We are going to extend our business to a different language and brand (English, abc.com) rather than our local one (German, bcd.com). Whilst the content for both focuses on same subject, the design and site names differ. Can we safely use hreflang in this situation?


Since your domains are different for your English site and German site, there really is no need to use hreflang as covered here by Google. If you had a single domain for a multilingual site that served content in more than one language, then you'd want to use hreflang.

Even though the two sites will focus on the same subject, you won't run into duplicate content issues because English content is not considered to be the same as German content by search engines like Google, as discussed here by Matt Cutts: Does translated content cause a duplicate content issue?

One caveat to the above however is that you shouldn't use the same content for both sites that has only been translated by Google Translate, since it would detect that the content is the same. Instead it should be translated by a human, and as much as possible tailored to users of that language.

As a side note, it might be a good idea to specify the Geotarget for each site to Google and Bing:

Google Webmaster Tools - Geotargeting

Bing Webmaster Tools - Geotargeting

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The hreflang attribute gives the language of the linked resource. You can use it on every link (a, area, link). It has nothing to do with translations by itself.

The rel attribute gives the relationship type of the link. One of the possible rel-keywords is alternate. This is kind of a special keyword, as the

[…] meaning of this keyword depends on the values of the other attributes.

One special case is:

If the alternate keyword is used with the hreflang attribute, and that attribute's value differs from the root element's language, it indicates that the referenced document is a translation.

So for any link on your German site to your English site, you should use hreflang="en". If (and only if) the linked resource is a translation of the linking resource, use rel="alternate" in addition.

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