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Geotargeting for Multilingual and Multinational SEO through Google Webmaster Tools

A new tag to manage International / Multilingual websites from Google


Our commentary: A new asset this week for large multilingual sites or for those thinking of targeting new audiences was launched by the Google Webmaster team. It's great to see a constant stream of new features recently from this  team.

The new feature is a language specifc tag "hreflang" aimed at websites / businesses that target users in various languages but under one domain (usually by using subdomains or folders - e.g. or There are often complicated issues with duplicate content with such setups that this new tool allows you to manage more efficiently. This is the format for the "hreflang" directive which will have to implemented within a CMS so will typically require bespoke coding.

<link rel="€alternate"€ hreflang="a-different-language" href="http://url-of-the-different-language-page" />

The best example within this post from the Google Webmaster blog being centred around a spanish page where the content of the page is spanish but the navigation and content around it will change depending on your language settings.

This naturally means you have the same body content on multiple URLs; something which can be considered duplicate content and will also mean you dilute link value. As with the canonical tag this is likely to take a little while for people to adopt and implement but a great step forward and something I will be recommending to people moving forwards.

Remember that you can also instruct Google to prioritise content for a country subfolder/subdomain through the Webmaster Tools "Set Geographic Target" directive. We find many marketers aren't aware of this option, believing it is essential to have local hosting and local country domain. This is no longer the case and some companies have reported good results through this approach without the management challenges of multiple domains.

Marketing implications: This tag when used properly along side canonicals & 301's allow you to manage a multi lingual site much more effectively as you will:

  • Reduce duplicate content, allowing search engines to focus on specific pages of your website
  • Reduce the link dilution as they will all be pooled to the primary page meaning that, the primary page has more chance to rank well for its target key-phrase
  • Allows you to deliver systems that meet business objectives and do not jeopardise your search efforts or require expensive and over complicated development

If multi national & multi-lingual sites are a key part to your business you should definitely have a look at the links below and feel free to ask any questions in the comments area.

Recommended link: Working with multi-regional websites

Recommended link: Unifying multi-lingual websites

By Chris Soames

Chris Soames is a Smart Insights blogger and consultant, he has worked in digital marketing for over 6 years with the last few years managing international web strategies for a leading travel brand. Now the Commercial Director at First 10, an Integrated marketing agency, he helps clients get clarity on their marketing strategy and create campaigns engineered to engage with their consumers to help drive sell-through. Most of all, Chris enjoys working with talented people who want to create great (& commercial) things not just tick boxes.

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