So you want to start targeting international customers? That’s great! All you need 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 our content is in good technical shape 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 Does It Matter
Hreflang tags are important coding elements that are often forgotten in international marketing strategies. Without these, it’s unlikely that your fresh piece of international content ranks the way you want it to.
An hreflang tag is a piece of code that indicates to search engines what language and what country you want a piece of content to be relevant for. You wrote 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 multiple countries, and that means search engines will not automatically understand which market is best.
For example, this is me speaking en-us english, my primary language, with no Hreflang:
And THIS is me speaking fr-fr (French in France) with no Hreflang:
You and I know that I am still me regardless of what language I speak, but without proper hreflang tagging, Google sees fr-fr French speaking Katie Greenwood and says…
Google is unable to associate your pages that feature the same content in a different language without an explicit link between pages. Without hreflang tags, Google can’t understand that it’s the same Katie Greenwood, different language.
You may be asking 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 hyper-important in ecommerce. It’s a terrible user experience to put something in your shopping cart only to find out the price you saw was in Euros and unavailable for a US customer.
Additionally, there may be different rules and regulations in place for products and services based on the country. You don’t want to give someone false information simply because they’re in a country 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 simple. You place the following piece of code in your HTML for all of the alternative language versions of your content:
<link rel='alternate' href='http://example.com' hreflang='en-us'>
For example, when Conductor.com targets audiences in Spanish in multiple countries, it looks like this:
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-US/” hreflang=”es-us” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-MX/” hreflang=”es-mx” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-ES/” hreflang=”es-es” />
<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-AR/” hreflang=”es-ar” />
Thanks to these hreflang tags, this article is now targeting Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Argentina. While the content in each of the different versions of the article may be similar, 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. This is ideal for large websites with multiple language and country targets because then there is no need to place tags on each individual page. Here is an hreflang sitemap example:
urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ xmlns:xhtml=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml”>
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-mx” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-MX/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-es” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-ES/” />
<xhtml:link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”es-ar” href=”https://www.conductor.com/es-AR/” />
Common Hreflang Tag Errors
In order to ensure proper implementation of hreflang tags, it’s important to run a quick technical audit of your pages. Deepcrawl can help you identify any potential problems, including which pages are missing these vital puzzle pieces.
Here are a few common errors:
- 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 hreflang tag implementation can lead to duplicate content issues – a common nightmare among SEOs. At the same time, while proper hreflang tag implementation helps alleviate the problem of duplicate content, it does not totally eliminate the issue. It’s still important to build a robust international strategy and get 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, or Italian, or Norwegian. Make sure to update all of your title tags, heading tags, headers, footers – whatever you need to translate so you do not have confusing mixed language content on a page.
Best Hreflang Tag Tools To Use
There are many great tools that can help you on your international marketing journey. This hreflang tags generator tool helps you create all of the tags you need with a simple click of a button. This is a great 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. It allows you to input a URL and get instant feedback. You can also input a sitemap to make sure your hreflang tags are properly implemented there.
For an in-depth look at hreflang issues that may arise on your site, DeepCrawl 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 DeepCrawl.
Doing Great International SEO
Going international with your brand takes more than just making sure that all of the proper 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 are more than just simple translations – they’re hyper-targeted to the area.
Research your new market to ensure the information you’re providing is the best possible information for that country. Tell a good story for the customer – just make sure Google can read that story too.