How to Use HREFLANG Tags – Examples & Tutorial

It’s time to get serious about expanding you content marketing efforts globally. After all, with 3 billion active users on the web (and growing every second), mobile and international targeting will become key in your content strategy. Plus, it’s relatively simple to implement a global strategy using the Hreflang tag. First, consider these facts from a recent study:


In 2014…

  • Global mobile data traffic grew 69 percent. Global mobile data traffic reached 2.5 exabytes per month at the end of 2014, up from 1.5 exabytes per month at the end of 2013.
  • Last year’s mobile data traffic was nearly 30 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. One Exabyte of traffic traversed the global Internet in 2000, and in 2014 mobile networks carried nearly 30 exabytes of traffic.
  • Mobile video traffic exceeded 50 percent of total mobile data traffic for the first time in 2012. Mobile video traffic exceeded 50 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of 2012 and grew to 55 percent by the end of 2014.
  • Almost half a billion (497 million) mobile devices and connections were added in 2014. Global mobile devices and connections in 2014 grew to 7.4 billion, up from 6.9 billion in 2013. Smartphones accounted for 88 percent of that growth, with 439 million net additions in 2014.


  • B2C eCommerce sales worldwide has more than doubled in the last 4 years due to emerging international markets, among other factors.**

In light of all this massive new traffic coming from around the world, you need to think about ways you can capitalize on this momentum. We recommend you start with Hreflang. 


What is heck is hreflang?

It’s a piece of code in a webpage, XML sitemap or HTTP header that tells search engines there is an alternative version of the page somewhere else.


So what does that mean?

You can now create different versions of your content, intentionally targeting your international content in many languages, on subdomains, and with any ccTLDs – and there will be no bad consequences from the search engines!

Okay take a step back…

Did you catch that?

Remember when you thought about buying or developing your other domains years ago but you held back because of duplicate content concerns? Or do you remember thinking “there’s no way I have time to create an alternative version of my site in another language, let along English.” Hreflang is the answer to your concerns.

Hreflang gives you a full “license” to create as much content in any quantity on any domain with any variation as you’d like. Let me explain. Let’s say you are lucky enough to own a .CA domain and you have a business presence in both the U.S. and Canada. But, you’re a busy content marketer and can’t even think about creating an entire alternative version of your site. What can you do with Hreflang?

What you can do is start small with only a handful of URLs  or even just one page. This content can reside on your domain in a subdirectory, root domain or even on its own domain. Implement Hreflang and watch what happens to conversions and user metrics when your page shows up in Google.CA and has specific content that is highly optimized for that user. Exciting stuff!


Okay let’s put this into practice…

Step One

Jump into Google Analytics and view your direct and organic traffic under Behavior, Site Content, Landing Pages. Then add a secondary dimension of Country or Language. This is a good place to start to decide which content you can market on the global stage since it clearly shows your most visited pages by traffic, country, and language.


Step Two

Once you’ve identified what content you’d like to use for your international expansion, localize everything about that content – speak to users you’ll be targeting through revising your currency, speaking to how shipping works,  and making everything about your “foreign” content resonate with your target audience.


Step Three

Next think about where you want this content to reside – is it going to be a specific subdirectory on your primary domain, under a subdomain or on its own domain? Remember that some country’s residents engage much better with content that’s on their country’s domain. German users, for example, convert much more on their own .DE domains rather than on .COM sites.


Step Four

Now implement your Hreflang Tag. Technically there are three ways to do this – you have to choose only one – either in XML sitemaps, HTTP Header or directly in line with your code. Each way is acceptable… you have to choose only one way to implement, however. That’s all there is to it!

Let’s review real quick –

  1. You can start expanding your international content marketing efforts with just a single page of content.
  2. You can find where to target first quickly by checking analytics for your top pages.
  3. You can then implement that content anywhere you’d like your own domain, a subdirectory, subdomain or on a different domain.

By following these 3 steps, you will being to rank higher and/or convert more users in international markets – starting right away! Hope that helps you think about how simple international expansion can be – start by analyzing your top content, customize that content, implement and start tracking some key performance indicators.