Question: How do search engines connect content to geographic locations? Is it just based on keywords, or are there other indicators that the algorithms use?
There’s a lot that goes into geo-targeting; it’s not enough to simply stuff content full of location-based keywords. Search engines today look at a myriad of signals, including Google Place pages and Google Maps entries, which are linked to industries and services related to the query. On a purely content level, it’s often best to write about a place rather than just write a generic article and throw the place keywords in later on. Remember, you’re not just trying to hit keywords — you’re also trying to achieve relevancy for the reader.
Obviously, geo-targeted content is only used by the search engine if it’s relevant. If you search for something like “flower shops,” search engines are going to identify what you’re really looking for — regional flower shops — rather than trying to return to you basic information about the existence of flower shops. But if you search for something like “hip dysplasia in golden retrievers,” search engines aren’t going to try to give you local information because it’s not a locally relevant query.
There’s a broader geographic question, too — which websites are returned based on which country the user is in. For many search queries, Australians see vastly different search results from American citizens. In the past, a UK-based company might always want to use a .co.uk address, as this would be more likely to return to a UK user. Today, .com domains are being returned more often for virtually all nations, but there are still some situations in which .au, .co.uk, .ca and other country-based domain names are preferred.
In Webmaster Central, webmasters can specify which country their website is targeted at. But as Google Webmasters cautions, splitting your focus can actually be harmful to your website. If you list your website as relevant to the United States when it’s really an Australian-focused website, you may have the side effect of getting fewer Australian hits.
Answer: To ensure that your content has been properly geo-targeted, it msut be submitted to the appropriate directories in addition to having highly geographically specific content.