Multilingual and Multinational Site Annotations in Sitemaps: A How to Guide

Posted by in International SEO, Search Marketing (SEO) on July 11th, 2012 1 Comment

With companies now servicing customers in different countries and different languages, a website can’t just be created in English and forgotten about. Making your website accessible to your entire customer base is critical to grow your business, and helping the search engines index your site is a very important job. We’ve written this about the importance of distinct multilingual and multinational campaigns.

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Does your site target different countries and/or languages?  Are you using subdomains or directories to do this?  Or are you using different top level domains (TLDs)?  Is your content directly translated?  Or perhaps you have duplicate English pages targeting different countries?  If any of these apply to you then you may have large amounts of what Google would class as duplicate content.

But, this shouldn’t be an issue as it’s targeting different people, right?  Right, but you need to tell Google about this content.

Based on webmaster feedback on the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” elements, Google recently announced they are adding support for specifying the rel-alternate-hreflang annotations in sitemaps.

If your website(s) targets multiple languages and/or countries, you can now use sitemaps to tell Google about these.  This can help Google serve the correct URLs and also tell Google about any duplication that is targeting different users.

So for example, imagine you have example.com targeting English speakers in the UK but also have an Australian site targeting English speakers in Australia.  Additionally, you also have a German site targeting German speakers.  Previously, the only way you could tell Google about these duplicate sites was by adding the following HTML elements to all 3 URLs:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com" >
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com.au" >
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-au" href="http://www.example.de" >

 

This could also be done with sub-domains or sub-folders.  For example:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com/uk" >
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.example.com/deutschland" >
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-au" href="http://www.example.com/australia" >

 

But now you can use the following equivalent markup in Sitemaps:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9"
  xmlns:xhtml="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
  <url>
<url>
  <loc>http://www.example.com</loc>
  <xhtml:link 
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="de"
    href="http://www.example.de" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en-au"
    href="http://www.example.com.au" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en"
    href="http://www.example.com" />
</url>
<url>
  <loc>http://www.example.de</loc>
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en"
    href="http://www.example.com" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en-au"
    href="http://www.example.com.au" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="de"
    href="http://www.example.de" />
</url>
<url>
  <loc>http://www.example.com.au</loc>
  <xhtml:link 
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="de"
    href="http://www.example.de" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en"
    href="http://www.example.com" />
  <xhtml:link
    rel="alternate"
    hreflang="en-au"
    href="http://www.example.com.au" />
</url>
</urlset>

[This needs to be placed on each TLD/directory/subdomain]

You will notice that in the example, Australia uses hreflang=”en-au”.  The en indicates that the language is English and the au indicates the site is targeting Australia.  For the abbreviations for each country, see the full list here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_3166-1_alpha-2 and for each language, see the full list here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ISO_639-1_codes.

There are many advantages to using these sitemaps, including smaller page size and easier deployment for many websites.  If you are targeting different countries and/or languages and are using the same or very similar content for these (even if translated) then you should be telling Google about it to avoid the usual issues of duplicate content.  And this new method is a simpler way to do this.

More resources:

International SEO- How to get it right: Interview with Bas van den Beld – Podcast Episode #166
Crossing Borders: The opportunities and dangers of exporting your search model
Taking Over the World with International Digital Marketing – Podcast Episode #152
ABC’s of SEO: M is for Multilingual
ABC’s of SEO: I is for International
Sub-domains, Sub-folders, or Domains for International Sites and Other Questions – Podcast Episode #128

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