HREFLang Page Tag Q&As

Bill Scully

What is an HREFLang tag?

HREFLang Tags allow a site owner to specify the language and geographical targeting of a webpage and any alternate versions of the same webpage at the page level. It helps search engines serve the correct language or regional URL in search results.

Why are HREFLang tags important for International SEO?

HREFLang elements allow the site owner to specify the language and geographical targeting of a webpage and any alternate versions of the same webpage.  This enables Search engines to direct users to the correct version of their site in their language or region improving the customer’s experience and reducing cannibalization of traffic and sales. 

How do I implement HREFLang tags on my website?

Place the HREFLang tags in the <head> section of your HTML, or use HTTP headers if you can’t modify the HTML.

Can HREFLang tags affect my website’s ranking?

Directly, no. But they can indirectly impact rankings by improving user experience and ensuring users are directed to the most relevant version of your site.

What’s the difference between HREFLang tags and canonical tags?

HREFLang tags tell search engines about localized versions of the same page, while canonical tags indicate the preferred version of similar or duplicate pages. Do not include URLs to pages that are canonicalized in a HREFLang tag.

How do I use HREFLang tags for multilingual websites?

Assign a unique HREFLang tag for each language version of your webpage. For example, use hreflang=”en” for English and hreflang=”es” for Spanish.

What is the ‘x-default’ HREFLang tag used for?

It’s used to indicate a default page when no other page is suitable for the user’s language or region.

How do search engines use HREFLang tags?

Search engines use them to understand the language and regional targeting of a webpage and to serve the appropriate version in search results.

Can I use HREFLang tags for different regions that speak the same language?

Yes, for example, you can use hreflang=”en-US” for the United States and hreflang=”en-GB” for Great Britain.

What common mistakes should I avoid when implementing HREFLang tags?

Avoid incorrect language codes, omitting a return link, broken links, or having mismatched content between language versions.

Do HREFLang tags work with dynamic content?

Yes, but you need to ensure that the sitemap accurately reflects these dynamic changes and the correct URLs are associated with the appropriate language and region codes.

How do I test if my HREFLang tags are working correctly?

Use tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, Sitebulb Spider, Ahrefs, SEMrush Site Audit Tool, and DeepCrawl to crawl the site and check for HREFLang tag errors, and missing return tags and ensure correctness.

Should I use HREFLang tags if my website only has one language?

No, they are unnecessary if your website targets only one language and region.

Can HREFLang tags be used on any type of website?

Yes, they can be used on any site, but they’re most beneficial for sites with content in multiple languages or regions.

How do I handle content that is similar but not identical across different regions?

Use HREFLang tags to indicate regional variations..

What if I don’t have a version of the page in a user’s language?

Use the x-default tag to direct them to a default page, typically in a widely understood language like English.

Is it necessary to include HREFLang tags on every page of my site?

It’s best practice to include them on each page that has an alternate language or regional version.

How specific should the language and region codes be in HREFLang tags?

Be as specific as possible, especially for regions with multiple languages or significant regional differences.

Can HREFLang tags help with duplicate content issues?

Yes, they help search engines understand that content is duplicated across different languages or regions, not within the same language or region.  Hreflang assigns the content to a language or market giving it a specific purpose, minimizing the chance Search Engines will consider it a duplicate. 

How often should I update my HREFLang tags?

Update them whenever you add, remove, or change the language or regional page on your site.

Do HREFLang tags need to be reciprocal?

Yes, each page must have a return link to every other page that references it via HREFLang tags.

Can HREFLang tags be used for non-HTML files (like PDFs)?

No, they are specifically for HTML documents. For non-HTML files, like PDFs, you can use HTTP headers or hreflang XML sitemaps to designate the language. To avoid any confusion: Links in a hreflang sitemap (XML file) are still just URLs, not tags

What happens if I use the wrong language code in an HREFLang tag?

Then HREFLang is not understood resulting in either the pair being invalidated or the wrong version of your site shown to users, negatively impacting their experience.

Should I use HREFLang tags for temporary content like seasonal promotions?

Yes, include HREFLang tags on all your pages with alternate versions.

How do HREFLang tags interact with mobile and desktop versions of a site?

They should be implemented consistently across both versions to ensure users are directed to the correct language or regional version regardless of device. They should not link between mobile and desktop versions.

How do I specify language and region in an HREFLang tag?

Use the format language-region, where language is an ISO 639-1 code and region is an ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 code, like en-US for American English. List of Region/Country Codes.

What’s the best way to implement HREFLang tags on a page?

List each tag separately in the <head> section of your HTML, ensuring each language-region combination is clearly specified.  Example:

<head>
<title>Web Page Title</title>
 <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="https://www.example.com/en-gb/page.html" />
 <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="https://www.example.com/en-us/page.html" />
 <link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="https://www.example.com/de-de/page.html" />
 <link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="https://www.example.com/en/page.html" />
</head>

Can HREFLang tags coexist with other meta tags in the page header?

Yes, HREFLang tags can coexist with other meta tags like viewport or description, but they should be correctly formatted and not conflict with other meta information.

How does Googlebot process HREFLang tags for indexing?

Googlebot reads HREFLang tags to understand the language and regional targeting, indexing each version separately and using this information to serve the right version in search results.

Are there any size limitations for HREFLang annotations in the HTML header?

While there’s no strict size limit, excessively large headers can slow down page loading. It’s important to keep your HTML header optimized.  If you have a large number of languages or markets, it is best to use HREFflang XML sitemaps. 

How do I handle HREFLang tags in a responsive design?

Implement HREFLang tags in the HTML of each responsive page, ensuring they are accessible regardless of device or screen size.

How do I handle HREFLang tags in a JavaScript-rendered design?

Implement HREFLang tags in the HTML of each page so they can be identified without rendering.  Be careful that you are not also inserting during rendering and if it is required then ensure they are consistent. 

What is the impact of incorrectly implemented HREFLang tags on SEO?

Incorrect implementation can lead to search engines ignoring your HREFlang cluster or showing the wrong version of a page in search results, potentially harming your site’s user experience, sales and/or traffic performance.

How do I handle dynamically generated localized content with HREFLang tags?

Ensure that your server-side script or CMS dynamically generates the correct HREFLang tags for each unique version of the content based on language or region.

Is it necessary to include a self-referential HREFLang tag?

Yes, each page should include a self-referential link in the HREFLang tag.

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About the Author

Bill Scully

Over 20 years of international digital marketing working with matrix companies to drive profits by increasing traffic and online conversions. Consultant to turn ideas and budget into outcomes. Consulting on international search engine optimization, search engine marketing, conversion optimization. Owner of Digital Marketing Fuel, LLC

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