Google changed the way it works, and no one really noticed
If you missed the changes Google made late last year on labeling country services, you're not alone. Contributor Patrick Stox goes through the update and explains why you're seeing a better experience for local users.
In October 2017, Google announced it had updated the way it labeled country services on the mobile web, the Google app for iOS and desktop Search and Maps.
Today, we’ve updated the way we label country services on the mobile web, the Google app for iOS, and desktop Search and Maps. Now the choice of country service will no longer be indicated by domain. Instead, by default, you’ll be served the country service that corresponds to your location. So if you live in Australia, you’ll automatically receive the country service for Australia, but when you travel to New Zealand, your results will switch automatically to the country service for New Zealand. Upon return to Australia, you will seamlessly revert back to the Australian country service.
At the time, it seemed this update was more of a minor change or inconvenience when trying to check international results. Instead of going to the version of Google for a particular country, the results were now based on your location or the location in your Google settings.
This update will help ensure that you get the most relevant results based on your location.
This seemingly minor change actually had a huge impact for websites operating in multiple markets.
Before the October update, if pages were duplicate or near-duplicate, they would be folded together in Google’s index, and only one version would show as it was selected as the canonical version. Often it would be the wrong language or country version of a page that was shown to users.
For example, if your pages were the same in the US and Australia, people searching in Australia might see the US version of the page. This wasn’t a problem with translated language versions, as they were not seen as duplicate. Now, Google is trying to show the best version of the page, even if they are folded together, by picking the version that best matches the users and respecting hreflang tags.
Before the change
Before this update, Google representatives said if pages were folded together because of duplicate content, they would not see the return links for the hreflang tags and that Google was folding the content for you. This was supposed to make your website “stronger” by having fewer but “stronger” pages.
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