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Dear +John Mueller et +Pierre Far 

Posted in: General by Richard Hearne on March 30, 2015
Internet Marketing Ireland

Dear +John Mueller et +Pierre Far 

I have a question regarding Google's HREFLANG guidelines, in particular:


"We recommend not using rel=canonical across different language or country versions. Using it within the same language/country version is fine and one of the recommended ways of handling canonicalization."

The problem here is that I have made receommendations to clients about caonicalising different country versions in the same language that contain identical/near-identical content, and then letting Google display the correct LANG version using the values defined in HREFLANG values.

The set up looks like:

 - HREFLANG="en"
 - canonical="www.example.com/en/"
 - HREFLANG="en-uk"
 - canonical="www.example.com/en/"
 - HREFLANG="en-ie"
 - canonical="www.example.com/en/"

The above goes against the guidelines, but I've seen this set-up working very well.  I understand the recommendation is just that, but is there any technical reason why my implementation should be avoided?

The test site I always reference is http://href-lang.com/, and the associated notes for the test site can be found at http://www.stateofdigital.com/hreflang-canonical-test/

Any help is, as always, much appreciated!

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  1. Let us know if you want a response other than John or Pierre.

    It sounds like your config is getting ignored but still works for you.

    Comment by William Harvey — March 31, 2015 @ 12:53 am

  2. Hi

    Firstly, a common issue: it's en-gb, not en-uk.

    Second, for your question. Imagine in your example the en-IE has prices in Euros and delivery and customer support contact info for Ireland while the en has the info in USD and info for USA customers. A rel-canonical from en-IE to en means we may not index the information for the Ireland page, which is not what you want. That's why re-canonical across locales is not recommended.

    Comment by Pierre Far — March 31, 2015 @ 7:13 am

  3. Thanks Pierre. Let's imagine the pages are identical, for instance company blog, and all content is duplicated. There's nothing new on IE or GB, and therefore nothing for Google to surface. Why would I not want to canonicalise them to US and rely on hreflang?

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 31, 2015 @ 7:49 am

  4. +William Harvey thanks, but this isn't a technical issue. I'm trying to find out whether there are cases where Google does recommend using canonical with HREFLANG.

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 31, 2015 @ 9:11 am

  5. Hi Richard,

    When you say "Why would I not want to canonicalise them to US and rely on hreflang?", I would ask why you have different URLs to begin with. That's pure duplication that sounds avoidable.

    Of course if you can't avoid it, the usual canonicalization techniques apply, including rel=canonical, redirects, etc.

    Comment by Pierre Far — March 31, 2015 @ 9:53 am

  6. So, just to be clear here +Pierre Far - assuming I have a corporate site with multiple locales, which results in considerable duplication across EN variant locales, can the use of rel-canonical and HREFLANG be beneficial?

    Having worked with quite a few multinationals it's actually very common to have this kind of duplication.  There are many business reasons for having multiple sites – geotargeting, local contact details (which may not appear on the duplicated pages) etc.  Another common area where this can be an issue is the company blog, which may need to be published on multiple EN locales for technical or business reasons.

    So the question really is – are there cases where Google does recommend the use of canonical in conjunction with HREFLANG?

    Comment by Richard Hearne — March 31, 2015 @ 10:02 am

  7. I hadn't realised Google recommend not to use  canonicals with hreflang.  Most likely because there's too many sites with errors being seen by Google. Who knows?

    If you think about an ecommerce store with filter/sort parameters, by not using canonicals on each locale could turn out to be an indexing nightmare.

    I always tell clients that each locale folder/sub should be treated as a separate site,  so ALL canonicals reflect the locale URL.

    I also tell them that there has to be a very good reason why they are setting up locale versions. Currency, contact details, deliver info etc and to try and display the locale phone numbers globally on the corresponding header and same for the address on the footer. 

    But I'm yet to find a site that has had issues if the majority of the site (60+) has locale differences.

    Comment by William Harvey — March 31, 2015 @ 11:03 am

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