Using Google’s GL Parameter to Beat Geo-Targeting
Nowadays, Google and many other search engines custom-tailor search results to a particular location. They identify user’s IP address or GSM location and provide results relevant for his/her whereabouts.
This could be good for users, however, this often gives SEO’s a really hard time, because:
- Many SEO’s have clients who target multiple countries,
- Some SEO’s travel on a regular basis and check rankings from overseas,
- Some SEO’s use proxies to collect SEO data, which means their results get tailored to the location of the proxy server.
This is when the “gl” parameter in Google comes handy. How does it work? You do a search on Google. Once you hit “Search”, you’ll see the query URL in your browser with different parameters in it:
So, what you do is you add gl=country code to the query. For example, if you’d like your search results to be relevant to the US (to make it appear as if you are browsing from the United States), you simply add gl=US – that’s it. Same goes for other countries. For example, you can add gl=AU for Australia, gl=DE for Germany, gl=CA for Canada, etc. Here is a full list of the country codes Google is using.
Does it really work? Let us consider the following examples. I type in “international SEO”, hit “Search” and this is what I see:
Now, I add gl=CA (Canada) to the query URL and hit “Search” again. Wow, looks like I got some strikingly different results (I marked all the results that were either not there or were displayed at a different position):
In case you don’t want to enter that parameter by hand each time you check rankings for a particular keyword, there are some browser plugins that you can use to do the job. For example, there is a plugin called OpenSearch that has been developed by Ready2Search and works for Google Chrome, IE and Firefox. Once you install it to your browser (or to your Google toolbar) and the gl parameter will get automatically added to the query when you use the respective SE or click the little blue magnifying glass icon (in the toolbar).
The drawback of this plugin is that you have to create a new sub-plugin, so to say, for EACH new location, since the clicking on the magnifying glass icon custom-tailors your results only to ONE specific location. But, if you target one or two countries at most, it comes handy.
If you resort to SEO software to track keywords on a regular basis, you may also look for the gl parameter settings in the SEO tool you are using. This would suit SEO’s targeting different countries with one website or having multiple regional versions of one domain.
For example, in Rank Tracker (the keyword tracker and keyword research tool that we developed at Link-Assistant.Com), you can add one or SEVERAL gl parameters to your query at the point of choosing Google’s regional varieties (or simply Google.com) to check rankings in. The results for searches that “have been made from different countries” will get displayed side by side.
Another advantage is that the SEO tool shows the exact URL that ranks at a certain position, which is good to know, because sometimes various URLs can be ranking differently in different countries. This way you can optimize one page for one country, and another page for another country, instead of trying to kill two birds with one stone by optimizing one landing page for several locations.
To use or not to use?
All that said, I’d like to mention that, even though the gl parameter helps one beat geolocation, it can hardly nullify the effect completely. There are a lot of other geo-related nuances that may have an impact on your search results, for example, your browser’s language, etc.
And, whether you enter the gl parameter manually or use a tool to do it would probably depend on the bulk of rank-checking work you need to do and the number of countries you are targeting.