Oh No! SEO Fail Causes Search Engine Ranking Disaster in Australia!

It seems a large number of New Zealand and Australian businesses are seeking answers to search engine ranking difficulties between the two countries.

In a previous post “The Great Geographic Divide – Google Splits New Zealand And Australia” I talked about geographic modifiers and how many businesses are unaware of how important location is to search engine results.

Search Engine Ranking in Australia and New ZealandI also discussed how tough it can be to get traction in Google in the other country and how it seems to be easier to get US placement than Australian placement if you are a New Zealand business.

This post is based on my research into the poor performance of a local company who also has representation across the Tasman and who felt like they had tried everything without success to improve their Australian search engine ranking.

Here is how the websites are set up.

There are two sites on two different ccTLDs (country code top level domain). So one is website.co.nz and the other is website.com.au. The New Zealand site is hosted here in NZ and the Australian site is hosted in Australia.

So far, so good.

The sites are both optimised for a range of keywords and each page of the site has unique meta data. Yes, good as well.

I am afraid that is the end of the good news though.

The New Zealand site performs reasonably well on Google for most of the keywords on several of the site pages. Traffic figures for the main keywords in New Zealand I would describe as average. However, when I use Google Australia ( http://www.google.com.au/webhp) to search for the same keywords the Aussie site is nowhere to be found.

So, what is going on here?

Looking at the websites a bit closer the NZ one has a PageRank of 3 and has a smallish number of fairly good quality back-links. The Australian site has PageRank 2 and lacks a decent number of back-links. Both domains have a bit of age on them – the NZ one is slightly older.

Here is the critical factor!

Both sites have almost identical content. Apart from a couple of pages where local suppliers or distributors are listed the sites are almost exactly the same aside from the country names where applicable.

So I set about investigating whether this configuration would pick up a Google penalty or not for duplicate content on separate ccTLDs. There is a huge amount of information out there and there is some disagreement as to how duplicate content is handled by the search engines. We all know that duplicate content on the same domain is inadmissible but what about domains in separate countries with separate hosting and separate physical addresses?

I started with Google’s webmaster guidelines then circled outward through various Google forums and Google’s own blog. From there I dug down into a number of the biggest SEO blogs written by highly respected search engine optimisation thought leaders. A clear picture started to appear.

Duplicate content is not penalised in this case as such. What happens though, is that if two pages have largely the same content then Google will choose the page first published or the page with the most authority to be the leading result for that content. The other page is therefore relegated much further down the listings to pages way beyond one and two.

If we look at article submission – you will notice similar treatment when you submit the same article to several different article directories. Either the first published or the most authoritative site will get the best search engine ranking and the rest will disappear way down the results pages.

So in this case the New Zealand site has the upper hand – better PageRank, better link profile and a slightly older domain. It is given authority for each of the duplicated pages and this is where it is a killer for the Aussie site.

When someone searches for a keyword in Google Australia the NZ site has the jump. But when the geographic modifiers kick in Google will find every optimised Australian business first before giving a Kiwi site top placement. The NZ site is seriously hurting the performance of the Australian one.

To test this theory I searched the keywords used in the Title Tag and meta description of the only non-duplicated page on the Australian site which is a listing of Aussie distributors.

Guess what? The Aussie site was at position one or two on Page One for each of them…


So, what is the fix for this situation?

The answer is in separating the two sites. The design aspects are fine – no need to redesign – it is the HTML content which must be altered in order to present the two sites as unique presences in their individual markets. The on-page content must be unique and the meta data will also have to be entirely different. Once these changes are made it will be a case of resubmitting the sites to inform the various search engines of the changes and it will take a while for the site to begin to move up the search results – a couple of days to several weeks.

This situation is a major headache for multi-national companies with a presence in a number of countries. Does language give enough uniqueness if the sites are primarily the same? What if the company is in several territories where English or Spanish is the main language? How different do the sites have to be? What if we set up a big dot com site and have a page for each of our offices around the world?

Imagine having the job of creating fifty large unique sites for fifty territories?

