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.
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 , 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:
Digital marketing executive with proven experience in all aspects of search engine optimization (SEO), performance-based advertising, consumer-generated/social media, email marketing, lead generation, Web design, usability, and analytics. - 20-year Internet marketing veteran, currently serving as the Digital Marketing Campaign Manager at Antenna Group (formerly Chicago Digital). - Former Editor-In-Chief of Website Magazine, and a regular speaker on Web technology digital marketing strategy - Author of several books on digital marketing Including Web 360: The Fundamentals of Web Success; Affiliate 360: The Fundamentals of Performance Marketing; Domains 360: The Fundamentals of Buying & Selling Domain Names, and SEO 360: The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization.