Hreflang Tag: Basics, Code Examples & Best Practices




Updated 1/30/2024

Learn what hreflang tags are, their SEO benefits, and how to implement them correctly on your multilingual or multinational website.

hreflang tag cover - globe with chat bubbles and plants

The hreflang tag is a piece of HTML code that signals to search engines the language and geographical targeting of a webpage.

It helps search engines understand which language you use on a specific page, serving the correct language or regional URL in search results.

Example Code

Here’s an example of what the hreflang tag looks like:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="" />
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr-ca" href="" />

In this example, there are two versions of the website: US English and Canadian French.

Why is the Tag Important?

The hreflang tag is vital for websites with content in multiple languages or tailored to different regions. It assists search engines in delivering the most appropriate version of your content to users based on their language preference or geographical location. This can significantly enhance user experience and reduce bounce rates.

Also, using hreflang tags can prevent problems associated with duplicate content. Without these tags, search engines might consider the same content in different languages as duplicate content, potentially harming your SEO performance.

How to Add Hreflang Tags

Implementing hreflang tags requires careful attention. Here are the key steps:

1. Identify Your Pages and Versions

Firstly, identify the pages on your site with multiple language or region versions. Make a spreadsheet of these pages and their variations.

2. Choose the Right Language and Region Codes

Next, choose the appropriate language and region codes for each page version. Language codes should follow the ISO 639-1 format, and country codes should follow the ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format. For instance, “en” for English, “fr” for French, “us” for United States, “ca” for Canada.

3. Apply the Hreflang Tag

For each page version, add a link element in the <head> section with the hreflang attribute. This should be done for every language and region variant of the page, including the page itself.

4. Add The Tags Across All Variations

Ensure each language or region variant of a page includes the same set of hreflang tags. This helps search engines understand the full set of variations.

5. Validate Your Implementation

Use tools like Google Search Console or third-party hreflang tag validators to check your implementation. This will help you identify and fix any errors or issues.

Best Practices for Hreflang Tags

Let’s delve deeper into what you should keep in mind when implementing the tags:

  • Page-by-Page Implementation: Hreflang tags should be applied on a page-by-page basis. If you have multiple versions of a single page in different languages or target different regions, each version should have hreflang tags.
  • Self-Referencing Tags: Each language or regional version of a page should include a reference to itself in the hreflang tags. This helps search engines understand the complete set of pages and variations.
  • ‘x-default’ Attribute: If you have a version of a page that isn’t targeting any specific language or region and serves as a catch-all, use the x-default hreflang attribute. This instructs search engines to serve this version to all users whose language and location aren’t specifically targeted by other page versions.
  • Language and Country Codes: Ensure you use the correct language and country codes according to ISO standards. Language codes should follow the ISO 639-1 format, and country codes should follow the ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format.
  • Consistent Link Elements: The link elements within the hreflang annotations should be consistent across all page versions. For instance, if one page uses absolute URLs in the href attribute, all pages should use absolute URLs.
  • Avoid Mixing Formats: Stick with one format for hreflang annotations. If you use HTML link elements in the header for one page, avoid using HTTP headers or sitemap annotations for other pages.
  • Closely-Related Languages and Regions: If you’re targeting closely related languages (like American English and British English) or regions, use hreflang tags. This will help search engines differentiate between the versions and serve the right content to users.
  • Regular Checks and Updates: Regularly check your hreflang implementations to ensure they work as expected. If you add new languages or regions to your site, update the hreflang tags accordingly.

Use these techniques to ensure your hreflang implementation is robust and effective, helping your website reach its intended audience in different languages and regions.

Bottom Line

Correctly implementing hreflang tags is crucial for the SEO of any multilingual or multinational website. While it can be a bit complex, getting it right can significantly improve your site’s performance in international search results, providing a better user experience and enhancing your global reach. ?

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