Your Site Should Speak Your Customer’s Language: A Guide to Hreflang Tags
Hreflang tags enable Google to properly index your site’s different languages properly. That means your customers are getting the right content, in the right language. Here's how to tackle them.
So you want to start targeting international customers? That’s great! All you have to do is translate your content, right? Google will certainly do the rest.
Unfortunately, while we like to think that Google does all the heavy lifting for us when it comes to finding customers around the world, that’s not the case. We need to make sure that our content is in excellent technical condition in order for it to rank well on search engines, and hreflang tags are key to the technical foundation of our content.
But wait – what is an hreflang tag?
What is an hreflang tag & why is it important?
Hreflang tags are important coding elements that are frequently forgotten in international marketing strategies, and without them, your new piece of international content is unlikely to rank as you would like it to.
An hreflang tag is a piece of code that indicates to search engines what language and country you want a piece of content should be relevant for. You have written an article in French? Fantastique! But what kind of French? Is that French in France? French in French-Canada? French in Haiti? The same language can be spoken in several countries, and this means that search engines do not automatically understand which market is best.
For example, I speak en-us English, my main language, with no Hreflang:
And THIS is me speaking fr-fr (French in France) with no Hreflang:
You and I know I'm still me, no matter what language I speak, but without proper hreflang tagging, Google sees fr-fr French-speaking Katie Greenwood and says:
Google is not able to associate your pages that feature the same content in a different language without an explicit link between pages. Without hreflang tags, Google cannot understand that it is the same Katie Greenwood, different language.
You may ask yourself: does the difference between French in Canada and French in France really make a difference? And the answer is yes.
Different countries have different currencies, so proper hreflang tagging is extremely important in e-commerce. It's a horrible user experience to place something in your shopping cart just to find out the price you saw was in Euros and unavailable for a US customer.
Furthermore, there may be different rules and regulations for products and services depending on the country. You don't want to give someone false information just because they're in a country that you don't actually serve. Your customers should have the same experience, regardless of the language they speak, and hreflang tags make that possible.
How To Implement Hreflang Tags in HTML
Implementing an hreflang tag is straightforward: you place the following piece of code in your HTML for all alternative language versions of your content:
For instance, when Conductor.com targets audiences in Spanish in several countries, it looks like this:
Thanks to these hreflang tags, this article is now targeting Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States, Mexico, Spain and Argentina. Although the content may be similar in each of the different versions of the article, the difference in country targeting is very important due to potential currency differences, vernacular, and cultures.
How to use an hreflang sitemap implementation
You can also implement hreflang tags in your sitemap, which is ideal for large websites with multiple language and country targets, as there is no need to put tags on each individual page. Here's an hreflang sitemap example:
urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ xmlns:xhtml=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”>
Common Hreflang Tag Errors
To ensure proper implementation of Hreflang tags, it is important to perform a quick technical audit of your pages. Lumar can help you identify potential problems, including which pages are missing these important pieces of the puzzle.
Here are a few common mistakes:
- Hreflang tags should always point to a 200 status code page, never to a redirect or a broken URL. This is a waste of crawl budget and can cause the page to be crawled incorrectly.
- Improper implementation of Hreflang tags can lead to problems with duplicate content - a common nightmare among SEOs. At the same time, while proper implementation of Hreflang tags helps to alleviate the problem of duplicate content, it does not entirely eliminate the problem. It is still important to build a strong international strategy and obtain appropriate backlinks for international pages.
- When creating content in another language, ensure that it’s all actually in that language. Simply adding a tag is not enough for Google to understand that this page is supposed to be in Spanish, Italian or Norwegian. Be sure to update all your title tags, heading tags, headers and footers - whatever you need to translate - so that you don't have confusing mixed-language content on a page.
The Best Hreflang Tag Tools To Use
There are several great tools that can help you on your international marketing journey. This hreflang tags generator tool (opens in a new tab) helps you create all the tags you need with a single click. It's a wonderful resource when creating multiple tags for multiple countries.
If you need to quickly check if your individual pages have hreflang tags in place, use this hreflang checker tool (opens in a new tab). It allows you to enter a URL and get immediate feedback. You can also enter a sitemap to ensure that your hreflang tags are properly implemented there.
For an in-depth look at hreflang issues that may arise on your site, ContentKing is the way to go. It identifies pages that are pointing to non-200 status codes, unsupported hreflang tags, and broken hreflang tags. You can also generate a sitemap for for your international pages with Lumar.
Doing Great International SEO
Going international with your brand takes more than just making sure that all the necessary tags are in place. Remember: while Hreflang tags help search engines understand the appropriate country and language for your content, the best pieces of international content is more than just simple translations, it is targeted to the region.
Research your new market to ensure the information you provide is the best possible information for that country. Tell a good story for the customer - just make sure Google can read that story too.