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My question relates to two websites, each of which is a "Calvary Christian College", however in two totally different locations and unrelated to each other entirely (except by name, and thus domain).

All schools in the state are issued a <school-name>.qld.edu.au subdomain, in this case calvary.qld.edu.au and calvarycc.qld.edu.au.

Now what's interesting is that these domains are crossing each other in sitelinks for searches such as calvary christian college townsville. The green data here is for one school (the Townsville school, as per search term), and the red data is for the other school.

I've put a demotion in for this >6 months ago (we control calvary.qld.edu.au), however we're seeing no change on the results page. I have been able to get the owners of calvarycc.qld.edu.au to submit demotions for our domain, which should go in sometime in the next few days.

What can we do to tell Google that these websites are not interchangeable, despite both appearing as "subdomains" of qld.edu.au?

We can possibly open channels of communication with the administrators of qld.edu.au but will need to tell them what we need to change, and at this point I'm out of ideas.

  • How long is ages ago? As Google do stipulate: 'Once you've demoted or undemoted a sitelink, it can take some time for search results to reflect your changes.' – Max May 27 '14 at 3:13
  • Probably between 1-3 months ago. – LuckySpoon May 27 '14 at 3:24
  • Yeah, you would think that's enough time. – Max May 27 '14 at 3:30
  • Yeah. Even for the Google spiders. – LuckySpoon May 27 '14 at 3:36
  • Your site links look good here. Must be the data center you hit verses the data center I hit. Perhaps that is good news! – closetnoc May 27 '14 at 3:46
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First of all, I will tell you that sub-domains is not an issue. I have many websites using subdomains and each have their own page rank, results in Google searches, etc. For example, I have the following three:

http://www.m2osw.com/ [My Company]

http://linux.m2osw.com/ [Linux and other OS related comments/problems with solution, a bit like StackExchange, without the interactivity.]

http://scam.m2osw.com/ [List of scams that I receive...]

Now, there are two main differences between both of us: my websites are all 3 very different in that they all have a different name, and what they describe is completely different too.

Your problems is that both of the websites that you are describing are both about "Cavalry Christian College". In other words, they both have the same name. Just the location will probably not help much.

I do not know of one way to fix the problem you're having. I would suggest, however, to improve your SEO. This means searching for all the alt="" (the empty ones!) in images and fill in your keywords. For the location, add a meta tag with your coordinates (long/lat), your city name, your state (especially if different from the other college--although I see you're both in Queensland!), ZIP code... Also add a description to pages. Google may not display those, but they do use them.

If there are links between both sites, you may want to have all of them removed or at least marked as nofollow (&lt;a href="..." rel="nofollow"...&gt;) if you need to keep some of them.

Make sure you have Google Analytics and Google Webmaster accounts and check to see what they say in there.

From the results in Google, I cannot see the calvary.qld.edu.au on the first page, and I suppose that's yours. I also see that both websites have the same PR. This is another reason for Google to remove your website from the search results. I don't remember how they call that one... but more or less, if Google finds two websites that are quite identical (as per their own measures...) then they may choose to only show one of them.

One last thing... and that may be harder to fix, but... your website took over 15 seconds to load (At least from California). You may be able to enhance that part and thus get more points from Google (that's another factor that they use; they will show you their download time in your Webmaster tools account.)

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    Understand that subdomains aren't the issue, but it's certainly not helping. There aren't any links between the sites, and taking Stephens comments in his answer on board re: meta tags. Analytics and webmasters don't really help, neither will show statistics about a different site. According to Webmasters, the crawler takes between 816 and 1979 ms to load the page, so I think that's just because you're in the states. – LuckySpoon Jun 3 '14 at 2:06
  • I am thinking that your main issue here is that Google views both websites as very close and it chose one of them and shows that one and not the other. It is a somewhat sensible choice in many cases. If you are looking for an answer to a specific question, you would not want to have 10 results which all give you the same answer. – Alexis Wilke Jun 3 '14 at 8:15
  • I understand that - unfortunately this time it's not working. Comes back to the fact that they're different websites for different schools in different locations. We need Google to consider them separate. – LuckySpoon Jun 3 '14 at 23:58
  • Yes. I think that the main answer for you would be to increase your PR. Then you would probably become the first choice and appear on the first page instead of the other college. Obviously, they could then do the same and go in front of you again. But I do not otherwise know of a good way to have a win-win for both websites. That would be a really good question to Matt Cutts because he could push that question/problems to the engineers who implements those algorithms. – Alexis Wilke Jun 4 '14 at 4:15
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    I'm trying to get their attention, it's damn difficult can I tell you?! Hopefully some of the PR changes tie us over while we battle. – LuckySpoon Jun 5 '14 at 3:43
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+100

It sounds like Google is confused about what the base domain is. For most domains, the base domain is the second level domain (example.com). The third level domain would be a subdomain (sub.example.com).

There are some common cases in which the third level domain is the base domain (example.co.uk). Google certainly knows about this and treats "example" as the base domain in this case and not "co".

