One of our Korean clients (who would like to remain unamed) has a problem with their section of their website (subfolder). They are part of an international organization. Let's call them "Foobar" for our purposes.

The setup

www.foobar.com (redirects to country site ie. www.foobar.com/usa/ if IP is detected from USA)

www.foobar.com/usa/ title tag shows <title>Foobar USA</title>

www.foobar.com/korea/ title tag shows <title>Foobar Korea</title>

www.foobar.com/japan/ title tag shows <title>Foobar Japan</title>

www.foobar.com/international/en/ title tag shows <title>Foobar International</title>

The problem

In Google's SERP, when searching "foobar korea" (for example), their pages under www.foobar.com/korea/ show up in search results with the Foobar USA appended to the titles of all countries' subfolder pages in the SERP (ie. Lorem Ipsum - Foobar Korea - Foobar USA instead of the original <title>Lorem Ipsum - Foobar Korea</title>). We don't mind the rewrite. Our problem is how do we tell Google that this subfolder belongs to Foobar Korea and not Foobar USA?

From our own experience, after Google realizes that the organization name already appears in the title tag, they don't append it again.

This problem also appears in other country sites like Japan, China, etc.

It seems like Google is convinced that the entire domain is Foobar USA. Since Googlebot crawls from mostly US IP addresses, when the crawler tries to get the root domain www.foobar.com, it gets 301 redirected to www.foobar.com/usa/ where it finds <title>Foobar USA</title> and this is exactly what is appended to every subfolder page title where it doesn't exist.

Our failed attempts

We have tried adding structured data to the HTML pages with the name Foobar Korea, but that had no effect.

We registered the property separately in Google Search Console, but that has no effect.

We also have registered the www.foobar.com/korea/ as a Google My Business with the name Foobar Korea.

Are there any other ways to let Google know that these are separate sites and not to use the same title for all subfolders?

Alternative solutions

  1. From our own experience with another client, we know that if we change the main site www.foobar.com/usa/ to be just <title>Foobar</title> (essentially letting Google think that it is just Foobar and not Foobar USA), Google will append just Foobar to all subfolder page titles if that doesn't already exist in the title.

  2. As @closetnoc mentioned in the comments, we can also try changing the title length of the main page from <title>Foobar Korea</title> to something like <title>Doing more foo than bar - Foobar Korea</title> to discourage Google from appending the incorrect site name. From our experience also, this works, but is seems more like hiding the problem instead of fixing the problem.

The best solution is to signal to Google that each subfolder is a different site.

Just to be clear: This issue is not about rewriting the whole title in SERP. This issue is about Google appending the incorrect organization name to the title. The question is asking how to let Google know that this subfolder is a different organization.

EDIT: November 27th

It's finally fixed. See answer

  • 1
    Google My Business is for local searches with 'SNACK' box results and not organics, they are not subject to <title>, only organics. – Simon Hayter Nov 20 '17 at 10:23
  • 2
    It looks like Google is trying to brand your SERP link in what may be a way I have not seen before or do not recall. Can we get a more realistic example of a pages title tag? I suspect this can be controlled, however, to be sure I would need a title example that is realistic. If you do not want to give away the company name, Tha is fine, however, please give us an example name that is the same length as your current name. As well, how do page title tags vary from page to page? Cheers!! – closetnoc Nov 24 '17 at 5:21
  • 1
    I suspect your title tags are too short. It is interesting that Google sees foobar usa, however, I suspect Google is taking foobar usa as a brand and appending that on a too short title tag. Manage your title tags between 45 and 55 characters and no longer than 60 characters. Test this and you will likely see the problem go away. – closetnoc Nov 24 '17 at 6:08
  • 1
    Do you use a sitemap? support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2620865?hl=en – AAGD Nov 24 '17 at 10:03
  • 1
    Unfortunately, these days, with Google being all squirrelly and deciding what titles are worthy and what not along with branding, if you are not managing your title length, your are leaving your future in someone else's hands. This is why I recommend learning how to manage titles. Not covering the problem. Just managing the reality we must face when dealing with a 900 pound gorilla in a monopoly position. They, of course, are far smarter than you and your title tags simply will not do! Get with the program. Straighten up and fly right. Momma says so. (Humor) Cheers!! – closetnoc Nov 25 '17 at 5:09

