The Beginner's Guide to Hreflangs

Hreflangs are identifiers that tell search engines and other web crawlers which language a page or site's content is in, and which other languages it can be translated into.

Hreflangs are one of the best ways to make sure your website reaches the right audience – whether it’s people looking at your website from different countries or people who don’t speak your native language.

Hreflangs (or hreflang tags) are one of the factors Google and other search engines use to determine which version of your site to show in their search results for people looking for that content in another language or locale.

Hreflangs basically lets you specify that content on your site needs to be served with a different language or locale tag depending on the searcher’s location.

Your hreflang tag also allows you to specify if any content on your site needs to be served with a specific language or locale even if the user has set their own browser settings to something other than their location.

Hreflangs are tags placed in the source code of a website, indicating different language variants of the same website.

In this guide, we'll go over the basics of hreflangs, why they're important for SEO, how to implement them on your website, and more! Let's get started!

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What are hreflangs?

The hreflang attribute of a link is used to specify language-specific versions of a URL. It’s sometimes called international targeting, but more properly known as hreflang annotations. The primary function of hreflangs is for language-specific content delivery. 

For example, if your business has an English version of your website and you also sell products in Spanish, you could use hreflang annotations to link each page of your website that had content targeted for users in Spain. 

Users searching for something on your English website would be directed to pages on your English site, while those searching in Spanish would be directed to pages on your site with relevant information translated into Spanish. 

Google determines which version of your website is appropriate for specific languages based on geo-targeting data (which it collects when searchers select their preferred language in their browser settings). 

And it uses these preferences to serve up URLs with hreflangs when it knows how best to serve up web pages using them. 

As such, using hreflangs provides users in different regions access to localized content in their native languages. Without regional optimization, search results from outside a user’s region might inadvertently show websites with irrelevant or insufficiently detailed content in one region when compared to results from another region. 

Conversely, failure to include hreflangs can result in users within a given region being redirected away from a relevant localized site and towards a foreign one. 

Implementing regional optimization through hreflangs helps both developers and businesses capture markets by helping search engines understand what target audience they are trying to reach with any given piece of content at any given time across many geographic locations. 

By helping search engines figure out what language version of your webpage is most suitable for their country, hreflangs help ensure that searches performed by people all over the world return responses relevant to where they are physically located.

Why are hreflangs Important?

Languages and dialects vary across regions and countries, so you need to use hreflang tags when you want Google to crawl, index, and rank different pages in different languages. 

With hreflang tags, your content will be structured in a way that tells Google exactly what language it is.

If you don’t use hreflangs properly (or at all), you risk having Google serve translated versions of your content when searchers in other countries try to find information that is relevant for them in their native language. 

You can use hreflang tags to make sure people who speak specific languages get targeted and localized search results. 

Why is correct implementation Important?

Implementing an international SEO strategy requires consistent attention and proactive measures taken by brands to direct consumers with appropriate language and regional-based content. 

Once implemented incorrectly, these small mistakes can cause drastic repercussions within Google which could potentially result in loss of visibility or even delisting altogether on local SERPs

Also, if your tags are too broad they won't lead to localization success but only confuse Google algorithms further - leading to completely unnecessary penalties such as automatic filterings or reduced visibility over time if not fixed immediately. 

​Is it possible to implement hreflangs on your website?

Yes, you can implement hreflangs regardless of your technical expertise.

Even though implementing hreflangs seems like something many businesses consider challenging - once mastered anyone can become proficient at handling critical SEO elements needed for localization success regardless of their development abilities. 

However, some techniques do seem more complicated than others so choosing one that matches your needs makes sense.

It is however very important to identify common errors associated with each method because failing to do so may result in adverse effects within Google's SERPs.

Constructing the Hreflang Tag

By default, there should be only one tag that contains your XML sitemap. But, if you are using hreflang tags, there should be two tags—one for each language. 

This can get confusing if you’ve already set up your website’s tag to support localization.

To resolve these conflicts, search for rel=canonical in your source code and replace it with rel=alternate when applicable. 

If you find cases where both tags are necessary (for example, when specifying a country-specific version of a page), then you must use hreflang=x-default in addition to rel=alternate.

The easiest way to ensure these rules are followed is by writing them down on paper or saving them as note cards so you can easily refer back to them whenever needed. 

A lot of webmasters forget about hreflang tags and leave them out entirely, which ends up hurting their SEO efforts and making the content difficult for users to locate.

So even if you think your site is currently operating within Google’s guidelines, double-check! 

Getting started with Implementing hreflang Tags

Getting started is easy: just add in three pieces of information: 

1) an XML tag into your webpage’s head; 

2) a link element in your header; 

3) An attribute within an existing link within any web page linking to external content. 

