hreflang: The Ultimate Guide
By Joost de Valk for Yoast SEO. Original here.
hreflang is a technical solution for sites that have similar content in multiple languages. A site owner wants search engines to point people to the most “fitting” language. Say a user is Dutch, the page that ranks is English, but there’s also a Dutch version. You would want Google to show the Dutch page in the search results for that user. This is the type of problem hreflang was designed to solve.
In this (very long) article we’ll discuss:
What hreflang is for.
What the SEO benefit of hreflang is.
What hreflang is.
What hreflang accomplishes.
Whether or not you should use hreflang.
Which architectural decisions you should make.
The basic technical ideas about hreflang you should know.
Implementation decisions you should make.
Which other technical things we need to account for, like:
how rel=”canonical” and hreflang work together.
Which tools to use when developing and testing your implementation.
How to keep your implementation working once you’ve set it up.
hreflang is among the hardest specs I’ve ever seen come out of a search engine. Doing it right is tough and takes time. This guide will try and prevent you from falling into common traps. Be sure to read it thoroughly if you’re embarking on an hreflang project.
What is hreflang meant for?
hreflang is a method to mark up pages that are similar in meaning but aimed at different languages and/or regions. You can use this for three types of variations:
- Content with regional variations like
- Content in different languages like
- A combination of different languages and regional variations.
You can use hreflang to target different markets that use the same language. This is a fairly common use case. Using hreflang you can differentiate between the US and the UK, or between Germany and Austria.
What’s the SEO benefit of hreflang?
So why are we even talking about hreflang? What is the SEO benefit? There are two main reasons, from an SEO point of view, why you should implement it.
First and foremost, if you have a version of a page that you have optimized for the users language and location, you want them to land on that page. Having the right language and location dependent information improves their user experience and thus leads to fewer people bouncing back to the search results. Fewer people bouncing back to the search results leads to higher rankings.
The second reason is that hreflang prevents a duplicate content problem. You might have the same content in English on different URLs aimed at the UK, the US and Australia. The difference on these pages might be as small as a change in prices and currency. Google might not understand on its own what you’re trying to do and see it as duplicate content. With hreflang you make it very clear to the search engine that it’s (almost) the same content, just optimized for different people.
What is hreflang?
hreflang is code, which you can show to search engines in three different ways, more on that below. With this code you specify all the different URLs on your site(s) that have the same content. These URLs can have the same content in a different language, or the same language but targeted at a different region.
What does hreflang accomplish?
Who supports hreflang?
hreflang is supported by Google and Yandex. Bing doesn’t have an equivalent, but does support language meta tags.
In a complete hreflang implementation, every URL specifies which other variations are available. When a user searches, Google goes through the following process:
- it determines that it wants to rank a URL;
- it checks whether that URL has hreflang annotations;
- it presents the searcher with the results with the most appropriate URL for that user.
The users current location and his language settings determine the most appropriate URL. A user can have multiple languages in his browser’s settings. I, for instance, have Dutch, English and German in there. The order in which these languages appear in my settings determines the most appropriate language.
Should you use hreflang?
Tip: homepage first!
If you’re not sure on whether you want to implement hreflang on your entire site, start with your homepage! People searching for your brand will get the right page. This is a lot easier to implement and it will “catch” a large part of your traffic.
Based on what we’ve learned on what hreflang is and how it works, we can determine if you should use it. You should use it if:
you have the same content in multiple languages;
you have content aimed at different geographic regions, but in the same language.
Whether the content you have resides on one domain or multiple domains does not matter. You can link variations within the same domain but can also link between domains.
Read the rest of this article here.
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