargeting in mind, I’d suggest the premium version of this plugin, which can do page- and post-level geotargeting, can geotarget visitors through the Cloudflare CDN, and geotarget WordPress menu items and widgets.
WordPress, Geotargeting, and SEO
When I’ve discussed geotargeting with WordPress users, a question that often comes up concerns Google’s rules about cloaking. Cloaking is a black-hat SEO technique that serves different content to ordinary users than is served to Google’s crawlers. Cloaking is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can result in a penalty.
When geotargeting content, a visitor from Montreal might see different content to a US-based Google crawler, which superficially resembles cloaking. In reality, geotargeting is not the same as cloaking. Sites with geotargeting serve different content to visitors depending on location, not whether they are a human visitor or Google’s web crawler. A web crawler with an IP associated with Montreal would see the same content as a human being browsing the web in Montreal, so geotargeting doesn’t cause SEO problems or breach Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.