Hreflang: How to Use Google to Drive Site Traffic

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hreflang
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Edgy Labs explains what hreflang is and why it’s vital to growing your business–large or small.

It might sound complicated, but controlling hreflang is part of any well-planned international SEO strategy.

What is hreflang?

Hreflang (hrefl for even shorter) is a special web page attribute introduced by Google in 2011 to increase your site’s global visibility. It can be used to show Google which type of language you are using on a specific web page.

As you expand your business, it’s critical that you also expand your online presence in diverse new markets. That means you’ll need to use different language to target different consumers.

Without using hrefl to do this, you run the risk of losing conversions and increasing your bounce rates.

Surprisingly, in a recent study of more than 20,000 websites, SEMrush found that 75% of websites have “at least one hreflang implementation mistake.

Search Engine Journal also confirmed that “the average multilingual website has around seven language versions” all of which had one or more hrefl mistakes.

What are the biggest hreflang implementation mistakes?

Every developer knows it’s easy to make errors.

Here are the top 5 Worst Hreflang Mistakes we see:

1. Hreflangs Missing Altogether

Between growing your business, generating content, and designing your site, it’s very easy to forget to include hreflang tags on every single page of your site. This is especially true for multilingual sites!

However, as the old adage goes: “Measure twice–cut once”. If you’re not sure of your hreflang tag status–and you haven’t yet decided to use our Edgy Labs SEO Servicesyou’ll have to double check your site by hand.

2. Wrong Hrefl Values

According to SEMrush, “Issues with hreflang values appear on 15% of multilingual websites”. Thankfully the fixes for these incorrect values are simple.

First: Verify that you’re using the ISO 639-1 format for the language code and ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format for the country code.

If you get an unknown language code error:

Verify your hreflang language attribute is in ISO 639-1 format. For example, we might normally abbreviate Traditional Chinese as “cn”. In hreflang, this language is actually represented with “zh-Hant”. To prevent errors, always verify your shorthand with Google.

If you get an unknown country code error:

Like hrefl language attributes, the shorthand codes we normally use for countries often don’t work in hrefl.  Be sure to verify Google understands your shorthand.

A few important things to remember:

  • You must always include a language code when using a country code.
  • Underscores are not valid in hrefl (use hyphens instead).
  • A language code must always come before a country code.

3. Wrong Hrefl Language Code

Like hrefl values, hreflang language codes are very easy to confuse. Again, always double-check that Googlebot understands your shorthand.

During SEMrush’s study, they found that in 21% of all websites language values were different from the detected page language (at least on one page).

4. Hrefl Conflicts with Page Source Code

“58% multilingual websites have hreflang conflicts within a page source code,” Search Engine Journal explains, “They are difficult to detect manually because to identify them the entire page code should be examined, not just a single line of code or hreflang value”.

In this section, we’ve created a checklist for revising your page source code:

Do you have self-referencing hrefl tags?

This is the most common issue in this section. We found out that if a website has a conflict within a page source code, in 96% of cases, the page doesn’t contain a self-referencing hreflang in its set of hreflang attributes. That means that those attributes may be ignored or interpreted incorrectly.

To fix this, make sure to include the page’s URL and language code in your set of hreflang attributes.

Are your hrefl and rel=canonical tags matching?

When using canonical tags on a web page along with hreflang attributes, you should make sure to specify a self-referential canonical tag.

Is a single URL specified for each hrefl value?

If more than one URL is specified for the same language and country, Googlebot will ignore all of them because there is no clear message about which page should be indexed for this language version.

To fix this mistake, remove all conflicting hreflang URLs and make sure that you only have one URL specified for a particular language and country in your hrefl attribute.

5. Wrong Hrefl Link Index

The most difficult mistake to fix is incorrect hrefl links. Sadly, “37% of multilingual websites have issues with incorrect hreflang links,” says SEMRush.

Googlebot, smart as it is, must be shown how to index all of your site pages. If the hreflang is attributed incorrectly, Google may redirect your page to another site or may assume your page that doesn’t exist (4xx HTTP status code) at all.

Preventing hreflang link index errors requires that you always stay on top of your game. To do that, we’ve come up with two basic rules:

Check for broken or redirecting hrefl links regularly

This might mean pouring through page source code, but if your hrefl link points to a URL that returns a HTTP status code, Google will ignore it altogether.

Don’t use relative links

Relative URLs can confuse crawlers and affect their ability to index your site.

Avoid the risk and give Googlebot a standard path.

How can I make sure my hrefl is working for me?

Whether you’re part of a large corporation or have finally decided to start your own business–Edgy Labs can be a go to resource.

Search engines update their algorithms hundreds of times a year. Thanks to our proprietary technology we are among the first to know how to adapt to and take advantage of each change effectively.

Together, we can grow your business and offer you the exposure your great ideas deserve.

What’s your hrefl strategy? Are there other common mistakes you see in hrefl use?

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