Cutts: Location-Based Redirects are Fine
Matt Cutts, chief of search spam at Google, is back with a new video in his ongoing series featuring a question-and-answer format. SEO experts worth their salt know that using an excessive number of redirects on any page is a good way to have it lose ranking in Google's search results.
However, what about a redirect that sends the visitor to a certain webpage based on their location? Cutts says that Google does not affix any specific penalties for this type of redirect, though the devil - as usual - is in the details.
Geo-location Good, Cloaking Bad
The question comes from Google user Peter, who asks:
"Using geo-detection techniques is against Google, I am offering the useful information (price, USPs) to the users based on the geo-location. Will Google consider this as spam? i.e. showing X content to search engines and Y content to users."
Cutts says straight away that geo-location is, in fact, not considered spam by Google. He offers the classic example of a site recognizing that a user is from France and redirecting them to the French language version of the requested page. Cutts also mentions, as is common knowledge, that Google uses geo-location all the time.
Cutts says that as a rule of thumb, you should treat search engine bots like regular users. In other words, your site should check the IP address of the user to determine where they're from. If the user happens to be Google's crawler, your site should assume that the crawler should be redirected to the U.S. English version of the page.
However, as for the second part of Peter's question - "showing X content to search engines and Y content to users" - Cutts says that caution should be exercised. Specifically, he says that Google considers this to be "cloaking" and counts it as spam. The page you present to Google for a given URL should be the exact same page you present to a user, in other words.
You can watch the video yourself right here: