How to Target Languages and Regions With The Hreflang Tag

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Using the Hreflang Tag

If you’re looking to grow traffic to your website, you’ve likely thought about tapping into brand-new audiences. For businesses planning to expand internationally, hreflang tags can simplify the process of accessing new visitors.

Perhaps you’ve considered hiring a translator, so your website will be available in different languages. Alternatively, you’ve been working to include location-specific keywords targeting a region you’d like to expand into.

If you’ve been thinking along these lines, it’s important to know that you’ll need to also take the step of incorporating hreflang tags into the relevant pages on your site. Otherwise, you could end up actually being penalized by search engines because they might perceive your specially tailored content as duplicate pages.

When you want to expand your business by attracting individuals that speak different languages, live in different geographic regions, or both, you’re going to want to use hreflang HTML attribute tags. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about them and how you can use them to target languages and regions.

What Is the Hreflang Tag?

Hreflang tags provide search engines with information about your site and content by displaying country and language codes for each piece of content. This HTML language code or attribute helps search engines understand the region or language that your content targets.

Hreflang Tag Examples

Using hreflang tags, you can attract new audiences from different countries or new audiences in the same country. This is the way you can reach out and find new visitors without negatively impacting the overall user experience or costing you domain authority.

Why Bother With Hreflang Tags?

When you use hreflang tags, it helps search engines understand that they aren’t looking at duplicate content but content that has been customized for a specific audience. On top of that, it communicates to search engines which pages different audiences should be shown when searching for relevant search terms.

Users Making a Search

For example, let’s say you have a website written in English, but the content is very specific to the United States. You might want to expand your audience beyond the US and appeal to English-speaking people in other countries. To do this, you can use hreflang tags in order to make it clear which content is written for which audience.

Beyond that, maybe you want to translate your site into different languages where you have a waiting audience. Hreflang tags can help you with this, too, as they let the search engines know which audience a specific piece of content is intended for.

When Should You Use Hreflang Tags?

Hreflang tags can be used when you want to offer specific content that is tailored to groups of people that speak a certain language or live in a certain geographic region. You might only have a few pages on your site translated into another language, for example, or you might translate your site into an entirely different language.

Translating Website Pages

Using hreflang tags doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re translating your site into a different language, though– you might use them in order to access English-speaking individuals in other countries. Similarly, you might offer different content for English-speaking people in the US than in the UK, altering currencies and other slight language differences.

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Understanding International SEO

If you’re looking to make your site appealing to a number of different regional markets around the world, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the world of international SEO. Essentially, there is an additional layer of information that you are adding to your site when you engage in international SEO.

Understanding International SEO

When you add this additional information, search engines like Google and Yahoo are able to understand which content is most relevant for specific searchers.

What Are the Benefits of Using Hreflang Tags?

There are a number of ways that your site can benefit from hreflang tags.

The first is that it can help to boost your organic SEO. This is because adding these tags can help increase your rankings, decrease your bounce rates, and improve your conversion and click-through rates. When you’re targeting the right people, you’ll find that your stats become much more favorable.

The second is that it can help to protect you from being penalized by search engines. Without hreflang tags, it’s possible that Google will see your tailored content as duplicate content.

Developer Using Hreflang Tags

Finally, readers outside your region will have an improved user experience. If you know that there is a waiting audience outside of your native language or in a different country for your site, adding hreflang tags can help these people find you more easily. Beyond that, the content will be increasingly relevant to them because you have structured the pieces to fit within the needs of the demographic.

The more a reader feels that the content they are engaging with speaks to them, the longer they’ll spend on your site and the more pages they’ll visit. This can help to reduce your bounce rate, which is one of Google’s ranking factors.

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How to Target Languages and Regions With the Hreflang Tag

Now that we have a clear understanding of hreflang tags and how they can be used, let’s look at the steps you need to take to successfully implement hreflang tags on your site.

Do a Site Audit

The first step is to audit your site so that you can get a clear sense of which pages have already been translated or altered for different regions or languages. You can then take a look at your analytics to identify which audiences are most likely to visit your site. This can help you determine which changes would be most beneficial to your traffic and overall goals.

Performing a Site Audit

Running a site audit will allow you to decide what work your site needs to expand your audience. You might find that you only need to change a few pages or decide to translate the entire site into a different language. Either way, it’s important not to skip this step to ensure that your time and resources are focused in the right direction.

