Website Internationalization and Alternative Language Links

I was recently asked a couple of times about international SEO and targeting websites with similar content at the correct people without just serving up a duplicate site.

The most obvious example of this is a .com website which is meant for American audiences and which is meant for England, but it could also be a 'uk' sub-domain of the .com and potentially a completely different website using a different brand name as the domain name. The content of these websites might be practically the same apart from an address and contact number. So how do we make sure that the correct site gets sent to the right users?

To differentiate between the sites you need to add alternative language links.

These are added at page level, go in the document head and look like this:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="" />

The rel (relation) indicates an alternative version
The href is the location of the alternative page
The hreflang is the language (and locale) of the alternative page

The hreflang is made up of 2 parts, language and location. The location can be left out, so if I set it to es it would indicate that the page was in Spanish and intended for anyone searching in the Spanish language. If I set it to es-VE it would indicate that the page was intended for people in Venezuela searching in the Spanish language.

This can be useful for countries like France and Belgium where some Belgian users will be searching in French but you want to give them content specific to their location.

The alternative links must be unique, you cannot link to two pages using the same language codes (unless the location is different). The language codes must also be valid.

The links must be reciprocal, if you have an English page linking to a French page then the French page must link back to the English page:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr-FR" href="" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="" />

The idea is then that people in different countries and searching in different languages will get the most appropriate version of your content.

After setting the alternative links (or before, makes no difference) you should also go into webmastertools and register each version of the website. You can then use the geo-targeting feature to aim each version of the site at the right country.

Note: You can find a list of language codes here: