Home » HREFLANG tags: Can They Help Your Rankings?

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Should you be using hreflang tags?

What are they, and can they boost your SERP results?

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Hreflang tags (pronounced aitch-ref-lang) are a Google initiative. They were developed in 2011, and intended to advise Google when websites have identical or similar articles aimed at visitors in alternate languages.

It makes sense then, that Google would want us to implement them whenever and wherever appropriate.

hreflang tags to improve SEO
Hreflang tags will help show your website to the right audience. (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

If you write posts or page articles that are directed exclusively towards one audience, eg. en-us for English speakers living in the USA, then you needn’t bother with hreflang at all. This would also apply if your site wasn’t directed at any specific zone, and only written in one language. Search engines are perfectly capable of working out what language your website is written in.

(There’s a bit more information further on in this article dealing with Geographic Targeting using Google Search Console)

However, if your site has articles with similar content written in various languages or  dialects, you should be using these indicators.

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So how can hreflang tags help with rankings?

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Consider this: A resident of the UK does a Google search for Best Website Hosting Service. Google finds 25 pages it considers to be appropriate and useful. Three of these, however, have hreflang tags showing they are written in UK English. Assuming all sites are equally well-written and optimised, which ones do you think are more likely to be shown to the UK visitor?

Good SEO is essential.
SEO Processes.         (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

Hreflang tags aren’t going to guarantee good rankings. All things being equal though, they can’t hurt, and will almost certainly help.

 

In my case, I live and work in Australia, and use .com websites for all my affiliate sites. My hosting service is Wealthy Affiliate‘s SiteRubix, located in the US, and my sites are not targeted at any specific location. My target markets are Australia and the US.

If I write a post that relates mostly to US residents I could also modify the post a little to make it apply to Aussie visitors. If I simply published this post as it was I’d probably be hit (quite rightly) with a duplicate content infringement. I’d also be competing with websites worldwide for a position in the rankings.

The solution, then, is to flag these two similar posts so that Google knows that one is for US visitors and the other for AU visitors. (Some may say this is a bit lazy on my part – creating two posts out of one – but I prefer to think of it as maximising resources, or recycling).

Of course, the posts aren’t identical. They’ll probably be similar enough, though, to infringe the duplicate content guidelines without these tags.

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How to implement and apply hreflang tags.

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There’s a brief video here, that explains where the tags need to go, should you choose to insert them manually.

In the example mentioned earlier, where I write en-us and en-au versions of the same or simlar posts, both posts should have tags.

For example, on my en-au post:
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-au/" hreflang="en-au"/>
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-us/" hreflang="en-us"/>
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-au/" hreflang="en"/> (assuming that the AU is the main post)

Then on the en-us post:
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-au/" hreflang="en-au"/>
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-us/" hreflang="en-us"/>
<link rel="alternate" href="/post-en-au/" hreflang="en"/>

The post title or slug doesn’t have to contain “en-au” or “en-us”, they just need to be slightly different, so that Google can tell them apart.

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For a more detailed explanation, you could visit this page, where Google themselves explain hreflang tags. Be aware though, it’s pretty in-depth, and I personally found it both informative and confusing at the same time.
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The simplest way to implement hreflang tags is with a plugin.

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Using a plugin takes the worry out of applying these tags. Lets face it, we have enough on our hands with writing content and optimising our articles for SEO. The less we have to worry about the better. Also, if you happen to mistype some of the code when entering, your tags won’t work and you could even crash your website!

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So what’s the Best Plugin for hreflang tags?

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The one I prefer to use is simply called HREFLANG Tags. (Now there’s a happy coincidence) There’s a lite version that you can download for free. Assuming you’re using WordPress, just search “add new plugin” for HREFLANG Tags Lite.

After installing, all you need to do is enter a couple of options, fill out the new box that you’ll find inserted at the bottom of your page or post, and you’re set to go. There’s an instructional video included if you need it, but it’s all pretty basic.

They also have a Pro version, with a few extra features, that costs just $9.99 with access for unlimited websites.

HREFLANG Tags Lite was created by DCGWS Internet Solutions. (Click the link for more info)

 


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Geographic Targeting using Google Search Console.

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Geographic Targeting
The World in Your Hands (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

 

If your website is written in one language only, and you therefore don’t need hreflang, you can direct your site towards almost any location or geographic zone using the Geographic Targeting feature of Google Search Console.

 

 

  1. Go to Google Search Console.
  2. Click on the website (property) you want to set geographic target for.
  3. Select Search Traffic (on the left) > International Targeting.
  4. Click on the “Country” tab.
  5. Select the region you want to target, or select “unlisted” if you don’t want to direct your site to any specific zone.
  6. Click “Save.”

Often, you’ll find your site’s geographic target is preset by your url’s hosting service. It pays to check for yourself, as it’s not much use writing content aimed at a European audience, for example, if your site is targeting North America.

Geographic Targeting and hreflang tags are NOT the same thing. Nor are they mutually exclusive. You can have Geo Targeting with or without hreflang tags and vice-versa.

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So there you have my take on hreflang tags and their implementation. I hope you found it informative.

Have you tried setting up hreflang tags on your site?

Have you got something you’d like to add?

Please feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment in the box below.

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Cheers for now,

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Thomas (AKA The BusyBee)

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4 comments

  1. Steve T says:

    Great tips Thomas! I’m currently only writing in US English, but I’m hoping to target the whole planet. This does bring up a few considerations I’ve been ignoring:
    – Google may be ignoring my site if English speakers outside the US are doing the searching, so I should definitely check
    – When I get around to adding affiliate links for amazon UK, or for Australian or Indian businesses, duplicating the post with local links and local English will make perfect sense.
    – While English is the language of business in most of the world, across South America and much of the Caribbean the accepted language is Spanish, so eventually I should consider some Spanish posts to target those markets.

    Thanks again for these helpful tips – they could make a real difference.

    Steve

    • Cheers, Steve.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      While you’re targeting globally, you won’t miss out on Google search results unless your site is targeted at a specific location.
      I’d check with Google Search Console and make sure your site is set to “unlisted” in International Targeting.
      If it is, then your site will be shown in the search results for anyone, anywhere.

      If you do as I’m doing and write different versions of the same or similar posts aimed at specific locations then you’ll definitely be needing HREFLANG tags.

      Thanks again for chiming in.

      Wishing you every success.

      Thomas.

  2. Jim says:

    I was always a bit confused by HREFLANG tags until I read your article. I always thought I really had to have them but, since my website is “en-us” only, I can see, now, that I can quit worrying about them.

    I tried reading Google’s explanations but, it is as you said – their instructions were very detailed but extremely confusing. You made it seem simple! Thanks, for that!

    Plus, I now know that I don’t have to worry about copy/pasting code myself since I tend to paste in the wrong places and cause more harm than good. Nothing like a good plugin to automate the process!

    Thanks,

    Jim

    • Cheers, Jim.
      I’m glad you found this post helpful.
      HREFLANG tags had me confused for a while. I felt I needed them, as I direct my posts to different languages/locations, but had shied away as I’m always a bit hesitant when I’m not sure what I’m dealing with.
      I did the research, and thought that I’d share what I’d learned.
      Yes, I agree, plugins are the way to go!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      Thomas.

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