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I keep reading everywhere that if you have a multilanguage site, where the same page appears in, say, French and English, then this is considered as duplicate content by google. It is written that using canonical link is the solution, but I do not understand how to use it in this case. Should I:

  1. Choose either French URL or English URL to be the canonical (main) one, and where I will place the canonical link? If so, how do I decide which of the two URLs must be canonical? both languages are important to me and I want the content under both languages to be indexed by google and served to the user, depending on the language in which he searches.
  2. OR should I place a canonical link on both French and English URLs? If so, then I do not understand the meaning of using the canonical link? In this case would both URLs be indexed, are both of them considered as "important" by google and not duplicates?

Also I read that link rel="alternate" can be used to indicate to google that, for example the French URL is the French-language equivalent of the English page. This makes sense and I understand how to use such links, but how are they combined with canonical links? Should I define both the canonical URL AND specify rel="alternate" in both URLs?

Could someone help me to clarify this, cause I'm stuck with this and can't seem to find a good-enough explanation in different sources.

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I made a multilingual site using two languages and I basically had two copies of the site, when english was selected it loaded "www.sample.com/about" and spanish was selected it loaded "www.sample.com/acerca" and changing the html lang tag on each page respectively. This a simple site with only a few pages to manage. –  kamalo Aug 27 '13 at 21:58
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2 Answers

Canonical tags are no longer needed in the mark up for multilingual sites, you can see here where Google no longer recommends using canonicals in multilingual markup (the struck out section):

new markup for multilingual content (old blog post)

So this just leaves you with two options, use either rel="alternate" hreflang="x" tags or use the rel="alternate" hreflang="x" Sitemaps

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If you have the same content translated into multiple languages, it is not considered duplicate content to Google. You should let Googlebot crawl all high quality translations and you can expect to be ranked in multiple languages of Google. Using a canonical tag would prevent you from ranking properly in international Google indexes.

You are even allowed to use the same content in the same language and target it to different countries without incurring any penalties. For example you could launch a .co.uk site and a .com.au site that have the same content but different pricing, currency, and shipping options. One would rank in google.co.uk and the other in google.com.au. If you don't want to buy the international domains, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to set the geographic targeting of the site if it were hosted on a .com, a subdomain, or even a folder.

Use the rel="alternate" links but don't use canonical.

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