Apparently When You’re a Big Site, it pays to not implement rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”

Winston Ong~June 1, 2013 /SEO Blog
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Winston Ong

I'm a Sydney based SEO consultant and search marketer. I blog about unique SEO topics the main sites don't talk about, and like fiddling around with real world SEO experiments that shed light on the limits of Googlebot.
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Trip Advisor is a pretty big website with some really great, useful content for travellers looking to book accommodation, so it’s no mystery you’d see them a lot in SERPs for highly competitive travelling keyword verticals.

With such a valuable search asset on their hands, you’d expect them to have SEO best practices pretty much down pat, right?

Here is a result for ‘Slovenia Hotels’ (location – Sydney, no personalised search or history):

hreflang duplicate results


The first 3 organic results are taken up Trip Advisor’s Australian, US and UK site’s respectively, while another large travel accommodation website comes in at number 4 and has only one listing ranked on the front page.

What is Going on Here?

Here are comparison screenshots for each Trip Advisor webpage:

Tripadvisor duplicate content


Pretty clear case of duplicate content!

Of course, each page is taken from different, location-specific domains and companies are perfectly entitled to have different websites targeting different geographic audiences. Google understands this and has a neat little way to prevent a nasty duplicate content penalty from hitting big international websites with useful content – rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”. This markup allows the webmaster to specify to Google which website is intended to target which audience.


If I have two SEO websites, one targeting visitors in Australia and one for the UK, with largely identical content and small variations such as currency denominations and office locations, I should implement the following:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-AU” href=”” />

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-BR” href=”” />


However, I checked the sourcecode for the Trip Adviser pages and hreflang has not been implemented:





Now compare to the sourcecode for the page: rel-alternate


Both sites are in good contention for top rankings, however, it seems in this case that Trip Advisor has been able to dominate the top 3 results by NOT implementing href=lang, either intentionally or by blissful ignorance. It is impossible to say whether would also been given multiple ranking positions for different geographic domains, though comparing it to Trip Advisor, I would not say it is out of the question. The multiple rankings give it a great authority boost, though there may be some user experience issues with being served essentially the same content 3 times.

I do however think that only websites in the league of and could get away with this at the moment – a smaller website would almost certainly be hit by a duplicate content penalty.




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