What Are HrefLang Tags & When Should You Use Them?

October 5, 2015

Nowadays, businesses are global and investing in personalising the user experience for their customers in each country with geo targeted websites and content. As a result, developers can now use Hreflang tags to help Google understand each website and page on your website more efficiently and ensure that users in each country are being served the correct version of the brand's website or pages. This blog delves into what Hreflang tags are and how to implement and monitor them correctly.

What is a Hreflang tag?

A Hreflang tag tells Google what language is being used on a specific page on your website, so that Google can serve that page to users searching in that language. You can have Hreflang tags on specific pages on your website or globally across entire websites.

How to know if you need a Hreflang Tag

Google recommends you use hreflang tags if you have:

  • Regional variations of the same language - for example British versus American English
  • The same content in different languages

What is Rel='Alternate' Hreflang='x'?

This is an alternative name for a hreflang tag, albeit, more complex. The tag sends a signal to search engines that a user who is searching using the language 'x' will want this page as opposed to the similar content in language 'y'.

For example, if you created a French version of your English homepage, you would tag it as being in French by using the hreflang='fr' so that users searching in a French speaking country (based on IP) are served that page as opposed to the English version.

You can also show that pages on your website are targeting different versions of the same language. For example, you would use the hreflang tag 'en-gb' to target English-speaking users in the United Kingdom. In addition you would use the hreflang tag 'en-us' to target Americans, 'en-au' to target Australians and so on.

Why use hreflang tags?

Hreflang tags help to decrease your bounce rate and increase your conversions because you are ensuring that your users are finding the most appropriate page for them within your brand's website and content. It will help to improve the overall user experience with your brand and avoiding frustration for your customers.

Hreflang Tag best Practices

Unfortunately, it is very easy to make a mistake with hreflang tags so we have put together a quick checklist of best practices to help you implement and monitor your tags on your site.

Where does the Hreflang live?

The hreflang tag should be placed in the on-page markup, the HTTP header or in the sitemap. The best pace to add the tag is in your sitemap - review this article from Google Support on placing the tag in the sitemap.

What does it look like?

A hreflang tag looks like this:

There are multiple options for implementing hreflang tags that are covered in detail in this Moz article.

Selecting Regions and Codes

This is one of the first ways in which a hreflang can be implemented incorrectly - by selecting the incorrect code for the targeted country. For example, the United Kingdom code is not 'uk' but 'gb'. Luckily for developers, the International SEO Map has provided a Hreflang Tags Generator Tool to help avoid error in selecting codes.

Common Errors

If you make these seemingly minor mistakes, Google will not recognise your hreflang tag:

  • Language and country code - ensure you have this the correct way round - it is 'en-us' not 'us-en'
  • Country code with no language code - there isn't a default option for each country code so you must be specific and always identify a language code.
  • Countries not regions - you can use 'en-eu' in hopes it will cover all English-speaking users in Europe. You have to break it down to a country/language basis.
  • Inconsistencies - any inconsistencies in URLs, country code and so on will be ignored by Google.

Testing your Hreflang Tags

The best place to monitor the implementation of your hreflang tags is in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) under Search Traffic - International Targeting. If Google thinks you have incorrectly implemented hreflang tags, the errors will filter into this section with information on how to fix the errors.

Tell us your stories about hreflang tags. Is this the first you have heard of them or have you experienced implementing them yourself?

Prototype is a Dubai and Miami-based agency that provides a full suite of services in web design in Dubai. Call us for a free consultation.

Written by
Alexander Rauser
Alexander Rauser


Alexander Rauser is the author of Boardroom Guide to Digital Accountability and Digital Strategy: A Guide to Digital Business Transformation, and creator of the DSX Program, a digital strategy and transformation program for Enterprises.

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