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Do Hreflang Right the First Time To Go International With Ease

One of the most common stumbling blocks for brands looking to expand their international reach is making sure the right content is delivered to the right user through the search engines. 

Websites that have similar content in several different languages risk not only serving up a version of a page that is not optimized for the user's language or location, they may also be prone to duplicate content problems in the virtual eyes of the search engines. With a little awareness and some time spent on implementation, however, websites can avoid these issues by setting up what are known as hreflang tags (supported currently only by Google and Yandex).

Hreflang tags are used to mark up pages that are similar in meaning but aimed at different languages and/or regions. This can be used for content with regional variations, content in different languages, or a combination of different languages and regional variations - there are hundreds if not thousands of possible combinations.
 
Recommended Reading: Global Acquisition through International SEO
   
Below are a few basics to remember for search engine optimization professionals as they begin to address broader SEO internationalization efforts and implementing hreflang tags on their own website. 

1) Focus on Language Specification First, Then Region
Don't be overly specific when it comes to hreflang implementation. It's quite common, for example, for consumers to speak the same language but live in different geographic areas. In this case, it is best to plan out the experience so that marketers can correctly focus (at least in the early stages) on who each page is intended for. 

2) Implement Valid Attributes
Correctly developed hreflang attributes contain a value that reveals the language as well as indicates the region (the second half being optional). Verify that the right hreflang language attributes and regional attribute (regional attribute list) are being used correctly and in the right format to avoid most implementation problems and ensure the optimal experience. 

3) Develop/Verify Return Links
Each URL needs return links to every other URL and should point at the canonical version. That means a site with 50 different languages will require hreflang links for 50 different URLs. 

4) Self-Referencing
Correct hreflang implementation also requires a self-link; a hreflang link that points directly at the current page. While it does seem a little strange to link to the same page a user is on, it is required and failing to self-reference could cause big problems. 

5) Technical Implementation 
There are three different ways to implement hreflang - using link elements in the <head>, using HTTP headers or using an XML sitemap. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks and the optimal implementation will vary from website to website.

6) Make It Easier
There are several tools that search engine optimization professionals can use to make hreflang implementation a little easier. Aleyda Solis' hreflang tag generator, for example, is a helpful resource to developing all the required return links while the hreflang XML sitemap generator from The Media Flow can be provided a CSV with URLs for each language to create a sitemap to manage the more complex technical implementation. 

Discover more hreflang implementation mistakes with this detailed infographic from SEMrush: 

Hreflang mistakes
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