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International SEO

Cross-Domain Canonicals are NOT for Internationalization

Search Engine Optimization for international websites has always been a complex subject. You will find a lot of tips online but should not implement every tip you hear. Take the time to verify the information you find online. While an expert may have written it, it doesn’t always mean they’re correct.

Case in point, Hubspot released a new ebook 50 SEO & Website Tips for the International Marketer. We’re fans of Hubspot and our agency is an authorized Hubspot agency. However, this recent ebook gave a bad tip that could get SEO folks in trouble when optimizing their international sites. We questioned them on it via social and provided Google references – but didn’t get much of a reaction that it was going to get corrected. As a result, we’re writing this post to warn our readers.

The International SEO Tip

When using more than one top-level domain (TLD), Hubspot recommended using the cross domain canonical tag to point each of your international sites back to your core site. This is not a good tip and will actually hurt your SEO efforts. The rel=”canonical” tag is used to eliminate duplicate content issues from websites. It is used to tell Google the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content which you want Google to index and display in its SERP. SEO professionals advise that whenever a fix is possible for duplicate content do NOT implement canonical tags.

Here’s the tip that Hubspot provided:
Cross Domain Canonical

Cross-Domain Canonicals Are Not the Solution

Let’s suppose I have 3 gTLDs for my international website – mysite.com, mysite.co.uk, and mysite.de. mysite.com and mysite.co.uk have similar content; mysite.de has the same content but in German language.

Let’s implement what the ebook said. My main site is mysite.com. So I am going to put the canonical link as mysite.com in .co.uk and .de domains. When Googlebot reaches my .co.uk domain it follows the canonical link tag and indexes my .com domain.

If I do this, Google will never index my .co.uk and .de domains and these pages will never appear in regional Google searches! I will lose all the authority I built for my regional domains to the .com site!

Implementing hreflang is the Appropriate Solution

If you want to keep the regional websites and if you can build authority for each country code TLDs, do NOT use canonical tags. Google actually answered this question in their help Webmaster Central forum (Thanks to Anju Mohan). Google said “don’t use canonical tag” if you want your multiregional websites to be indexed by Google. Google said use the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” tag instead.

The rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” was introduced by Google specifically for international websites – multiregional and multilingual. It helps Google to display the correct version of your regional site to searchers. In the above scenario, I would implement hreflang tag as:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://mysite.com/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://mysite.co.uk/" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://mysite.de/" />

Add this set to the header of each of the regional pages and keep in mind that hreflang tag is page specific. Now if someone searches for my service in Google UK, it will show the correct language version of my website which is mysite.co.uk.

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About Nikhil Raj

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7 comments

  1. You’re 100% correct. I just went through this issue with an international company. Good catch!

  2. Good one! Thanks for sharing…we need to get into this soon with our own websites…

  3. Way to go nikki !! rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” was a new info for me.. .

  4. Why if “Google does not consider foreign-language translations to be duplicated content” we should implement hreflang tag as
    Thanks in advance

    • If you have foreign language version of the site in a sub domain or in a different gTLD then there is no need to use this tag since you don’t have any duplicate content. This tag is most useful when you have similar content in a single language with regional variations for example you have English language content targeted for readers in USA and UK and also when the foreign language version is on a subfolder. You can use this tag to tell Google that for people searching in Google UK your preferred version for displaying in search results is the UK version of your site.

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