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Explicit Annotations for Multi-Language Sites

Mar 01, 2012   |   SEO
Explicit Annotations for Multi-Language Sites

Confused on when to use hreflang or canonical tags?

Maile Ohye with Google helped us better understand when and how to use rel=”alternate” hreflang tag along with canonical URL’s during the “Real Answers for Technical SEO” session at SMX West 2012. This may get a bit technical, but stay with me.

When launching multi-language pages or sites, it’s important to tag the different versions in order to get the relevant language in front of your target audience. By not applying the correct explicit annotations to the pages, you may be causing duplicate content issues as well as confusion in the SERP’s for the end user (displaying a multiple URL’s for specific languages, .es, .en, etc.)

If you are localizing template pages into other languages but leaving the main content of the page the same, you will need to do the following:

  • Implement canonical tag. This will signal the preferred version of the page and will eliminate duplicate content issue. This will be the page version that will be indexed and returned in the SERP’s.
  • Implement rel=”alternate” tag on the canonical URL using hreflang attribute. This will help to consolidate indexing signals for these pages.

The display results should look like below:

  • English:
  • Spanish:
  • French:

For those of you that are building completely separate sites with original content in the local language, you should still implement the rel=”alternate” tag without the canonical URL (since there really isn’t duplicate content/pages.)

By doing the above, you stand to gain the following:

  • Google to display the correct localized URL to your international users
  • Helps Google better understand your site
  • Helps Google with discovery of new URL’s


  • Vanessa Fox, Search Engine Land (Moderator)
  • Adam Audette, RKG
  • Jonathan Hochman, Hochman Consultants
  • Maile Ohye, Google Inc.

Contributed by Zulema Romero, Director of Client Services

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