We do know that for geo targeting in Google we definitely need:
- A country code top-level domain (ccTLD);
- Country specific server location;
- Setting Geo Targeting preferences in Google Webmaster Tools.
But what really matters (if for example the combination of all the three is impossible)?
Setting geographic target with Webmaster Tools doesn’t seem to work in most cases. At Google Groups Googlers themselves say they don’t think it might be effective (the discussion first spotted by SERoundtable):
Using the tool to target example.com to the UK may have some effect on non-country-restricted searches, but it probably won’t be the same as having example.co.uk. Most sites will see results somewhere between the two extremes (no effect, and total equivalence with ccTLDs).
Server location can hinder your local rankings but it is of little actual help (per my experience at least). However Google claims it does take that into account:
Google considers both the IP address and the top-level domain (e.g. .com, .co.uk).
A country specific top level domain is what really helps. Citing another Googler:
If a site is being hosted with a country-code top level domain, we generally take that as a really strong signal that this is the country the site is targeting.
So if you have a .co.uk top level domain and set geo targeting to the US, it won’t help. It might help (though no one can be sure), if you own generic TLDs (.com or .net) which are not tied to any country.
So if you really want to rank your site with a local version of Google, make sure you own a ccTLD in the first place. Everything else you can do (server location, setting geo targeting, adding your local address to the landing page) might help but only a bit.