IP delivery is a technique where a website/server looks at who a visitor is or where they are located from an IP address perspective. Once this is known (not always completely accurate, but god enough), the site/server can serve a page/site that will be catered for that visitor.
Sounds simple? Well, give or take a bit of server side programming it is. The main part of the process is taking the time and effort to create the individual content for the groups of users you are targeting. This work mainly fits into two categories, namely, specific regional information for that visitor (contact details, in country taxes, etc.) or translating words into a specific language. Google, for example, does this all the time when you type in one of its URLs (try typing in www.google.com from an UK IP address for instance and see where you end up, for an extra part of the test try setting you language in Google to French… see what I mean?).
So, what is the connection between this and SEO? Well, if you treat Google as a specific user, then you can also serve specific information to them by recognising the IP addresses of their robots. This (in a Google ‘rules” sort of way) is called cloaking. The ‘black hat’ version of this technique is where you deliver different content to fool search engines into indexing you for something ‘they’ see, but when a visitor gets to the actual page you get something completely different. The level of ‘completely different’ will define what side you stay of the ‘rules’. Think carefully before you do any of this kind of stuff for this purpose, even if you are doing it with the best of intentions.
The real area where you can learn here is if you have a multiple country and multiple language website. From a usability perspective it is really desirable to serve relevant content based upon who your visitor is. Many (many, many, many) large companies have attempted this (and still do) and get this completely wrong from a search engine perspective. Bad IP delivery will only confuse search engines and their robots. Conversely good regional IP delivery will enhance your search engine presence in the regions you target and operate in. Also, if you still bring everyone in to the same domain you will not be diluting your power with many different regional sites, but still serving relevant content to each visitor. However, there are pluses and minuses for each approach and you need to find one that is right for you and you objectives.
If you are someone responsible for a multiple country/language website or still don’t know which side of the ‘rules’ you come down on from an IP delivery perspective. Here is a good video from Google Webmaster Central. It is worth a watch.
In essence, look at what Google want and are doing with IP delivery and you won’t go far wrong. There are other benefits that you can incorporate from a SEO perspective, but more of those in a future post.