Saturday, 30 March 2013

Target Your Worldwide Audience With rel="alternate" hreflang="x”

In this age, we need to be in touch with different people and to support them; so we need to use different languages.

Supporting a website with different languages or having a multilingual website is not a new concept. But search engines and different browsers are dependent on structured data. Make sure that you are using correct markup as it is very significant today.

To make correct markup for website with different languages, rel="alternate" hreflang="x” are used.

This particular element supports Google Index and gives a local version content to your users who need an alternate content language.

This tag is basically more helpful when you have a website with regional specific content in different languages.

When do We need to use this tag?

As per Google Recommendations, this tag can be used in these situations:
  • You have translated alternate versions of your website.
  • Only navigation elements are translated and remaining content is the same.
  • Website with single language but targets different regions.
According to above specifications, there are two kinds of websites: 

1) Multilingual
2) Multiregional. 

Now, the question arises, what is the difference between multilingual and multiregional?

Multilingual websites give content in two or more languages. Like a Latin American website has content with two different languages, English and Spanish.

Multiregional websites can be defined as those with content that aim at users in various countries. Some of these websites may be multilingual and multiregional.

How to Deal with a Multilingual Website?

First of all, ensure that pages of your website have clear default language for search engines as well as users. This can be done by declaring that language in header of every page, and maintain a constant language. 

Multilingual Website SEO

Important Note: Never use auto translated version of website. It will be considered as spam. However if you have used auto translated version of website because of some reason, then block auto translated versions results through robots.txt. 

Consider user experience of all in website URLs.  It would be best to use sub-directory in URL for local website URLs and if it is not possible, use sub-domains. Sub-domains need more configurations.

Sub-directory example: 


Sub-domain example: 


You can translate the words in URL into the local language by using  UTF-8 encode in URL.

Getting Away from a URL

It is a serious component and is not discussed in global SEO.

Make sure that you predetermine all characters that are prohibited in your URL to UTF-8 equal. This is proper and appropriate syntax.

For instance, suppose space in the URL ( ) which is illegitimate character in URL. So when you are trying to enter URL with space like space, should be encoded like this: or Here ‘20%’ and ‘+’ are UTF-8 backed characters for illegal syntax. 

Target Particular Countries

How will Google understand website targeted countries?

Here some elements which are used to determine targeted countries by Google:

Server Location: Servers are chiefly key signals for the Search Engines, via IP address of the server. Nowadays, many websites are hosted on distributed hosting.

Top-Level-Domains (TLDs): ccTLDs are also important to identify targeted audience countries. They represent particular countries like .au for Australia and .de for Germany. By this both search engines and users can come to know for users of which particular country the content on a website is.

Geo-targeting: You can set particular country in Google Webmaster Tools to target your users. 

Other Signals to Website: To make your website local, you can add address, phone number, local language and others.

How to Structure URLs?

For multilingual website, structuring your website URLs is most important.

Below are some points which will help you to make your website local:

URL Structure Pros Example
ccTLDs Clear Geo-target
Sub-domains with gTLDs Easy to Set up and can user Google Webmaster Tool for Geo-targeting
Sub-directories with gTLDs Easy to Set up and can user Google Webmaster Tool for Geo-targeting

Solution to Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is the most critical situation which should not be ignored. Putting identical content on 2 dissimilar URLs will be considered copied content which can affect the website’s organic ranking. 

You can use these options for duplicate content:
  • 301 redirection
  • rel=canonical

How to use rel="alternate" hreflang="x"?

Do you have identical content in other language on the same website? Simply, you can use this specific element on your website if it contains content in a different language.

Suppose you have a website like and other language website is Below are methods which can be used to show that French URL is French language equivalent to the English page. 

1. HTML Link Element 

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="" />

2. HTTP Header

If you don’t have HTML content and website contains other content like Word document or other files, you can indicate particular language for that URL:

Link: <>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="fr"

3. Sitemap

You can also include language specifications into website sitemap.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
href="" />
If you have a website with different languages, then every page for different languages must contain rel="alternate" hreflang="x" to classify all languages itself. Suppose if your website has pages with English, French and Italy languages, then the French version must contain rel="alternate" hreflang="x" for English and Italy versions. Similarly, it should be done for Italy and English language versions.

If you have different URLs targeted with same language but different regions, it will be a good idea to give a general URL for geographically indeterminate users. For instance, if you want to target all searchers in UK, you can specify the general English-language (en) page for all UK users. You can specify URL for users in France (en-fr) and for users in Italy (en-it).

Supported Values for hreflang

Values for hreflang classify the language in the format of ISO 6391-1 and region in the format of ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 for particular alternate URL.

Be sure that you use correct syntax for countries and regions to make sure appropriate functionality of rel=”alternate” tags.

Ending Summary

Well, in multilingual and multiregional websites, there are three scenarios where you require to use rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x”. When you have a website with different language and region, you have to specify tags and mark up your data. By using this tag, you can inform Google that your content is in a particular language or your content is for users in a particular region. Consider URLs structure to create better signals for search engines to target your particular country.

Click here to get more information about web development solutions. I have tried to cover all things about rel=“alternate” hreflang=“x” and about managing multilingual websites. If I have missed anything, let me know.Your comments will be appreciated.