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We are selling the same products on several websites having country-specific domain names. The website template is always the same, and the content language normally differs based on country, except those sharing the same language. For example, the German translation is being used on both example.at/product/123 and example.de/product/123. Each of those URLs lists itself as a canonical.

Recently, Google started excluding our Austrian URLs marking them as Duplicate, Google chose different canonical than user, and when I inspect the URL under the Coverage report, it says:

Indexing

  • User-declared canonical: example.at/product/123
  • Google-selected canonical: example.de/product/123

Knowing the contents are indeed duplicate, I accepted this as the expected outcome – until I read how IKEA actually reported this as an issue during English Google Webmaster Central office-hours from January 24, 2020 session with John Mueller. The complaint was that Google had started to prefer their Austrian website for queries made from Germany.

IKEA's setup is similar to ours, in that it has country-specific URLs with duplicate content (note the identical product descriptions on both pages).

These pages do not seem to have any country-specific signals other than the TLD in the URL, as well as a canonical tag pointing to a URL in that same TLD.

To me, the above has introduced a concept of undoubtedly legitimate duplicate content, since the products, while indeed being identical and sold by the same company, are offered to different markets, and may have different availability, prices and/or taxes. And in his response to the question, John has in a way agreed:

I don't think there's anything particular on your side that you're doing wrong. Sometimes with different country versions that show the same content it's a bit confusing on our side, but we should be able to catch that better.

That was over a year ago, and the issue (if there was any) should have been resolved by now. How do I encourage Google to rank every store in its own country? Most of the advice I'm finding is to make one website primary by linking all of the canonicals from the other website to it, but we want our websites to rank independently.

These questions are similar, but old, and the International Targeting in the new Search Console is now considered legacy.

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  • Researching. IKEA's products sitemaps seem to be annotated, using rel="alternate" and hreflang
    – mehov
    Apr 13, 2021 at 7:28
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    Google used to be really good at this, especially when you were using country code domain names for localization. Sad to hear that it doesn't work as well as it used to. Apr 13, 2021 at 8:33
  • More on rel="alternate" and hreflang: developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/crawling/…
    – mehov
    Apr 13, 2021 at 16:29
  • The above link explicitly states Localized versions of a page are only considered duplicates if the main content of the page remains untranslated, which is the case here
    – mehov
    Apr 13, 2021 at 16:36

2 Answers 2

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How do I encourage Google to rank every store in its own country?

You should ensure, that each country's website provides a value for its visitors:

  • Each country's website should contain informations, which are specific only to this country's visitors,
  • Each country's website should contain self-referencing canonical AND errorfree implemented hreflang. Errorfree is an absolut must!
  • Each country's website should contain absolutely unique assignment to this country. Schema.org to the rescue.

I personally know cases, where on missing of one of these three features Google removed a specific country website from index. There were .de and .at, they were too similar and without an added value for visitors - .at was deranked by Google.

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  • How much country specific information is needed? I've often seen ecommerce sites where just the pricing and shipping options are different. The pricing is in the currency for that country and the shipping options are only for the delivery options for that country. Is that sufficient to make Google happy? Sep 13, 2021 at 9:52
  • This is indeed a very complicated and grey area. If the difference is only in price and delivery method, a good hint could be to establish for each country version an own GoogleMyBusiness property and to tie it with structured data to each country version - to signalize Google, there are indeed different business entities. I would do it at first before writing additional content. In general, external signals, like links from country-specific business directories, could be helpful in this.
    – Evgeniy
    Sep 14, 2021 at 11:01
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My first thought was that in addition to the country level TLD and cannonical link, they also include the target language in the <html> element:

<html lang="de-AT" dir="ltr">

Which tells browsers that this page is targeting German speaking Austrians.

However as Stephen points out from a video from 6 years ago, and more recently on the Multi-Regional and Multi-Lingual Sites documentation

Google uses the visible content of your page to determine its language. We don't use any code-level language information such as lang attributes, or the URL.

However, on a later page they state:

Consider using a URL structure that makes it easy to geotarget your site, or parts of it, to different region

And go on to give examples of both domain based (example.de) and directory based (example.com/de/) targeting.

The final option is probably to configure the markets within the Search Console, or configure Google My Business settings to set up your markets correctly.

I would guess that Ikea are using one of the last two options as they aren't using any of the other signals that Google recommend such as sitemaps, interlinking with hreflang links, or hreflang headers on the responses.

One of the large multi-region and multi-language site my employer manages for a client definitely has each target market set up in Google Search console using the "Global TLD with language subdirectories" and seems happy their set up.

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