Following confusion over the correct use of the rel=canonical, Google is no longer recommending it within the Google Webmaster Tools help centre. Webmasters are finding that if they do not use canonical carefully, it can pull their international site from its correct regional index. In order to simplify implementation, their advice on annotating pages with similar content using canonical tags has been stricken from their help centre article.
What is rel=canonical tag?
The canonical tag allows for de-duplication, telling Google which version of similar pages you would prefer to present and prioritises the one you deem most authoritative in the search results.
What is hreflang tag?
The hreflangtag is for geo-targeting, helping Google to identify alternate versions of URLs for multilingual websites. It tells Google which language it is in and who the page is intended for, improving targeting for more effective international SEO.
Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google UK, suggests that when pages have minor but significant differences in content then use of rel=canonical is not recommended and rel-alternate-hreflang annotations should be used on their own. As such, Google appears to believe that webmasters may find it easier to use hreflang tags to suggest the canonical. However, it should be noted that correct implementation of the canonical and hreflang tags simultaneously should not cause any issues.
If you are concerned about duplicate content issues or how your international sites appear in the search engines, talk to our team of international SEO experts who can advise you on the best course of action.