Going international is a big step, so you really need to invest a bit of time in mitigating any risk of things going wrong with this hreflang tag. When used correctly it can really help a site move into new markets but there are some considerations, preliminary tasks and validation required to get the most out of it. Here I run through my thoughts and experience with this wonderful tag.
The hreflang tag is a nifty little HTML element that can support multi-lingual and international websites. The tag works fantastically but unfortunately, I see a lot of sites that haven’t grasped how to utilise it correctly. It’s a key part of my Technical SEO audit service, not because it can negatively impact your site (in some instances it can, more on that later) but because website owners are often suppressing visibility on how it’s currently structured – providing a big opportunity for some businesses.
I am going to specifically talk about the incorrect deployment of the tag after this paragraph but there is something I want to touch on first. I am seeing websites which are not multi-lingual nor international, but they will likely host a currency changer, perhaps an international country code with the hreflang, in reality, the site is in English and is not dedicated to serving international customers.
If you’re planning on going international you wouldn’t create a carbon copy of your store in the middle of London to Mexico, you’d have signs written in Spanish, local currency and useful tools for local trade. A website is no exception if you’re going to go international. Provide native content, native customer support and also local phone numbers and thought-out pricing (not just based on the exchange rate of the day, imagine if you saw prices for £7.13, you’d know straight away they weren’t likely native).
How can I identify issues with my site?
There are several online tools which can validate your hreflang tag, one provided by Google too. What you need to be cautious of here is defining the country codes that are matching Google’s recommendations and also for cross-domain hreflang, you are reciprocating the tag between the sites. You also need to create some mapping which means that if someone is on a .com website and needs pointing to a .co.uk website, the hreflang has a URL reflective of the one you’re on, in other words, if you are on the .com website contact page, there needs to be a contact page on .co.uk – pointing to the homepage isn’t a good solution. A validation tool is a good way to identify the issues; I’ve often found many site audits have been hit or miss with providing useful information with hreflang, especially if it’s cross-domain.
How do I resolve hreflang tag errors on my site?
You need to firstly ensure the HTML tag is correctly formatted, ensuring it matches the global recommendations for how a hreflang should look, including country code and reflective URL. If you are struggling I’d consult a developer who has experience with this tag, they can often advise on any potential pitfalls; which can occur if you don’t have similar pages over both sites or subdirectories.
How do I prevent hreflang issues?
If you have the formatting correct for the hreflang, a key consideration will be to ensure that you are publishing content over all variations, meaning that if you launch a product in the UK that it has a reflective page in the US/Mexico/Spain etc (if it’s being sold there). If there isn’t a similar page over the multiple sites/multilingual sections, don’t include the hreflang to the homepage or another page, simply remove the hreflang line for that country in this instance.
Some additional notes on the hreflang issues
- If you have multiple domains in English, it’s important to differentiate between them and not have a carbon copy of them. If you have a .com and .co.uk, there is a risk the .com will outrank the .co.uk if they are exactly the same.
- Although it’s a HTML tag you do need to update it dynamically, so you can’t hardcode a hreflang on all pages, it needs to serve pages on the international sections of the site – so a product A will need a product A in ES version, PL version etc…
- Don’t try and wing it when it comes to international SEO; trying to grab a few sales serving English content in Euros for a Spanish market will likely hurt your SEO overall. If you’re going international it’ll pay to get translations and really hone into the targeted audience.