Google On How To Simplify Hreflang Implementation

John Mueller, Google’s search advocate, says hreflang implementation doesn’t have to be as complicated as people think.

Hreflang is one of the more confusing aspects of technical SEO and one of the most important for international companies and publishers.

In response to a thread on Reddit, Mueller outlines a simplified approach for publishers.

Hreflang: The problem

Hreflang is a link attribute that tells Google about the language used on a page. This information allows Google to display the version of the page that matches the language a person is searching in.

Without the hreflang attribute, Google may serve pages in a language the searcher doesn’t speak, or pages specific to a country where the searcher doesn’t live.

On the r/TechSEO forum on Reddit, a user seeks advice on using hreflang for sites in multiple countries.

They ask if they could do with a partial implementation of hreflang. For example, they set up hreflang for versions of the site in the same language, such as Germany and Switzerland.

The alternative is to hreflang all versions of all pages, which involves a significant amount of work.

Mueller says that’s the best solution, but not exactly practical:

“In an idea [sic] world, you would hreflang link all versions of all pages. It would be the clean approach, but sometimes it’s just a lot of work, and maintaining it when the sites are run individually is… good luck with that.”

While linking each page with hreflang is the ideal solution, Mueller says it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Hreflang: The solution

First, Mueller suggests figuring out what needs fixing.

Identify if there is a problem when searchers land on the wrong site version.

If not, you may not need to implement hreflang.

Mueller explains:

“In practice, you can simplify the problem. where are you doing actually Do you see issues related to people going to the wrong country/language website? Here you should at least implement hreflang (and of course a JS country/language detector/popupler to intercept direct visits). Probably a lot of this will be limited to same language/different country situations, so Switzerland/Germany in German might be the right place to start. Nothing breaks if you set up hreflang for 2 versions and have 4 independent versions.

If you’re already running these sites, I would check your analytics setup for search traffic and compare the country they’re from versus the country they land in (select a country, filter for search traffic and compare the domains they land on). If you don’t find a huge discrepancy there, you most likely don’t need to do much (or anything) for hreflang. There’s no bonus for hreflang, it’s just about showing the best matching page in search for users in a specific country/language.”

Next, look at which pages searchers are landing on. One of the most likely mistakes Google can make is serving the wrong version of a website’s home page.

Because brand names aren’t localized, Google doesn’t always know which version of a home page to serve if that’s all a user types into the search box.

If you find that searchers are landing on the wrong home page, but there are no issues with other pages, you can get by with a partial hreflang implementation.

Mueller explains:

“When checking, focus on the most likely errors first: sites in the same language/different countries are one, but there is also homepage traffic. Oftentimes, a brand name isn’t localized, making it unclear to search engines what the expectations are when searching for it. If you find many discrepancies on the home page but not elsewhere on the site, you can also just hreflang across the home pages (this is often easier than all pages in a site). Or you could do a combination, of course all homepages + all German language pages. Hreflang is page by page, so the beauty (and curse) is that you get to pick and choose.”

Finally, Mueller reiterates that it’s possible to save a lot of time with hreflang by checking if there’s a real problem.

Google can serve the correct versions of pages all by itself, in which case you gain nothing by adding hreflang.

“In any case, before you go out and work on it for a year, first verify that it is indeed a problem and, if so, check where the problem is. Maybe there are super simple solutions (maybe you just need a country/language popup and don’t even need the rest?) and you can spend your time elsewhere.”

Think of hreflang as a tool you can use when you need it. You can prioritize other tasks when not required.

source: Reddit

Featured image: patpitchaya/Shutterstock

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