There are tools available online such as Google Webmaster Tools' new tool to help verify if errors exist and let you know how many pages need fixing. Make sure every translated URL has its text descriptor associated with it.

How to Implement the Hreflang Tag?

The hreflang tag is an implementation of Google’s language meta tags. It specifies what language a specific page or website is in, but also allows you to specify multiple languages.

This indicates that there are different pages on your site for each of those languages.

For example, if you had a German version and an English version of your site, you would use hreflang tags with both de and en to specify that. 

You need two separate tags because Google needs to know what specific pages are in each language. 

Thus, not only does it have to know which page is in which language, but it also has to be able to pinpoint which version of that same page. 

When using hreflang tags, you should always include all versions of every page; otherwise, some users may be served a slightly different version than others. 

However, having more than one hreflang tag per page will do nothing: Google simply ignores any additional tags.

Having just one hreflang tag means that you’ll need to create other pages—especially other landing pages—with alternative URLs. 

In addition, a common mistake when creating a new URL is copying over everything from another URL.

Because URLs can sometimes contain things like session IDs and user information, these details won't necessarily match up perfectly between different locations on your site—even if they appear identical at first glance. 

Thus, when creating new URLs after migration from old ones, consider choosing completely unrelated names as well as related ones.

By doing so, each location offers something unique yet similar enough to help users who want to come back find their way again quickly and easily.

Finding and Fixing Hreflang Tag Issues

Each page on your website should contain a hreflang tag, but what happens if you find an error? So How Can You Fix it?

Luckily, fixing hreflang errors is simple. As you can see from Google’s documentation, four main situations result in site-wide issues with hreflang tags. 

Before you get started though, be sure to have a complete site map of your website so that you can pinpoint which pages might need changes.

When you’ve identified each problematic page, follow these steps: 

1) If only one page contains incorrect hreflang tags, replace them with correct ones;

2) If multiple pages include incorrect hreflang tags (hreflang chains), then adjust their language variants accordingly. You can do that either by redirecting them or by including new hreflang tags;

3) If all pages contain errors, create new copies of each page with correct content and correct tags

4) Delete your old problematic pages once you’ve created new ones. You can choose to delete them either immediately or gradually, depending on how much work it will take to fix all other issues on your website. 

It might sound complicated at first, but if you have a documented site map in place, there are only four types of errors that could appear on any of your website pages. 

And most errors are easily fixed by redirecting problematic URLs with 301 redirects.

To learn more about hreflang tags and fixing common issues, check out Google’s developer's tool or contact an SEO expert for help.

Hreflang tags are critical for targeting users in different countries with local search results when appropriate—but they also make sure that Google correctly associates each version of your content with its relevant region(s).

This is especially important when considering Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), which prioritizes fast-loading mobile-friendly content for local searches! 

With all these reasons and more, it’s safe to say that implementing hreflang tags on your website is an absolute must. 

For example, you may want to include them on your home page and product pages, if applicable. If you sell products worldwide or operate a multi-country business, then including hreflang tags on every landing page would be a smart idea. 

That way, you can offer localized suggestions for searchers on any country-specific landing page.

And because hreflang tags will help you avoid duplicate content issues with duplicate versions of each page on your site, it’s clear why they should be included by default on most websites. 

You don't have to worry about whether or not hreflang tags are right for you—they're simply too useful! 

Benefits of Using Hreflangs

Your website will rank better across international markets. Without hreflangs, search engines consider your URLs as separate websites. 

That’s a problem because a large portion of your users may be viewing a page with content that isn’t relevant to them.

When you implement hreflangs on your website, it signals Google and other search engines that those pages are meant for those users and should be optimized for their location and language preferences. 

This makes your global reach much greater than if you didn’t use hreflangs. If only 10% of your potential visitors come from an untargeted market, implementing hreflangs is still worth doing. Even though these searchers represent just 1/10th of all traffic, they can convert at nearly twice the rate. 

You’ll get more leads if people see your page in their native language. Linking to multiple versions of each URL helps you avoid duplicate content penalties, which helps you stay compliant with Google’s algorithms. It also increases CTR (click-through rate) by 20%.

Time spent by searchers goes up when they’re able to see your site in their language. Since most countries are predominantly monolingual, not taking advantage of local search creates a significant disadvantage for your business.

Conclusion

Most websites use some form of hreflang on their site. Many experts think it’s because there are few alternative tools for helping search engines like Google discover pages that are translated. 

But, many experts also agree that hreflang may do more harm than good if not implemented correctly or when it’s not required.