Proxy Caching for International SEO

While I was over at SES London a good friend and I were talking about a problem he has with one of his (international) clients. Basically, he ranks really well in the UK but not so well around Europe and somewhat worse further afield. The site in question owns the right TLD’s, though I never really got to the bottom of how they are being used.

“Hmm”, I said. “How are you hosting this stuff?” The answer, “In the UK”. :-)

I’ve sat through a lot of *International SEO sessions at conferences and they all give the same type of advice (in no particular order):

- Get Inbound local links - Use the correct TLD - Use Google Webmaster Tools to verify your Locale (if you don’t own the TLD) - Do local keyword research (understand local search behaviour over translating your keyword list in the UK) - Don’t interlink too heavily - Host at an IP inside the country you’re targeting

*Just on that International SEO conference note, you might want to check out Eduard Blacquière’s write up of the SMX London 2008 International SEO session. Wonderfully detailed write up, Eduard!

Anyway, our conversation continued on the subject of local hosting, as comparatively, it felt like the “hottest” topic in the list. The problem is (with hosting locally) is that the database driven site we were discussing had several different racks running databases with load balanced servers and all sorts of jiggery pokery. “Just” hosting locally is not an option.

Hosting “locally” with a proxy cache

Web caching is the temporary storage of web objects (such as HTML documents) for later retrieval. There are three significant advantages to web caching: reduced bandwidth consumption (fewer requests and responses that need to go over the network), reduced server load (fewer requests for a server to handle), and reduced latency (since responses for cached requests are available immediately, and closer to the client being served). Together, they make the web less expensive and better performing.

Brian D. Davison’s Web Caching and Content Delivery Resources

What if you could cache a copy of your website at a local hosting IP – miles away from the true location of the actual website? The jury’s out on the difference it would make alone, but when all the other international SEO boxes are ticked, perhaps locating your site in the middle of that particular location is the next step. Install a proxy cache in a remote location, change your TLD’s DNS and you’re ready to rock:

Diagram: international seo proxy cache

Resources

I found an incredibly detailed list of proxy servers on Brian Davison’s website. He seems to be the clear authority on everything proxy. Take a look at this page for a full list of software options.

Varnish is one of the newer proxies out there and seems to be favoured over Squid, another popular and well known proxy. I found a great article written by a blogger who decided to move to Varnish, and chose the proxy over Squid due to a simpler setup and less complexity.

If you’d like to install Varnish on your Ubuntu machine (Varnish runs on Linux only) then putting Varnish on Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10 machine  is a straightforward installation using apt-get. Just go to Terminal and type:

sudo apt-get install varnish

Done. If you’re interested in the configuration via VCL then you’ll need to dig deeper and test (a lot).

Suddenly, I realise I’ve found a use for the Marvell Sheevaplug. International SEO could one day be as easy as putting a power plug into a (local) wall socket :-)



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10 thoughts on “Proxy Caching for International SEO

  1. Thanks for this – looks like it could be a great way to get around the problem. Would be really interested to know how much of a difference it makes – if your friend implements this it’d be great to read a follow up report. One question though: would it be possible to have more than one proxy server so you could have one in each target country? Not sure how search engines would react (if they can detect it). Sounds ‘grey’ hat!

  2. @Joanna for this method, you would want one proxy server per country (actually per cctld). Done this way and used for this purpose there is nothing grey about this tactic. You are bringing users in those countries a better experience with lower latency (probably) and it sends correct signals to the search engines about your location so everyone’s interests are aligned.

    Which is nice. Nice article Rich.

  3. Thanks for including my International SEO write-up from SMX London, Richard!

  4. Adrian Land says:

    I too have heard this standard set of setup clues to give the SE’s the idea of the audience that you are targeting. And if you can it is worth doing. From my experience and trying this on some sites and not on others throughout international companies I have worked for; I have found (imho) that links from the local territory hold the most weight. The “wisdom of crowds” seems to be the overriding factor. Google et al, despite all their great work are very blunt with geo-targeting.

  5. Nate Wood says:

    I agree, nothing grey here. It’s a better solution for the engines since they get to properly index your content and it’s a better solution for visitors since they get to find you properly. As with all things SEO, if done for the right reasons then the engines will back it.

    Lower latency – depends on how dynamic the pages are really, huh?

  6. From my experience the hosting doesn’t matter seo wise provided you have the cctld e.g. .de .fr .jp.

    If you don’t have the correct cctld then you should get hosting in the country.

    I can see how it can help with building trust for the user buying from a website based in your country, but how many users will know where the site is hosted.

  7. Richard, We run servers all over the world to provide both proxies and local hosting. In our experience, global clients need a mix of solutions one size doesn’t fit all. But it’s also true that our clients only ever expand their use of this – and I think that’s pretty telling of itself.

    It’s mainly useful when the client has a dot com site and isn’t using Webmaster Central – but it does also help in certain circumstances in other cases. I’m sure that we all know that the very first thing Google does is a reverse IP look-up. As far as local domains is concerned, if you were Google and you had two sites where both had the same quality of links and content and you had to decide which one to put in what order knowing that you already have the IP location – are you then going to use that data to decide? Or are you going to ignore?

    Then what we’re factoring in is local speed of delivery. For page load speeds, Google is to use data from toolbars to give the information as users see it locally. So you need to at least check the speed from a local perspective. Could this point more people to choose local hosting – I think it probably will.

    I agree with Adrian that local links is a major factor. I also have heavily promoted the use of local domains for years. Both of those are key. But in some cases local hosting is a good choice – and the good news is it can be tested without really much site interference and then turned off it doesn’t help.

  8. Branko says:

    Nice article Richard.

    I have a theoretical problem with giving preference to local hosting. If Google was doing that, it would severely limit the hosting options webmasters have. If i wanted to reach UK audience, why would i have to be limited to UK hosting providers and not be able to purchase cheap alternatives from the US ?

    I seem to remember that there was some talk recently about Google downplaying the importance of local hosting and using much clearer signals – such as locality of the links, TLD, WMT localization, etc.

    Obviously in competitive markets, one would try and do everything they could to gain advantage, but that shouldn’t be a requirement for an average Joe…

  9. Hi Branko – thanks (it is quite an old one though :-)

    Agreed – and totally appreciate your objection. In fact I think that local hosting may only make a small difference if any. Perhaps local hosting could make more of a difference when all the other ranking signals (TLD, Language, Link Proximity) seem evenly balanced. I don’t know – there must be certain queries where local hosting could make a bigger difference. All rankings sites are a .com on a high traffic query and the link profiles are very, very similar.

    As with all things – some data on the topic would reveal all. In the meantime, continue to treat this post as highly speculative.

    Looking forward to meeting you in Seattle, BTW!

  10. Paul says:

    Hi Richard,

    quite an old post, nevertheless very interesting. But I have a technical question: Would it be possible to use proxies for subfolders, too?

    Thanks, Paul

Comments are closed.