Sites with multilingual content are often faced with the problem of having the wrong language or incorrect country pages showing up in the search results. To get around this, an important tool for international SEO professionals is the ‘hreflang’ attribute. In this guide, we’re going to delve into how SEO professionals can use this tag as part of their wider meta strategies and the common challenges faced in applying it effectively.
Sites with multilingual content are often faced with the problem of having the wrong language or incorrect country pages showing up in the search results. To get around this, an important tool for international SEO professionals is the ‘hreflang’ attribute.
In this guide, we’re going to delve into how SEO professionals can use this tag as part of their wider meta strategies and the common challenges faced in applying it effectively.
What is the hreflang attribute?
The ‘hreflang’ tag attribute is an important tool for sites with multilingual content. The tag (sometimes referred to as rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x”) tells the search engine to send people towards content in their own language or region. For example, if a site has a page which ranks in English, but also has similar localised content in Spanish, the hreflang attribute indicates to Google to show the Spanish page in the search results for that Spanish user.
According to Google, sites should use hreflang tags in the following cases:
- If the main content is kept in a single language, but only the template is translated, such as the navigation and footer. Websites that feature user-generated content, like forums, typically do this.
- For content that has small regional variations with similar content, in a single language. For example, English-language content geared towards the UK, USA and Australia.
- If your site content is fully translated into multiple languages. For example, you have both German and English versions of each page.
SEO benefits of using hreflang
The main advantages of the hreflang attribute is by pointing users in the right direction, it engages a more local audience and lowers bounce rates. This then results in higher search engine rankings. Optimising site pages for the users’ location and language is essential for improving user experience. Additionally, studies from the CSA have shown that consumers from non-Anglophone countries overwhelmingly prefer content in their mother tongue.
Additionally, hreflang allows Google to distinguish between duplicate and similar content. Hreflang gives Google the clarity to understand that while the content is the same, it is optimised for different regions. This is useful when the localised content across regions essentially only varies by a few changes, for example, when adjusting for American, British and Australian differences in prices and currency or spelling.
Challenges of implementing hreflang as part of the wider meta-strategy
As mentioned above, incorporating hreflang tags is a superb way to ensure your pages climb to the top of the search engine results pages in any languages. Implementation of hreflang tags is relatively simple, but less often discussed are the challenges of incorporating hreflang tags.
Common errors generally include not checking the hreflang list before it goes live or not updating the hreflang tags as new pages are added or removed, but there are other obstacles that should be avoided:
Irregular URL structures that happen between and within the site can hinder a search engine’s validation tools from properly ranking a language variant page, regardless if proper hreflang tags are used.
For instance, if the URL structures are inconsistent and vary between formats like:
Search engines will not group these pages as regionalised alternate pages and might not rank the variant page for its language. Staying consistent with the URL structures will avoid this.
Different content on variant pages
Hreflang works best when the pages have similar or the same content across the language or regional sites. However, hreflang’s ability to accurately list your pages on search engine results pages is negatively impacted when there are discrepancies or missing pages.
Business conversions going to incorrect places
Placing an incorrect language or country tag might result in a conversion not being converted or being counted towards the wrong offices. This is a problem when you have multiple websites in the same language targeting different locations, for example, a Spanish speaker in Argentina seeing pages designed for Spain show up in their search results. If the user goes ahead and submits to a form on the website (whether it’s a sale, registration, etc) that conversion would be counted towards the Spanish office, as opposed to the Argentine office.
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