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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 – aexl Apr 13 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. – Stephen Ostermiller Apr 13 at 8:33
  • More on rel="alternate" and hreflang: developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/crawling/… – aexl Apr 13 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 – aexl Apr 13 at 16:36
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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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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 Google and browsers that this page is targeting German speaking Austrians.

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