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How to avoid duplicate content penalties on translated websites

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Translated and localised websites can cause a lot of problems for your site’s search engine rankings. Google and the other search engines penalise websites which they deem to have the same or similar content. Their algorithms crawl through websites and check for duplicate content by checking the text, images, alt tags, metadata, link structure and layout.

If all these elements, and more, meet their criteria for duplicate content the search engine will make a decision as to which version of a particular web page is the original. The ones deemed to be duplicates will be removed from the index and will take a lot of work to get out again.

Websites localised using the same language but designated for a different region can have the same problem.

For example, if you have a Spanish language site targeted at the market in Spain which needs to be localised for the Mexican, Argentinian and the Spanish speaking market in the USA. If all four websites had very similar content, only one may get to actually appear in the search results, even though they are all on different country domains.

Don’t panic – there is a solution!

To avoid Google’s duplicate content penalty you need to tell it that certain sites are for selected territories. As well as avoiding the penalty it will also help the site’s visibility in the local searches you are looking for.

In our example we’ll assume that your Spanish site, .es, is the original site and that the others are localised versions. On the main site all you need to do is add a simple line of code in the header section of your site, which indicates to the search engine to treat the sites not as duplicates but as local versions.

  • Original Spanish website address – www.abcwidgets.es
  • Mexican website address – www.abcwidgets.mx
  • Argentinian website address – www.abcwidgets.ar
  • US website address – www.abcwidgets.com

The code to be placed in the header section of www.abcwidgets.es is as follows:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-mx” href=”http://www.abcwidgets.mx” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-ar” href=”http://www.abcwidgets.ar” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-us” href=”http://www.abcwidgets.com” />

The key part of the code is: hreflang=”es-us”. The first two characters denote the language version of the site and the characters after the dash indicate the region which the language refers to; in this case, a Spanish language website (es) for the market in the USA (us).

Laying out the code correctly is vital to the success of this localisation technique. Luckily the Google Webmaster tools page gives very clear instructions on how to use the correct code, language and region indicators.

Get this right before you launch your translated site

If you go through this process after you have launched your translated or localised website it may take a while for Google to return, index your sites properly and remove any penalties it has imposed for duplicate content. Getting this part right is one of the steps we would suggest right at the beginning of your project to ensure your new site hits the ground running.

If you have a new website translation project, we’re happy to talk through the options with you to ensure you get the best results possible.

  • How about when my site has almost identical pages which are targeted at different customer segments? How can I tell google that despite the similarities these need to be two separate pages?

  • Thank you, Michael, for your interest.

    Assuming that your customer segments speak the same language, your problem won’t be solved by the code snippets presented in this article. The best (and the most time-consuming) way to avoid duplicate content penalties is to recreate your website’s content by focusing on the differences between your customer segments. For more technical ways to address this issue, follow this link to what Google itself has to say: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66359?hl=en

    Duplicate content is a fixable website problem. Good luck!

  • Ryan

    Hi what if you have product pages with duplicate content on the same site? For example , there are various product pages on my site, all with different descriptions but there is a tab section at the bottom of each product page with our returns policy, shipping requirements Ect which all have the same content. Will this affect rankings?

    • Dorin

      Hi Ryan,

      Matt Cutts from Google had a video about this topic. Basically, as long as the descriptions are different, you should not have a problem with certain parts repeating themselves. Google looks at your pages and will see that they have products on them and will expect things like shipping details or other instructions to be the same. It was a very good idea to make the return policies as tabs, that way you can be certain that ranking will not be affected by this.

      Good luck.

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