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What Is Hreflang

  • Felix Rose-Collins
  • 3 min read

What Is Hreflang

Hreflang Tag, also known as rel=alternate hreflang=x , is a program that tells Google which language is being used on a specific page so that the SERPs can be delivered in the proper language. Gooogle introduced Hreflang tags in December 2011, and it allows the Webmaster to establish a relationship between web pages in a primary language and an alternative language. This tag is most useful when ensuring that content that is specific to local audience is routed to the proper place.

The hreflang tag adds either an X or Y instead of a page from the original page contents. Hreflang can also show that you have language targets in a single language. Search engines are given the clearest signals about which pages need which coding in which language. Hreflang tags are only useful in Google and Yandex. For example, a page created for an English site that wants to host several pages on a subdirectory in Spanish, a hreflang tag would be used that looks like “hreflang=es.”

Using this tag can decrease the bounce rate on a site and increase the number of conversions by ensuring that audiences are connected to the version of the web page that is most appropriate for their needs. Hreflang tags are useful for web designers needing to geotargeting their site. It allows them to control page factors like variations like currency, seasonality and shipping.

Hreflang tags can be utilized to show that content needs to be pointed at targets of a single language. This allows more efficient page targeting and specifically extending the annotations that show which country or region the content is intended to target. For example, a hreflang tag for content in Spain would be hreflang=es-es versus content for Mexico would be hreflang=es-mx. As you can see, it’s not language appropriate but regionally tagged for the audience and not the language.

Hreflang tags are not directive, and they could be described as more of a signal. This means that SEO factors can still override them and cause improper page delivery. To endure that proper page delivery happens, hreflang tags should be used in conjunction with other SEO best practices like international SEO coding.

Top SEO Tactics: Hreflang Tag

Hreflang tags can be added to the on-page markups or in the HTTP header. You can only add them to one of the two locations.

Where Hreflang Tags Should be Placed

Looking at sample Hreflang coding you better understand where to place signals.

<link rel="alternate" href="123abc.com" hreflang="es-es" />
<link rel="alternate" href="123abc.com/fr/" hreflang="fr-fr" />
<link rel="alternate" href="123abc.com/pt/" hreflang="pt-pt" />   

The hreflang tag on each page should reference itself on all the pages that serve as alternates. Hreflang tags on each page should include page references in the chosen language. Hreflang is a signal for the language changes, but it’s not a directive. Similar annotations show up on French pages and pages of other language. It is possible for audiences that users of other languages can see your pages because hreflang tags are merely a signal. By localizing other portions of the content on your page, you can help search engines better understand your page.

ISO Language and Region Codes

Google has issued documentation regarding the improper usage of hreflang tags. Not all coding is intuitive and easily guessed. The codes should be looked up in the online directory to ensure accuracy. When constructing regional or language pages, Google supports ISO 639-1 formatting for language coding and great specificity can be gain by further investigating and understanding the ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2. This will help to further signal the region being targeted by the hreflang tag. Multiple hreflang tags can be added to one page to reiterate that the content on the page is for more than one country or area.

<link rel="alternate" href="123abc.com" hreflang="am-et" />
<link rel="alternate" href="123abc.com" hreflang="am-er" />   

General Targeting with x for default

pages can be launched that offer content in more than one language. The user can be prompted for their preferred language. For example:

Hreflang Rankings Effects

Hreflang tags is not necessarily a surefire way to increase traffic. The correct usage of Hreflang tags is the accurate delivery of relevant content that is appropriate for every audience. In this capacity hreflang tags are providing user experience by providing a positive web page experience. After inputting hreflang tags, the search engines will insert the proper version of the page into the SERP listings based on the user’s language and location preferences.

Hreflang and Canonicalization

Hreflang is a web tool that can show languages on certain pages on demand using preset commands. Canonicalization is a tool that helps search engines determine when a particular URL should be shown to users. This is particularly true when the content on the pages are identical. Hreflang tags are web tools that show which page (of many different / but similar) should be feed into a search result. Hreflang tags are unique because the pages in questions are essentially the same aside from language or local specifics. This is why Google recommends not using rel=canonical codes in situations with country or language page change factors on our site.

Felix Rose-Collins

Felix Rose-Collins


Felix Rose-Collins is the Co-founder of Ranktracker, With over 10 years SEO Experience . He's in charge of all content on the SEO Guide & Blog, you will also find him managing the support chat on the Ranktracker App.


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