10 Reasons Why You Should LOVE Hreflang Tags

10 Reasons Why You Should LOVE Hreflang Tags

International traffic represents a fantastic opportunity for most business owners and tapping into it is more achievable than you think. Take a look at these questions to see if any of these apply to you:

  • Do you have significant traffic from other countries?
  • Do you currently offer your content in different languages (or localized for English speaking countries)?
  • Are you unable to convert your international visitors or see high bounce rates?
  • Are you concerned about duplicate content and hesitate to develop your ccTLDs (country code top level domains), even though you know they would convert far better?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you need to understand and implement hreflang tags for your site. But maybe you need more convincing. If this is the case, here are 10 reasons why you should LOVE hreflang tags and begin developing all the international content you can.

#1 You Can Cross International Barriers Now

Hreflang (also known as rel=alternate hreflang) is simply a tag you can place on a page to signal Google there is another version of the page. Why do you need this? Because Google doesn’t accurately serve up the intended version of your page to appropriate international users. You need to step up and solve the problem yourself.

For example, if you have a Canadian version of your U.S. site (in English) on a .CA domain, Google might mistake this as duplicate-content. This is especially true if changes are subtle and the Canadian site closely mirrors the structure of the U.S. site.

Canadian Flag - Google.ca

So what do you do? Simply place this handy little hreflang tag on your U.S. site http://www.yourdomain.com:

<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-ca” href=”http://www.yourdomain.ca/” />

[Translation: Hey Googlebot, I’ve got another version of this page which I spent a lot of time customizing for the Canadian market. You know, with their currency, local tastes, local verbiage and stuff I think that will help the good folks of Canada to understand my products and services. Please only show English-speaking Canadians this localized version of the page please.]

Then this is what Google does in Google.com and Google.ca:

[Hey Canadians, I found a better version of http://www.yourdomain.com, it’s actually localized nicely for your region so I’m only going to display http://www.yourdomain.ca to you. Enjoy.]

Boom! Just like that, bounce rates go down, Canadian conversions are up and you are credited for finally being able to use that dusty old .CA domain (ccTLD) your boss has been itching to use for years.

#2 This Solves ALL of Your International Duplicate Content Concerns

Just as the example above illustrates, you’re probably confusing Google with duplicate content if you have multiple English versions of your site that target international, English-speaking countries. But let’s take this a step further and appreciate what hreflang can do to alleviate your duplicate content concerns.

Let’s say you want to create your content now for ALL English-speaking countries and keep all this content under one domain in subdirectories such as the following:

  • yourdomain.com/en/products.html
  • yourdomain.com/au/products.html
  • yourdomain.com/uk/products.html

What’s more, you intend to create only subtle differences in this content that is targeted to a specific region’s interests and language variations, using the same URL structure, same number of pages, same navigation and same images, everything. The only differences will be found on a few pages. Are you nervous?

No problem! As long as you mark up your pages correctly, you can ensure that Google will only index and display the best content, highly targeted for your English-speaking site visitors and you will not be penalized by Google (manually or algorithmically) for having duplicate content. Instead, Google appropriately indexes each respective variation of your content in Google.CA, Google.COM.AU, Google.CO.UK and so on.

#3 You Can Start Small

If creating entirely new localized versions of your content seems daunting, then stop for a moment and consider the fact that hreflang empowers you to start small. Really small. In fact, you can localize just a single page of your most popular content. In many cases, this is probably what you want to do anyway since you want to make a business case for expanding or simply improving conversions for international traffic.

Hopefully you’ve got a good sense of where your international traffic is coming from and have been reviewing your top landing pages by geographic region (and language) to see where your biggest opportunities are. If not, hop into Google Analytics and view organic and direct traffic by region and by language.

Google Analytics - Traffic by Geographic Region

Now view top landing pages, add secondary dimension of geographic region and see what URLs your international viewers are most interested in. Where are bounce rates the highest? What additional information would you add to a page, knowing that you can successfully display highly localized content to that visitor? Dream big and implement hreflang tags.

#4 You Can Stop Confusing Google with Dynamic Content

If your site automatically displays pre-translated content for users, based on IP address, that’s great. But what version is displaying on Google.com compared to Google.es, Google.ru and others? Don’t rely on Google to get it right. You will confuse Google if you rely on your fancy-pants, dynamically-generated language variations. Instead, implement rel=alternate hreflang=”X” and Google will display the correct version.