Within another context I have given these examples of how to use hreflang and canonical links. For your purpose I added structural data in the head section of both examples with meta tags indicating an organization name, brand and department:

Example of an English webpage

http://example.com/en/

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en"> 
<head itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
     <title>English webpage</title>
     <meta content="My English Organization" itemprop="name">
     <meta content="My English Brand Name" itemprop="brand">
     <meta content="My English Department" itemprop="department">
     <link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/en">
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en/" hreflang="en">
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/nl/" hreflang="nl">
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en/" hreflang="x-default">
</head>
<body>
     <p>This is a webpage written in English. 
        This page is also available in Dutch. 
        The default language of this page is English. 
</body>
</html>

Example of a Dutch webpage

http://example.com/nl/

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="nl"> 
<head itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Organization">
     <title>Nederlandse webpagina</title> 
     <meta content="My Dutch Organization" itemprop="name">
     <meta content="My Dutch Brand Name" itemprop="brand">
     <meta content="My Dutch Department" itemprop="department">
     <link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/nl" >
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en/" hreflang="en">
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/nl/" hreflang="nl">
     <link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en/" hreflang="x-default">
</head>
<body>
     <p>Dit is een Nederlandstalige web pagina. 
        Deze pagina is beschikbaar in het Engels. 
        De standaardtaal van deze pagina is Engels.
</body>
</html>

This should be enough for Google to determine which page to use for a given locale. The canonical link is important.

Structured data could be used in the head section, although search engines may consume this data as they wish. In my examples I added a type 'Organization' in the head in microdata format, and some properties of this type: name, brand, and department. If have checked my examples using Google's Structured Data Testing Tool; in this way you can check the interpretation of your data. The result in GSDTT of the first example - which looks good to me - is:

@type Organization
 name My English Organization
 brand
    @type Thing
     name My English Brand Name
 department
    @type Organization
     name My English Department

It is up to you which properties from Organization you use. name seems most appropriate to me at first glance. You can find a full list of valid properties for this type at schema.org/Organization.

Additionally, I would recommend to create a sitemap, and update it when appropriate.

  • I added a recommendation to build a sitemap in my answer. – iep Nov 24 '17 at 16:37
  • Thanks for your example. The issue is not about which page to serve on Google. We have already advised on correctly annotating their pages with hreflang annotations. The main question is how do we indicate to Google that each subfolder is a different organization. Thanks again. – Joseph Shih Nov 25 '17 at 2:09
  • As a second thought, maybe you should use structured data in your case. First of al, I think you should describe the properties of the page, hreflang only hints to alternative languages. I have not tested the update of my answer, but it might work. Keep me updated. – iep Nov 25 '17 at 9:09
  • @JosephShih It might also help to create some adds (AddWords) for each organization. If even this does not help: call Google! I am sure they will help you getting where you want to be. I am always surprised how well Google support employees are willing to help an how well they are trained, at least in The Netherlands. I did not put this advice in my answer, since this is not a programming advice, but it might help you. – iep Nov 25 '17 at 9:45
  • @JosephShih I updated my answer with structured data. – iep Nov 25 '17 at 9:56
up vote 3 down vote accepted

We checked today on November 29th and the title in the SERP no longer has the - Foobar USA appended to the end. It is now just Foobar Korea (not Foobar Korea - Foobar USA).

Here is what we did

  • October 27th (Day 0) - Added the following structured data:

    <script type="application/ld+json">
    {
    "@context": "http://schema.org",
    "@type": "Organization",
    "url": "https://www.foobar.com/korea/",
    "name": "Foobar Korea"
    }
    </script>
    
  • November 20th (Day 24) - Posted question here on Stack Exchange after no results.

  • November 24th (Day 28) - Our own research led us to add noodp <meta name="robots" content="noodp">. We are not sure if this really had any effect. It basically tells search engines not to use info from public directories as they may be outdated.

  • November 29th (Day 33) - Success! We checked Google SERP and the subfolder homepage www.foobar.com/korea/ no longer has the - Foobar USA appended to the end.

