When expanding your website internationally you will have the task of overcoming the challenge of duplicate content. A solution is using The hreflang tag (also referred to as rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) tells Google which language you are using on a specific page, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language.
Having duplicate content on different versions of your websites for different countries is a big problem.
Duplicate content wouldn’t be an issue if you had one website in English but then you had exactly the same website in Spanish, but it would be an issue if you had one website in English targeted for UK users and another English website targeting Australian users.
By placing this piece of code in each of your websites in the <head> section, it will tell Google to index both pages and then let it decide which website is the most appropriate result depending on what country the user is searching from.
SEO Best Practices
To get the most benefit out of the hreflang tag, the following tips are important:
Where the Hreflang Tag Goes
The hreflang tag can be placed in the on-page markup, the HTTP header, or the sitemap. Only use one of those locations. This tool will help you correctly generate the annotation.
What the Hreflang Tag Looks Like
The hreflang tag on each page should include a reference to itself as well as to all the pages that serve as alternates for it. If your Spanish website sells olive oil to customers in Spain, France, and Portugal only, the hreflang tags for your homepage might look like this:
<link rel="alternate" href="example.com" hreflang="es-es" />
<link rel="alternate" href="example.com/fr/" hreflang="fr-fr" />
<link rel="alternate" href="example.com/pt/" hreflang="pt-pt" />
Hreflang’s Effect on Rankings
Hreflang tags may not help you increase traffic; instead, the goal of using them is to serve the right content to the right users. They help search engines swap the correct version of the page into the SERP based on a user’s location and language preferences. For information on how geotargeting can help with rankings, learn about ccTLDs.
The Difference between Hreflang and Canonicalisation
Canonicalisation is a tool for showing search engines which version of a URL (each with the same content) is the dominant one to avoid duplicate content issues. Hreflang, on the other hand, is a tool to show which of the different pages (based on language or region) should show up in a search.
Google recommends not using rel=”canonical” across country or language versions of your site. But you can use it within a country or language version
Other methods to use
You shouldn’t just rely on the technique above for handling your international SEO. I would take every precaution you could, here are some of the things you could do.
Host In The Relevant Country
Self explanatory, if you want your site to rank well in the UK then you should use UK hosting. If you want your site to rank well in Australia then you should shop around for some Australian hosting.
Use The Correct Domain Extension (ccTLD (country code top level domain))
If you want to rank well in the UK then you wouldn’t buy a .co.fr domain, you would either buy a .com or .co.uk (any domain not country specific to another country). So if you wanted to rank well in Australia, partnered with Australian hosting a .com.au would work really well.
Use GEO-Targeting In Webmaster Tools
This is probably the most effective thing you can do, you are telling Google what country you want your website to rank in directly. They are giving you the opportunity to let them know where you want to target. You can only do this if you don’t have a ccTLD.
By using all of the above techniques you are being pro-active and not giving Google much of a chance to penalise your sites for having duplicate content.