Important update: As of January 2015, Google announced it now supports the crawling and indexing of your dynamic content. This doesn’t mean it’s automatic and you can just sit back. On the contrary, you still need to implement hreflang tags but now you have more active indexing and crawling from the Googlebot and it’s looking for your direction.

#5 You Have Choices: There are 3 Ways to Implement Hreflang Tags

Google supports three separate means of implementing hreflang: HTTP header, on-page markup, or XML sitemap. Depending on your particular situation, you can select one of these choices but don’t combine them. It’s important to note that the value of the hreflang attribute identifies the language in ISO 639-1 format and optionally the region in ISO 3166-1 format. For example:

  • be: Belarusian language, independent of region (not Belgium French)
  • nl-be: Dutch for Belgium
  • fr-be: French for Belgium

Take a look at this example code with successfully implemented hreflang tags (see all the various ccTLDs being used):


#6 You Can Serve Up International Content from an Unlimited Variety of URL Locations

This is truly a reason to celebrate. You can have your content residing on various ccTLDs, separate focus TLDs, subdirectories on the root domain, subdomains on the root domain or wherever the heck you want!

For example, see each of the following hypothetical URLs. Each are acceptable for hreflang if you want Google to index and display a Canadian version of your U.S. page http://www.yourdomain.com/travel-tips:

  • http://www.yourdomain.com/ca/travel-tips (subdirectory)
  • http://www.yourdomain.ca/travel-tips (off-domain/ccTLD)
  • http://canada.yourdomain.com/travel-tips (subdomain on root domain)
  • http://www.traveltripsforcanadians.com (off-domain/focus TLD)
  • http://www.traveltripsforcanadians.ca (off-domain/focus TLD)
  • http://www.conseilsdevoyage.ca (off-domain/focus TLD, for those mischievous French-speaking Canadians)

Would any of the above variations help you convert Canadian users better? Are you excited about hreflang yet? If not, keep going. There are three more reasons below to be a believer:

#7 You can Lower Bounce Rates, Instill Trust & Improve Conversions

It’s already been implied but let’s just take a moment to spell this out in plain English: Localized content coverts more visitors. That’s the whole point of creating alternate versions of content targeting a specific region.

Bounce rate example

Think about how you search every day. When you are shopping for local goods online and you want to see local providers only, you look for subtle indicators within the search results (URL, TLD, Title, Currency, language used). How long do you stay on the page once you see that the result isn’t relevant?

#8 Google Makes it Easy to Monitor Results

Google also introduced hreflang tag tracking within Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools). It’s located under “Search Traffic” > “International Targeting.” Now is probably a good time to note that configuring your Webmaster Tools can be confusing, especially if you set up your account to target a specific country. Don’t fear. Just keep your primary target country listed in your settings and plan on creating multiple profiles for domains you’d like to track within Search Console if they reside off-domain and on subdomains.

International Targeting in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console)

#9 It’s the Fastest Way to Get Google to Crawl and Index Your New Content

As you know, Google is just an algorithm. Don’t trust to it get things right every time. Google has stated that implementing hreflang tags is an additional signal for it to crawl new URLs after your newly localized or translated content goes live.

#10 Global Internet Traffic is Booming

And finally, did you know that there are over 3 billion internet users now worldwide? Emerging markets, lower technology barriers and lower costs of connectivity (primarily through mobile) are driving incredible global expansion and worldwide internet usage. Visit InternetLiveStats.com if you need more motivation.

[advanced_iframe securitykey=”28357acf954845b54669aa43c49cb7877c9fae41″ src=”http://www.internetlivestats.com” width=”100%” height=”730″ frameborder=”1″]
If you can provide information, services or goods to these emerging markets and the new wave of global internet users, then you have a bright future. But make sure you do it right by coding your content correctly with hreflang tags.

For more information on how to implement hreflang tags with your content, see the Google Webmaster Central blog. There’s a great video by Maile Oyhe (~17 minutes long) that is a must see. Or watch my recent webinar on boosting international web traffic, where you can glean extra technical knowledge. Good luck localizing!

Art Enke

As the Director of SEO Services, Art enjoys helping clients earn top rankings through the development of high quality content and stellar backlinks. He’s a technical SEO who enjoys conducting in-depth site analysis, hunting for duplicate content and resolving site-wide issues. On the creative side, he appreciates functional and visually-rich content that engages visitors and moves them through the conversion funnel. +Art Enke