A few weeks ago I implemented a translation functionality for my company website. The website now offers content in french and English and I took the time to look on various guides on the internet on methods how this can be done in a friendly way so that my rankings would not be affected as a result.

Here is what I did:

  • I did set a response header: Content-Language:en and Content-Language:fr

  • My URLs are formatted as: www.website.com/en/... and www.website.com/fr/...

  • My HTML tag is set with a lang attribute: <html lang="en"> and <html lang="fr">

  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="EnglishPageUrl"> on French pages.

  • <link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="frenchPageUrl"> on English pages.

But Google keeps referring to some English pages when I'm doing a search on Google.fr, knowing that the website was first only available in English.

Is that normal? Do I have to wait still, it has been now almost one month, I thought it would be okay...?

Thank you.

  • 1
    The rel=alternate tags: the spec requires referencing the current page as an alternative of itself. Are you doing that?
    – GDVS
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:07
  • @GDav No, thank you I didn't see this, I thought it was better to do not display a reference to the current page, it appears I was wrong! Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 14:15
  • No problem. Incidentally, with the exception of their rel=alternate markup, Google claim not to use anything other than language processing to target content, which is odd if you're searching in French on google.fr for content that exists in French.
    – GDVS
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 16:22
  • @GDav Google doesn't use code level methods of identifying the language of a page. It suggests keeping the language of a page to one and not using two languages on a page. See my edits to John's answer below.
    – Anagio
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 18:24
  • @Anagio Yes, that's what I said, though as I noted, this is "with the exception of their rel=alternate markup". I suppose I could've been clearer.
    – GDVS
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 18:40

2 Answers 2


From Google Webmaster Tools Support page on Multi-region and multilingual sites

Managing multilingual versions of your site

Make sure the page language is obvious

Google uses only the visible content of your page to determine its language. We don’t use any code-level language information such as Lang attributes. You can help Google determine the language correctly by using a single language for content and navigation on each page, and by avoiding side-by-side translations. Translating only the boilerplate text of your pages while keeping the bulk of your content in a single language (as often happens on pages featuring user-generated content) can create a bad user experience if the same content appears multiple times in search results with various boilerplate languages.

Use robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site. Automated translations don’t always make sense and could be viewed as spam. More importantly, a poor or artificial-sounding translation can harm your site’s perception.

Make sure each language version is easily discoverable

Keep the content for each language on separate URLs. Don’t use cookies to show translated versions of the page. Consider cross-linking each language version of a page. That way, a French user who lands on the German version of your page can get to the right language version with a single click.

Avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s perceived language. These redirections could prevent users (and search engines) from viewing all the versions of your site.

Carefully consider your choice of URL

Google uses the content of the page to determine its language, but the URL itself provides human users with useful clues about the page’s content. For example, the following .ca URLs use fr as a subdomain or subdirectory to clearly indicate French content: http://example.ca/fr/vélo-de-montagne.html http://fr.example.ca/vélo-de-montagne.html

Signaling the language in the URL may also help you to discover issues with multilingual content on your site.

It’s fine to translate words in the URL, or to use an Internationalized Domain Name (IDN). Make sure to use UTF-8 encoding in the URL (in fact, we recommend using UTF-8 wherever possible) and remember to escape the URLs properly when linking to them.


You made a mistake in the hreflang="en" in the following, it must be hreflang="fr" on English pages: on English pages.

  • Thanks, that's corrected, but you should have posted this as a comment or better, edit my question, but you may not have reputation enough... Commented Apr 13, 2013 at 11:56

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