Last year Google launched meta tags for sites where a multilingual "template (i.e., side navigation, footer) is machine-translated into various languages but the "main content remains unchanged, creating largely duplicate pages." This week they have gone a step further and now include the ability to differentiate between regions that speak basically the same language with slight differences.
Like the canonical tag, the implementation falls on the website owners to do, in order to get "support for multilingual content with improved handling for these two scenarios:
- Multiregional websites using substantially the same content. Example: English webpages for Australia, Canada and USA, differing only in price.
- Multiregional websites using fully translated content, or substantially different monolingual content targeting different regions. Example: a product webpage in German, English and French."
This tagging is interesting and suggests Google knows when the content on a site is duplicate despite it being in a different language. Has their data storage the ability to translate, or just recognize words that are used in the same language but are regionally different? If I use "biscuit" on my UK or Australian sites in place of "cookies", does Google know they are the same word?
"If you specify a regional subtag, we'll assume that you want to target that region," Google tells us.
Is duplicate content now being measured for similar terms? Or are the tags a way to have website owners limit the pages Google index for regional areas? We add the tags and Google thins the pages we have showing in the SERPs for different regions?
Google shared some example URLs:
- http://www.example.com/ - contains the general homepage of a website, in Spanish
- http://es-es.example.com/ - the version for users in Spain, in Spanish
- http://es-mx.example.com/ - the version for users in Mexico, in Spanish
- http://en.example.com/ - the generic English language version
On these pages, you can use this markup to specify language and region (optional):
- [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/" /]
Seems like many wouldn't bother installing the tags unless Google was to start dropping pages, or if the implementation helps improve regional rankings for the pages where publishers have gone that extra step and customized their content to specific regions and subtle language differences.
The hreflang tag has been around for quite some time. The W3 organization discusses it in 2006 and has it in its links in HTML documents list. This addition in to the head tag information seems to be a new twist. How Google uses the information for ranking will really determine if people will use it.