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How to Optimise a Website in One Language for Different Territories

Usually duplicate content or pages on the internet are penalised by Google and other search engines as being spam and can cause a website’s SERP ranking to drop significantly. So how then do you create two legitimate pages or websites with almost identical content in the same language but targeting different countries?

The best example of this would be a company wishing to create two different sites, one targeting the US using a .com domain, another targeting the UK using a .co.uk domain. The language on both these sites would be practically identical but there may be important differences on the site such as contact numbers and addresses. To stop the search engines from seeing both these websites as copies of each other and subsequently penalising them you would need to add alternative language tags.
These tags need to be reciprocal between pages so for example if an English page points to a French page saying ‘this is the French page with the same content’ then that French page needs to point back saying ‘this is the English version’.

These alternative language tags go in the head of the page and look like this:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr-FR” href=”http://www.relevanceweb.fr/” />

The rel (relation) indicates an alternative version
The hreflang is the language (and locale) of the alternative page
The href is the location (URL) of the alternative page

The hreflang is the important bit and is made up of 2 parts, language and location. The location can be, and is often left out. In the case of a French website the code would just be hreflang=”fr” which means the page would be aimed at anyone searching in French wherever they may be.

In the case of our US/UK example, the language of both pages will be in English so you need to define the location the page is targeting as follows:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-GB” href=”http://www.website.co.uk/” />
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-US” href=”http://www.website.com/” />

The language and location need to be valid area codes and they need to be unique. You cannot point to 2 different pages with the same language code unless they are set to different locations.

The idea is that people in America searching in English will get results for .com and people in England will get .co.uk. It is so that the search engines know that the pages are part of the same site and aimed at specific people rather than just unrelated copies which might be assumed if the pages weren’t linked in any other way.

When targeting different areas in this way you should also go into webmaster tools and set the geographic location for each site accordingly.

By following these fairly simple rules you should be able to create websites or pages that are better targeted to individual markets whilst avoid the pitfalls of having duplicate content and keeping your hard earned SERP position.