Hreflang Setup | Lesson 25/34 | SEMrush Academy

Learn how to help search engines easily identify your target countries and the languages you use for business.
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0:29 Implementing hreflang tags
0:58 Have language specific versions
2:50 XML sitemap
4:12 X-default

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When your website starts to receive significant traffic from Google`s foreign sites and you have the capability of serving these international countries, it’s time to implement an international version of your site and develop your international SEO strategy further.

We have already talked about domains, subdomains and subfolders. In addition to these, implementing hreflang tags would be the next logical step, and they can really help a lot. Hreflang tags tell Google which version of the website should be shown in which country. It ensures that the correct language version of the site is shown to the right user in the correct country. Essentially, it is a way to create a better user experience.

The simplest approach is to have language-specific versions. You have one website for all German-speaking people, one website for all English-speaking people and you might have another one for people who speak French.

However, we all understand that German in Germany can differ from German in Switzerland, the same is true for English in the States versus English in the UK, so you’ll most likely end up combining regional and language-specific directories with each other.

For example you can set an hreflang tag that reflects one URL that is available for French in Belgium and another for French in France.

The simplest approach to implementation is to think about another group of HTML tags. You have to connect a set of URLs with each other. For simplicity let’s choose English, German and French. On all of these URLs, you will be adding three lines of the same code to their HTML. , then the hreflang attribute with it’s value being de for Germany, en for English and fr for French respectively. Href is the location of the language versions‘ URL.

Once this is done, Google needs to recrawl all three URLs to see if the tag is actually present. In the interim Google can report errors in Search Console saying that there is a circular reference missing or that something is broken. Don‘t worry about it too much if you work with large-scale sites. It can take a long time before Google figures out that all tags are present on each and every URL.

You should also be aware that it is not just possible to specify hreflang in HTML; it can also be done more globally and at scale. Personally, I would prefer to create a dedicated XML sitemap, not only to feed URLs to Google, but also to have one centralised location and tool that is going to maintain and manage hreflangs on a global scale. It is especially helpful when you deal with large scale sites. If you have 20, 50 or even 100 different pairs of language-region combinations to manage and maintain, it will massively bloat up the source code, slow down the site and will make it really unmanageable. So when the setup is getting more complex, I strongly vote for a XML sitemap. Very often in large organisations this can be maintained more easily as it is one project, one job, fewer stakeholders, etc. – and you do not have to talk to different regions, different teams and different managers of the CMS system. XML sitemaps are a good way to control and manage hreflang setups.

You can also deploy hreflang using x-robots headers. Basically, you can do the same with the header as you would in HTML with your hreflang tags. This could be a feasible solution for PDFs, for example, where you can’t deploy any HTML hreflang.

There is also a special directive called x-default. If you are looking for a catch all fallback solution regarding languages, this could help. Say you are serving Spain and Italy, so you’ve set up two hreflangs for those. Now let’s further assume you have an English site which you’d want everyone else to end up on – so serving English as fallback. In this case, the x-default would be very useful.

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