About three months ago we added an English version of our, previously Japanese only, site under the subfolder /en/ we've tried to follow the sometimes incomplete best practices laid out by Google by adding alternate tags to all pages that are currently translated. The top page for instance has the following meta tags for language.

<link rel="canonical" href="/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="ja" href="/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="/en/">

While the English main page under /en/ has

<link rel="canonical" href="/en/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="ja" href="/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="/en/">

Alternate languages are setup in the sitemap. (as per Google's recommendations)

It seems however that Google absolutely refuses to show the English top page in results when the user is using English at google.com if you search you'll, as of this post, get the Japanese description and a title that Google has apparently invented instead of the title and description in the meta-tags for the /en/ index page.

Does anyone have any experience with subfolders actually working to affect search results? What are the best practices for ensuring that the correct language version of my website is displayed through Google and other search engines? And how long will it take before the new language version becomes prominent in search engine results?

NOTE: per GDav's suggestion I've removed the following tags for now as a test.

<link rel="canonical" href="/">
<link rel="canonical" href="/en/">

3 Answers 3


Subdirectories aren't themselves an issue: I've worked with successfully geotargeted sites which are organised that way. Obviously, this assumes good practice in other areas, e.g. appropriately targeted content.

One possible problem I can see with your code above is use of the canonical link element. Originally Google recommended it, but no longer do, so I'd try removing that before proceeding further. A colleague of mine attended a Google Webmaster Hangout to enquire how long this code should need to take effect, and was told that it should be a matter of weeks.

That element aside, if you haven't already done so, and you're using a gTLD, setting geographic target for the Japanese subdirectory in Google Webmaster Tools is worthwhile. You might want to consider setting /en/ to unspecified, too, if it's genuinely not aimed anywhere in particular.

  • I'll try striping the canonical from the main page and see if this as an effect. Regarding the gTLD since the site was originally in Japanese I left all Japanese pages as they where rather than using "/ja/" where as in English we added "/en/". Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 4:03
  • Having looked at what I think is your site, I suspect the temporary redirects you're using to send people to /en/ might be a big part of the problem. Off topic for the above question, though.
    – GDVS
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 18:48
  • Yeah, I'm purposely not doing them for bots though, I know technically you're not supposed to treat GBot differently but also I think not taking advantage of language headers, if possible, is lazy. I'll try taking them offline completely. Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 2:32
  • So nothing after removing the language negotiation. Google still isn't picking the english site up after more than a month. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 2:29
  • @AWinter As per my last comment, I suspect your problem in fact lies in conditional redirect issues, assuming that was in fact your site.
    – GDVS
    Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 8:45

I maintain a global website with 13 language variants - all set up in exactly this was (/en/ /fr/ /pl/ etc...)

If you can show me a link to your website I'd be happy to take a look

  • First off I can see a couple of errors in your language rel tags: Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 16:07
  • Do you have an example? Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 2:31

I would set up url rewriting rules to 301 redirect your previous urls to example.com/ja/

I did it on some sites with no canonical at all, using only the alternate languages links, but with each page full url.

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="/en/home-en/"> on the Japanese page

and <link rel="alternate" hreflang="ja" href="/ja/home-ja/"> on the English page

  • I've been debating doing this but since it will force a total re-index of the site I'm trying to gather as much information as possible before hand. Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 4:04

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