Should a web server be hosted in the country being targeted? The consensus in the SEO community to this question is yes a web server should be hosted in the country being targeted or where rankings want to be achieved. However, it is a topic that attracts a lot of talk and consideration amongst the digital marketing community.
Server location is one of the many factors that Google consider when determining if your website is pertinent for a certain country or language market. Server location is frequently in reality close to your users and can be an indicator relating to your websites destined audience. Some websites adopt distributed content delivery networks (CDNs) or are hosted in a country that benefits from improved web server infrastructure, so it is not a conclusive signal.
According to comments from Google representatives, they have stated that in search, particularly for geotargeting, the web server location plays a minor role and in a number of instances it is actually irrelevant. As long as:
- A country code top level domain (ccTLD) is used.
- A generic top level domain (gTLD) is used in conjunction with Google Webmaster Tools
These will be predominately used for geotargeting regardless of where the web server is located. Furthermore, Google have stated a web server certainly does not have to be located in any particular location, it is more important to use infrastructure in whatever location is most effective and then international targeting information should be passed on by a ccTLD or Webmaster Tools.
If a site has a ccTLD like .co.uk, it is effectively already identified with a geographic region, i.e, United Kingdom. In this scenario, you will not be able to designate a geographic location in Google Webmaster Tools. However, if you are using an international domain, like .com, .org or .eu then Google will look at a number of other signals, not least IP address, location information on the site, links to the site and any pertinent details from Google My Business to determine a country target.
Although as discussed server location is not a concern when country targeting, consideration should taken to ensure a website is hosted in a way that will allow visitors fast access to it. In many circumstances this is achieved by selecting hosting that is close to the targeted visitors. The distance that data has to navigate between a web server and the end user, as well as the number of hops between networks that it needs to make will have an impact on the speed at which a website loads. So there are distinct advantages to hosting a web server close to the target audience. More importantly, is choosing a reputable hosting provider that is both fast and has 99.9% uptime, in addition to great support in case it should be required.
Country Targeting Conclusion
As long as a ccTLD is being used or a country has been selected under International Targeting in Google Webmaster Tools as well as having language and content set accordingly then server location should not be of concern. The real advantage is to improve access bandwidth and decrease access latency for crawlers and visitors, as this translates to faster page load speed and from an SEO point of view this can only be beneficial.