Choose the Right Codes

In order to create your tags, you’ll need to choose the appropriate language and country codes. It’s worth noting that not all of the codes are as intuitive as you might expect– for example, “gb” is the code for the UK rather than “uk.” For this reason, you’ll want to verify your codes before you go through the trouble of pasting them all over your site.

Verifying Country Codes

Google supports the ISO 639-1 format for language codes. If you also want to signal specific regions to target, you can use ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2.

It’s often good practice to include just a language code in addition to country codes. This can ensure that people that speak the language you’re targeting can find your content even if they aren’t located in the country you’re specifically targeting.

Placing the Hreflang Attribute

You can place the hreflang attribute on the HTTP header, the on-page markup, or the sitemap. While any of these locations is fine, you’ll want to make sure you only place it in one of these spots.

Each page can have multiple hreflang tags if you are looking to target more than one area or country.

Placing the Hreflang Attribute

Here’s an example of the standard format for a hreflang tag:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”es-es” />

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Testing Your Hreflang Tags

Once you’ve added hreflang tags to your content pages, you’ll want to make sure that they are performing as intended. Luckily, there are a number of different tools you can use to test out your hreflang tags.

Testing Hreflang Tags

The first place you’ll want to go is your Google Search Console. Once all of the pages have been submitted for crawl or crawled, you’ll be able to find out if there are any missing tags or errors. If you feel that you need more information than that provided by Google Search Console, you can use many third-party tools to troubleshoot any hreflang-related issues. Some popular tools include hreflang generator tools, XML sitemap tools for hreflang tags, and tag checkers.

Hreflang Best Practices, Mistakes to Avoid, and Additional Tips

One thing that’s worth noting about hreflang tags is that they aren’t a directive. While they can help to influence the decision made by a search engine regarding which version of your page is most relevant to a searcher, that doesn’t mean that Google or other search engines will show specific audiences the version that you think is best.

The reason for this is that there are many other SEO factors that a search engine might take into consideration. These include your site’s mobile friendliness, website load time, and domain authority. Beyond that, the search settings of each individual user will also have an impact on what sites they are directed to.

However, if your web page matches the searcher’s intent and you follow SEO best practices, you should find that Google will understand when your page is relevant to a searcher’s query.

It’s also essential to understand that you can only use one of the three methods of hreflang implementation on your website. You should choose whichever method you feel suits you best and stick with it.

Developer Implementing Hreflang Tags

One mistake that people commonly make is that they only use the hreflang tag on their homepage. Instead, you need to implement these tags on all of the pages that have regional or language variants.

It’s also important to resist the temptation to add hreflang tags when you haven’t actually customized the pages to suit that particular audience. You’ll likely end up with a higher bounce rate because your users won’t find the page relevant to them, which can have a negative impact on your rankings. You’ll also want to be aware of language variations between regions– English speakers in the UK and Canada, for example, will likely need their content slightly tweaked to suit each demographic.

Finally, you’ll also need to ensure that you keep your hreflang tags current. The last thing you want is for your hreflang tags to point to incorrect or missing URLs, as this can damage the user experience and ding your rankings.

Hreflang and Canonical Tags: What’s the Difference?

Canonical tags are tags you can use to tell Google which web pages you want to prioritize in search engine results. You might find yourself using this technique if you have a number of different pages on your site that have similar or the same content. This is essential for avoiding issues with duplicate content.

Hreflang tags, on the other hand, tell Google which version of your page people should see depending on their language and region.

Hreflang and Canonical Tags

You can implement both canonical and hreflang tags together. To do this properly, you’ll want to use one canonical tag that identifies the version of the page that is canonical in the same language and as many hreflang attributes as are necessary.

Are You Ready For More Site Traffic?

There are a lot of different SEO techniques that can be used to help drive more traffic to your site. If you’re interested in expanding your business beyond its current language or geographic borders, using hreflang tags is an essential step.

Team Using SEO Best Practices

No matter what your goals are for your website, Blue Pig Media is here to help. Offering a full suite of digital marketing services, we can design and develop your site, launch PPC and social media marketing campaigns, create a content strategy, and help you grow and expand your market with SEO techniques.

Does that all sound good to you? If so, contact us today to get started.

Do you have any questions? If so, be sure to let us know! We’ll gladly help you out however we can.

David Curtis
David Curtis
David Curtis is the founder and CEO of Blue Pig Media. With twenty years of successful execution in sales, marketing and operations, for both clients and vendors, he has a bottom line ROI driven mentality rooted in metrics driven performance across highly competitive global corporate initiatives.

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