As an amusing footnote I received a message via our contact page from a company who was experiencing a similar situation with poor search results in one of the two countries. Noticing it was a NZ based company I gave them a call on their 0800 number. When I told them my phone number they laughed – it turns out that they are less than five minutes from here. How did they find us?

They searched Google for solutions to NZ and Australian search engine ranking problems and my other post popped up at the top. Talk about geo-targeting!

I would be interested to hear your opinions on the duplicate content issue and whether you have struck similar anomalies in search when related to geographic location.

Let me know in the comments.


About Mike Morgan
Mike Morgan works with innovative businesses in New Zealand and Australia developing custom web marketing strategies integrating SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media Optimisation. When not in front of his screens you will probably find Mike walking on beautiful Ohope Beach with wife Midge and doberman Cooper. Follow Mike on Twitter here and


  1. Wow! Thank you for this info – it is something that all webmasters need to know 🙂

    • Cheers Johnny,
      Duplication issues such as these and geographic modifiers have a pretty strong influence on search. Thanks for the comment.
      All the best

  2. This is an interesting case, and that’s both interesting and understandable in how the near-identical websites were handled in case of rankings. Not that it applies too much to us, but it is a nice thing to know. Thanks for enlightening us Mike.

  3. There may be many similar cases when offline companies let build their website. SEO is still very new term and is actually simple when you start to understand it but for SEO newbie it sounds like a foreighn language.

    • Hi Mark,
      Yes, it can seem like a new language at times. When talking with clients I am very aware about using any terms which may confuse – I keep the language as non-technical as possible and draw diagrams to explain what I am talking about.
      Thanks for visiting.
      All the best

  4. Hahaha lol i think its a Epic fail by Google.

  5. omg..i hope they will fix error soon <3

  6. It’s amazing when you think about what’s behind all of Google, and all the SERP’s and everything. Quite interesting article, thanks !

  7. I think this is really alarming and people should be aware of this post…

  8. Hi Mike,
    I’m still a newbie when it comes to SEO. My head is swimming with lots of information gathered from reading numerous blog posts and articles and it would take a while to sort them all out.
    Based on your case study, I think Google still has a lot of work cut out for them. What’ s encouraging is that they are making an effort to improve their algorithms.
    Thanks for sharing this interesting info. It helps to know what factors may affect all of us.

    • Hi Theresa,
      Thanks for taking the time! I am glad you found the info useful – it was interesting to do the research on this one. Google has it’s work cut out staying ahead of the spammers. Every time they make a change to improve search someone finds a quick way to circumvent what has been done.
      All the best

  9. thanks for the useful info, fortunately this not happen in my country. Hope the Big G will fix this soon.

    • Hi Alex,
      It will happen if you have two duplicated sites in two different countries. It doesn’t matter which countries they are, the result will be the same.
      Thanks for visiting,

      • well, i dont know what happen, my comment was posted under 2 different ip adress? there was a blank screen when i hit the submit button for the first time, so i just go back and submit it again. Thank you for you kind reply, Mike, i will be more careful next time.

  10. Seanna Rhei says:

    When you think about it how much money can be lost due to a day of bad rankings !!

    • Hi Seanna,
      If you are not ranking you may as well not have a website. Only people who already know your name or who are responding to offline advertising will find it. The opportunity to make sales is significantly decreased so you are right – even a day of poor ranking has a huge affect.
      All the best

  11. John Williams says:

    Thanks very interesting post, Google will always be a mystery in how it works.

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for visiting! People inside Google don’t even know how it works most of the time!
      All the best

  12. Hi Mike,
    We are just working on a NZ web design for a client with a dominant (and well-aged) AU ecommerce site and similar set of forthcoming challenges in terms of product duplication etc. Wondering… out of interest… have you noticed anything different since the Hummingbird update? Or is it still same-old, same-old do you find? We’ve got a client in Sydney with some wacky location-sensitive results arising for his services business just lately.
    Cheers and thanks,

    • Mike Morgan says:

      Hi Melanie
      No I haven’t noticed any geolocation issues around Hummingbird. Good luck with the new site – be careful to ensure uniqueness and you will be OK.

Speak Your Mind