Extra notes

  • Even though we advised our client to annotate their pages with hreflang annotations, till this day, they have not yet done it. For the record, hreflang annotations was NOT used.

  • Title length was not changed. Page www.foobar.com/korea/ is still <title>Foobar Korea</title>.

  • No de-indexing and then re-indexing tactic was used.

It is quite difficult to determine the cause without examining the source code.

  • I assume that your website has errors with canonical meta links. Your web page for Korea www.foobar.com/korea/ should have <link rel="canonical" href="www.foobar.com/korea/foobar-korea.html" />.

  • If your website is multi-lingual then use meta hreflang.

  • Also check your code 301. Maybe there are mistakes.

Addition

The main question is how do we indicate to Google that each subfolder is a different organization.

7 Common Hreflang Mistakes (and How to Fix Them) + Bonus Tip:

Not Using Canonical Tags and Hreflang Tags Together Correctly. The hreflang tag also can be used along with rel="canonical" annotations, but hreflang tags need to reference self-referential canonical URLs. For example, page A should have a canonical tag pointing to page A, page B should have a canonical tag pointing to page B, and page C should have a canonical tag pointing to page C. All three pages should have hreflang tags that mention all three of the pages in the group. You do NOT want to canonicalize only one version of a page in a page grouping, as that would interfere with hreflang annotations.

Apply meta hreflang and canonical to USA:

<link rel="canonical" href="www.foobar.com/usa/main.html" />
<link rel="alternate" href="www.foobar.com/usa/main.html" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="www.foobar.com/korea/main.html" hreflang="ko" />

Apply meta hreflang and canonical to Korea:

<link rel="canonical" href="www.foobar.com/korea/main.html" />
<link rel="alternate" href="www.foobar.com/korea/main.html" hreflang="ko" />
<link rel="alternate" href="www.foobar.com/usa/main.html" hreflang="en-us" />

Read more: Lang unicode ++ Getting hreflang Right: Examples and Insights for International SEO (Moz) ++ Hreflang и Canonical International SEO Test.

Apply structured data - property Organization for United States:

<section vocab="http://schema.org/" typeof="Organization">
<h1 property="name">Name</h1>
<p property=areaServed>(The geographic area where a service or offered item is providedfor example:) Throughout on the United States</p>
<section property="address" typeof="PostalAddress">
<h2 property="name">Main address</h2>
<p property="streetAddress">Address</p>
<p property="postalCode">Code</p>
<p property="addressLocality">City</p>
<p>USA<meta property=addressCountry content=US /></p>
</section>

Apply structured data - property Organization for South Korea:

<section vocab="http://schema.org/" typeof="Organization">
<h1 property="name">Name</h1>
<p property=areaServed>(The geographic area where a service or offered item is providedfor example:) Throughout on the South Korea</p>
<section property="address" typeof="PostalAddress">
<h2 property="name">Main address</h2>
<p property="streetAddress">Address</p>
<p property="postalCode">Code</p>
<p property="addressLocality">City</p>
<p>South Korea<meta property=addressCountry content=KR /></p>
</section>

Read more ISO 3166-2 of Wikipedia.

  • Thanks for your answer, our canonicals are correct for every page. We have advised our clients to annotate their different subfolder pages with appropriate hreflang annotations. The 301 HTTP response I already analyzed. The main question is how do we indicate to Google that each subfolder is a different organization. Thanks again. – Joseph Shih Nov 25 '17 at 2:07
  • Note: <meta> and <link> tags do not use or need a closing slash and never have. – Rob Nov 25 '17 at 13:55
  • @Rob The example 2 of schema.org/OpeningHoursSpecification in which the closing slashes are used – nikant25 Nov 25 '17 at 16:19
  • @nikant25 Thanks, but the original question already notes that Structured Data has already been added and are using Schema.org Organization. – Joseph Shih Nov 25 '17 at 17:00
  • @nikant25 You should follow the actual HTML specification and not a third party site. Nowhere in the history of HTML have those tags used or needed a closing slash or any example ever shown of such within the specification. In fact, the specification states that, putting one there has no meaning, does nothing, and browsers are instructed to ignore it. – Rob Nov 25 '17 at 17:11

protected by Community Dec 1 '17 at 12:17

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