Google recently launched markup which allows the language and country targets of similar pages to be specified. For example, a product page in different languages, potentially consolidating the inbound links and social signals of those pages whilst showing the correct version in results.
The markup also allows the identification of a canonical version of the page to indicate that it should be the default version to show where one for an alternative country is not available.
Google’s announcement made it seem, for a short space of time that it had solved many international sites’ problems. However, it may solve some problems but it could cause big problems for your site and for Bing.
By helping Google put your pages in the correct results, you may be ensuring that Bing is unable to do so.
If a site has International English, UK English and US English pages, all of which are the same, Google often has problems displaying the most relevant version in results and even removes pages from the index completely if they are significantly weaker than the others.
Now, some simple markup can be added to each page to advise Google that there are two alternative pages and the country and language they are aimed at. Google can then consolidate the signals (links, social signals etc.) for all the associated pages whilst showing the correct version in each country.
The same technique can be used on pages with fully translated content. By specifying alternative pages in different languages, Google can consolidate the signals from those pages, presumably allowing better rankings for the page in each country.
In the same situations mentioned above, Google encourages the use of canonical link elements to indicate a canonical version. This version will be the default one which would be shown in cases where no relevant alternative is found. This is a major departure from the way Bing, Google and Yahoo originally agreed the canonical link element should be used.Nb. The Bing equivalent of the previous two links (which was previously found here) seems to have been removed from their blog.
Fairly recently, Bing admitted they handle Canonical Link Elements in a slightly different ways to Google. For example, Bing does not like mass use of it and doesn’t like it if the Canonical Link Element points to the page it is found on. It seems Bing will lose trust in these sorts of cases.
In the case of the Multilingual Markup, Google is suggesting that sites should specify a canonical version of a page, knowing that Bing and others may not be able to handle it. This seems reasonable if Google has been speaking to Bing behind closed doors but decided to press ahead with this launch for whatever reason.
The problem, from my point of view is that Google has not made any mention of the potentially damaging side effects in its announcement. This may lead to webmasters using the canonical link element as recommended by Google, then finding Bing sending users to the wrong version of their site as a result.