In your case, the base domain is the fourth level domain (as mandated by the Australian Government). This is a highly unusual situation. I've never seen another case where the fourth level domain is the base domain for websites.

I don't think that there is anything at all you can do with your website itself to fix this. I don't know of any signals that you can give Google to show that your fourth level domain is a completely different site from another similarly named fourth level domain. The only thing that I think would help would be for somebody from Google to add a special case in their base domain algorithm for edu.au.

You are also going to have problems with browser cookies. It is possible for you to set cookies at the qld.edu.au level. This means that other schools could set cookies for your website and you could set cookies for other school websites. Hopefully you are setting your cookies at the calvary.qld.edu.au level, so that other schools don't read your users login cookies. But it is possible that you are being sent cookies from lots of other schools. This is even a possible security hole.

Browsers identify the base domain using the Public Suffix List which was created by Mozilla for their browsers (including Firefox) and is now a public resource. Google uses this list in Chrome now. It is also possible (even likely) that Google's search algorithms pay attention to it for determining base domains.

This list has edu.au on it when it should have qld.edu.au, nsw.edu.au, wa.edu.au, and any other Australian region on it in addition. (edu.au shouldn't be removed because there are also base domains directly under it like bettereducation.com.au)

The good news is that you can submit ammendments to this list. I would do so if I were you. Once qld.edu.au is on the list, it would solve the cookie problem and there would be a good chance that it would solve your Google search problem.

You could also try to petition Google directly. The official way for "contacting" google is posting in their forums. The crawling, indexing, and ranking webmaster forum would be the appropriate place for this. I would post something as direct as possible like:

Google should consider qld.edu.au to be a public suffix

All schools in the state are issued a .qld.edu.au, in this case calvary.qld.edu.au and calvarycc.qld.edu.au. These domains are crossing each other in sitelinks for searches such as "calvary christian college townsville" (if you check the sitelinks 2/6 are to a different domain).

Google should consider these fourth level domains to be completely different websites as discussed at http://webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/63221/two-subdomains-crossing-search-results

I put "contact" in quotes because it is fairly rare to have somebody from Google actually read or respond to the posts there. Usually you get community responses that are no more helpful than you would get here. Occasionally somebody from Google will see your post there and something gets done about your problem.

  • Wow thanks for the detailed response! The public suffix list already lists qld.edu.au on there (line 243) as well as edu.au (line 221). There is a whole government department (yay tax!) for administering the 3LDs and 4LDs in this space, and as far as I can tell it annoys just about everyone. What's worse is that you can still obviously still create subs so you end up with stuff like www.moodle.calvary.qld.edu.au! I have already posted on the Google webmasters forum, to no useful response. Do you think a repost with alternative wording inline with your suggestion is worth it? Thanks again. – LuckySpoon Jun 2 '14 at 4:47
  • I missed that qld.edu.au was already on that list. I guess that is proof positive that Google doesn't use that list for site differentiation purposes in the search engine. At this point, I think you are at the mercy of somebody from Google noticing your plight. – Stephen Ostermiller Jun 2 '14 at 22:15
  • I think you're right. I spent a bit of time on the phone with them yesterday, and had pretty much the same response. – LuckySpoon Jun 2 '14 at 22:28
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    As a side note about the number of names in a domain, Australia also has .schools.nsw.edu.au which is 4 names. As mentioned here they have many with 3 names such as .tas.edu.au. And Japan has a similar way to breaking up their .jp main domain as in: .pref.hiroshima.jp. But the worse I've seen are cities and city halls in some African countries. These are expected to purchase a domain name such as "foo.xyz" and then put the city name as a sub-domain: "city.foo.xyz". Not too sure that is being followed though! – Alexis Wilke Jun 3 '14 at 5:23
  • I accepting Alexis Wilke's answer as it is the most complete in terms of information presented, however yours may prove to be the most useful in terms of language to attract Google's attention. – LuckySpoon Jun 5 '14 at 4:15
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Google mixing up sitelinks is not a new phenomenon, you will find examples on their product forums. For example, here is one thread where they showed incorrect site links for a major UK bank.

https://productforums.google.com/d/msg/websearch/MWk--aA8oRA/SutHhiAfWV8J

In some cases the answer is within your control and you could try to ensure the sites were very much different in terms of titles, meta descriptions and canonical tags. I note on the crossed link I looked at, the title tag was almost exact, so I would start there.

If this situation doesnt resolve this within a few crawls then I would proactively try to draw Google's attention to it so they could look internally, maybe by posting on their forum or joining a webmaster hangout.

  • Just noticed you tried posting on the forum. If reposting doesn't help there is twitter and Google + that has a google webmaster presence. – user29671 Jun 2 '14 at 7:57
  • Thanks for the tip - have tagged on G+, will try and find their Twitter later today. Have just put in a request with both schools to change meta keywords/description and title tags to include location. – LuckySpoon Jun 2 '14 at 22:54

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