Lots of companies have different international domains serving similar content and pages, but are they working against each other? 

Here, I'll show examples from three companies, showing how their international domains are actually competing for the same search terms, as well as how to solve this problem. 

888.com

888 has several international sites, and in this case the www.888.com is competing with the uk.888.com and au.888.com sites for the term 'online Texas Holdem'. 

From the chart below, we can see the the Australian site has had the better rankings for most of the past 10 months.

However, thanks to the conflict, the pages are working against each other. The highest was page two on Google UK, while the UK site hasn't made it above page three. 

At the moment, 888 ranks on page five on Google for this term, which is as good as nowhere.

As a result, the company uses PPC to give it some prominence: 

Poor search rankings cost money. As Keyword Planner shows, the suggested bid for this term is £8.36. 

hotelscombined.com

This international conflict is a problem for several travel sites. Here, hotelscombined's UK site is seemingly doing battle with its .com site for the term 'hotels in texas'. 

As the chart shows, it has enjoyed some very high rankings for the term, but the 'wrong' site (for Google UK users) has been ranking most of the time. 

From a UX perspective, this isn't such a bad thing for users, as the site detects the location and serves prices in sterling. So the average visitor will be totally unaware they're not on the UK domain.

However, the conflict between the two domains, which contain identical content, has meant that the site's rankings have been unsteady, at times near the top of page one, others near the foot of page two. In a competitive market, this has an effect. 

Expedia

Expedia has similar issues, and we can see a lot of movement for the term 'hotels in michigan' between different domains. 

One is the US domain (.com), one Canada, and 'Expedia' in the chart refers to the .co.uk site. 

At the moment, I can see it on number four in the organic results on Google UK for the term (it's also using PPC). 

However. it's the US version that appears in the SERPs: 

And alas, Expedia doesn't detect I'm from the UK, serving me results in dollars. 

This could give users the impression they've gone to the wrong version of the site and I suspect many will hit the browser's back button as there's no obvious way to change the currency displayed. 

Obviously, detecting the user's location, as hotelscombined does, would solve the UX issue, but Expedia should look to solve the domain conflicts which are affecting its rankings. 

Even within the UK results, Expedia is experiencing some internal cannibalisation.

In the period shown here, Expedia had five similar Michigan hotel pages ranking for the term at different times.

During the gaps in between, the Canadian and US domains were ranking in their place, as shown on the previous Expedia chart. 

This means that, for instance, UK users searching for this term during September would see the US version of the page, as they do right now. Thanks to the currency being shown in dollars, this page is less likely to convert. 

Internal cannibalisation like this within the UK domain can be dealt with through effective internal linking, giving Google the right signals for the best page to index. 

This would ensure that the correct (i.e. the one Expedia wants to rank for) UK page was shown, though there still remains the problem of international cannibalisation. 

Essentially, on all three sites shown here, the different international domains are competing against each other for search terms.

This is an issue to be solved between the various web teams dealing with different domains. In many cases, they may not even be aware this is happening. 

How to avoid international cannibalisation

Essentially, on all three sites shown here, the different international domains are competing against each other for search terms.

This happens when you have duplicate content and theming across separate TLDs that are owned by the same company.

This is an issue to be solved betwen the various web teams dealing with different domains. In many cases, they may not even be aware this is happening. 

It could be that the UK and US digital teams from a single corporation aren't communicating properly, or haven't decided on a unified strategy on how to direct specific content at different regional search engines. 

According to PI Datametrics Head of Search Jon Earnshaw: 

Another reason for this occurring is that one nation's digital team simply doesn't see implementing the relevant tags as a priority as they may believe it will negatively affect their positions. This greediness or oversight could instead pull both sites down in the SERPs. 

In essence, a local country subfolder approach is the only way, supported of course by rel=alternate tagging.

Here's an example (one of ours on Unify). This goes on every page that has multi-country presence. You now have to include a self referencing URL. This is taken from the homepage: 

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="pt-br" href="http://www.unify.com/br/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="cn-cn" href="http://www.unify.com/cn/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de-de" href="http://www.unify.com/de/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://www.unify.com/us/" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://www.unify.com/uk/" />

Jon also explains that Google recommends rel=alternate hreflang in the following three scenarios:

  1. You have a completely alternate version of your site or page translated in a different language.
  2. You translate only the navigational components of a page, like the navigation, sidebar, or footer, but the main content remains in only one language. This is commonly used on pages that include user-generated content.
  3. Your pages have very similar content within a single language with regional variations, for example you have Spanish language content targeted at readers in Spain and also South America.
Graham Charlton

Published 11 March, 2015 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (2)

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Chloe Forward, Digital Marekting at Freelance

It seems HotelsCombined already has implemented hreflang tags correctly across their ccTLDs. Why do you think this is still happening to them?

over 3 years ago

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Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

Really interesting article Graham.

I think from our perspective, the interesting one here that we hit is deciding on whether to go down the country focus or language focus as the former is potentially much more labour intensive.

Ultimately, the main things that customers are looking for is a website in their language and currency (where possible). Then to make the experience better, the ideal is for the site to focus offers and content around that user (as best they can determine). As a result, having local language websites to cover the main languages of your users and utilising personalisation to determine the most suitable currency and relevancy of offers (i.e. for us showing flights from the USA to Europe when in America and from the UK to overseas destinations when in England) seems to make the most sense while once you 'know' a customer (i.e. have seen them before) you can start to learn from what they did previously to determine what to show them next...

over 3 years ago

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