How should I handle my online-shop’s multilingual content?

To make sure Google always knows the correct language- and country-version for an online shop, as well as its geographic-focus, you should use the markup supported by Google – the so called rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” link attribute.

Many online shops today are available in multiple languages. Most of the time, the different pieces of content (for example products and their descriptions) only differ slightly, depending on country or region. Often, the only real difference is the price being displayed in a different currency.

The rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” link attribute

You can only use the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” markup in the HTML- or HTTP-headers and it helps Google deliver the correct language version or regional URL of a page. It is not supposed to be used with anchor elements (<a>).

The hreflang Guide for International SEO

In our hreflang guide for international SEO you will learn everything you need to know about the proper handling of Google and multilingual websites. Avoid duplicate content and learn how to properly use the hreflang link attribute.

How do I connect the different language-versions?

The different language-versions for a site (a shop for example) are linked to each other through the link element with the rel-attribute “alternate”. You can add the link to the <head>-part of the HTML document. The following is an example for Spain:

The markup for the <head>-part of the HTML document:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-ES" href="" />

Alternatively, you can add the link markup to the HTTP-header:

Link:; rel="alternate"; hreflang="es-ES"

The most important part is to always link to the specific sub-page. The product detail page in Spanish has to link directly to the product detail page in German (or any other language). If you link from a sub-page to the landing page, for example, the markup becomes invalid.

Languages and regions

By using the hreflang attribute, you are able to use multiple languages as well as different regions. If, for example, the German language pages for an online shop each have a different URL for Austria, Switzerland and Germany, then you can also connect these pages with the alternate-link.

Character encoding and use

The hreflang attribute uses the ISO 639-1 encoding and, where applicable, the region will use ISO 3166-1 alpha-2. The first two lower-case letters stand for the language (for example “fr” for French, “de” for German or “es” for Spanish), followed by a – and the region in capital letters (“ES” for Spain, “CH” for Switzerland or “CA” for Canada). Some examples for combinations of language- and region-codes are:

  • de-CH: German-speaking Switzerland
  • fr-CH: French-speaking Switzerland
  • es-ES: Spanish language specifically for Spain
  • de: German in general

Use the x-default hreflang link attribute to set up a “default page”

Using the new link-attribute hreflang=”x-default”, which Google introduced on 10.04.2013, you are now able to set up a default page for all language versions you did not explicitly specify.

Video explanation by Google on this topic

Expanding your site to more languages

Google covers best practices for expanding your site to new languages or country-based language variations. We discuss use cases of international sites and the implementation of rel=”alternate” hreflang.

Additional sources from SISTRIX and Google on this topic: