Google: rel="alternate" hreflang="x" Annotations and rel="canonical" Help Serve Regional URL to Searchers

Google has announced improvements in handling multilingual content; "We've expanded our support of the rel="alternate" hreflang link element to handle content that is translated or provided for multiple geographic regions."The hreflang attribute can specify the language, optionally the country, and URLs of equivalent content. By specifying these alternate URLs, our goal is to be able […]

Google Multilingual ContentGoogle has announced improvements in handling multilingual content; "We've expanded our support of the rel="alternate" hreflang link element to handle content that is translated or provided for multiple geographic regions.

"The hreflang attribute can specify the language, optionally the country, and URLs of equivalent content. By specifying these alternate URLs, our goal is to be able to consolidate signals for these pages, and to serve the appropriate URL to users in search. Alternative URLs can be on the same site or on another domain," explains Google Webmaster Central blog.

"Optionally, for pages that have substantially the same content in the same language and are targeted at multiple countries, you may use the rel="canonical" link element to specify your preferred version. We'll use that signal to focus on that version in search, while showing the local URLs to users where appropriate. For example, you could use this if you have the same product page in German, but want to target it separately to users searching on the Google properties for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland," blogged Google.

Adding, "If you specify a regional subtag, we'll assume that you want to target that region.
Keep in mind that all of these annotations are to be used on a per-URL basis. You should take care to use the specific URL, not the homepage, for both of these link elements," said Google.

Here is how it works?

  • http://www.example.com/ - contains the general homepage of a website, in Spanish
  • http://es-es.example.com/ - is the version for users in Spain, in Spanish
  • http://es-mx.example.com/ - is the version for users in Mexico, in Spanish
  • http://en.example.com/ - is the generic English language version
Google says "On all of these pages, we could use the following markup to specify language and optionally the region":
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="http://www.example.com/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-es" href="http://es-es.example.com/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-mx" href="http://es-mx.example.com/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://en.example.com/" />

For more information on correctly implementing multiregional and multilingual websites, please this Help Center article.