HREFLang Sitemap FAQs

Bill Scully

What is the primary purpose of an HREFLang sitemap?

The primary purpose is to inform search engines about the specific language and regional URLs of a website’s content, ensuring the correct version is displayed in search results for users in different regions.

How does an HREFLang sitemap differ from a standard XML sitemap?

Unlike a standard XML sitemap, an HREFLang sitemap includes additional attributes specifying the language and regional targeting for each URL, catering to a multilingual and multi-regional audience.

Can HREFLang sitemaps improve international SEO?

Yes, they play a crucial role in international SEO by helping search engines understand and correctly index the language-specific and region-specific versions of your website.

What are the best practices for structuring an HREFLang sitemap?

Best practices include using correct language and region codes, ensuring URLs are fully qualified, and keeping the sitemap updated with any changes in your website’s URL structure.

How do I create an HREFLang sitemap for a multilingual website?

Create an XML sitemap and add ‘hreflang’ attributes to each URL, specifying the language and region code relevant to that page.

Is it necessary to have separate sitemaps for each language version of a website?

No, it’s not necessary. You can include all language versions in a single HREFLang sitemap, with appropriate ‘hreflang’ annotations for each URL.

How do search engines process HREFLang sitemaps?

Search engines use HREFLang sitemaps to crawl and understand the language and regional variations of your website, helping them serve the right version to users based on their location and language preferences.

What common errors should I avoid in HREFLang sitemaps?

Common errors include incorrect language or region codes, broken URLs, and not including a return link for each URL entry.

How often should I update my HREFLang sitemap?

Update your HREFLang sitemap regularly, especially when adding new pages, removing old ones, or when there are changes in the URL structure of your site.

Can HREFLang sitemaps handle dynamic content that changes based on user location?

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.

What’s the impact of an incorrect HREFLang sitemap on a website’s SEO?

An incorrect HREFLang sitemap can lead to search engines displaying the wrong language or regional version of a page, negatively impacting user experience and potentially your site’s SEO performance.

Should I include alternate language URLs in my HREFLang sitemap if they are not yet translated?

You can, but search engines will probably select the most powerful duplicate version and show that in most regions. 

How do I validate the correctness of my HREFLang sitemap?

Use tools like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, Sitebulb Spider, Ahrefs, SEMrush Site Audit Tool, and DeepCrawl has site-wide validators that support HREFLang attributes to check for errors and ensure correctness.

Can I use a single HREFLang sitemap for multiple domains targeting different countries?

Yes, you can include multiple domains in a single HREFLang sitemap, as long as each URL is correctly annotated with the respective language and region code. If you are hosting a HREFlang sitemap on Domain B with links to Domain A, you need to create that sitemap on Domain B and verify and submit it to GSC using Goolge’s  cross-domain sitemap instructions.

What is the maximum size limit for an HREFLang sitemap?

Like standard XML sitemaps, the limit is 50MB uncompressed and 50,000 URLs. If you exceed this, you’ll need to split it into multiple sitemaps.

How does Google handle conflicting information between HREFLang sitemaps and on-page HREFLang tags?

While Google attempts to resolve conflicts between on-page HREFLang tags and those in sitemaps, it’s essential to maintain consistency across both to ensure the best possible interpretation by search engines.

Is it necessary to submit HREFLang sitemaps to search engines manually?

While not strictly necessary, it’s recommended to submit your HREFLang sitemap through tools like Google Search Console for better tracking and error reporting.

Can HREFLang sitemaps be used for country-specific subdirectories?

Yes, HREFLang sitemaps are ideal for websites using country-specific subdirectories. They help search engines understand the intended audience for each subdirectory.

What happens if a URL in my HREFLang sitemap returns a 404 error?

If a URL in your HREFLang sitemap returns a 404 error, it won’t be indexed for the specific language or region, which might lead to all versions missing out on targeted traffic.

Should I include non-canonical URLs in my HREFLang sitemap?

No, only include canonical URLs in your HREFLang sitemap to avoid confusion for search engines.  Avoid including URLs that are canonicalized to other pages.

How do I handle different language variants (like American and British English) in my HREFLang sitemap?

Use specific region codes (e.g., ‘en-US’ for American English and ‘en-GB’ for British English) to differentiate between the variants in your sitemap.

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. See full list of Region/Country Codes.

Can I use relative URLs in my HREFLang sitemap?

No, you should use absolute URLs to ensure clarity for search engines.

What’s the best way to manage HREFLang sitemaps for large, complex websites?

For large websites, it’s best to automate the generation of HREFLang sitemaps and regularly audit them for errors or inconsistencies.  HREFLangbuilder.com is our recommended service for building and managing HREFLang Sitemaps

How do I handle temporary content (like seasonal promotions) in my HREFLang sitemap?

Include these URLs in your HREFLang sitemap while they’re live, and remove or update them once the promotion or season ends.

Is it beneficial to use a sitemap index file for managing multiple HREFLang sitemaps?

Yes, for websites with extensive international coverage, using a sitemap index file can help manage multiple HREFLang sitemaps more efficiently.

How do I handle URL parameters in HREFLang sitemaps for different language versions?

Include URL parameters in your HREFLang sitemap entries if they define unique content, content language or region. 

Can HREFLang sitemaps be used with CDN-hosted websites?

Yes, HREFLang sitemaps work with CDN-hosted websites. Ensure that the CDN configuration doesn’t alter URL structures that are crucial for the correct interpretation of HREFLang annotations.

What is the impact of server response codes on HREFLang sitemap URLs?

Server response codes like 301 (permanent redirect) or 302 (temporary redirect) can impact how search engines interpret HREFLang annotations. It’s crucial to ensure that URLs in your sitemap return a 200 OK status for effective HREFLang implementation.

How do I manage HREFLang annotations for mobile and desktop versions of a site?

If you have separate URLs for mobile and desktop versions, include both in your HREFLang sitemap with appropriate annotations.Your mobile URLs’ HREFLang must point to mobile URLs, and similarly, desktop URL HREFLang must point to desktop URLs, 

Is it possible to automate the generation of HREFLang sitemaps?

Yes, automation is possible and recommended for large websites. You can use server-side scripting to generate and update HREFLang sitemaps dynamically.  But we recommend HREFLangBuilder.com

What’s the role of XML namespaces in HREFLang sitemaps?

XML namespaces are essential in HREFLang sitemaps to define the schema and ensure that search engines correctly interpret the ‘hreflang’ attributes. Always declare the appropriate XML namespace at the beginning of your sitemap.

Can I use wildcard entries in HREFLang sitemaps?

No, wildcard entries are not supported in HREFLang sitemaps. Each URL must be explicitly specified with its corresponding language and region annotation.

How do I handle deprecated languages or regions in my HREFLang sitemap?

Remove or update any deprecated language or region codes from your HREFLang sitemap. Regularly review and update your sitemap to reflect the current language and regional targeting.

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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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