How not to be misunderstood: the Hreflang attribute

Picture yourself browsing the web, in search of answers to your all-important questions only to stumble on a website in an unknown language. You could try and force yourself to this hieroglyphic page or, simply close it and move on. I mean, after all, no one wants to be lost in translation, right? This is exactly why the Hreflang attribute is an absolute necessity for websites whose audiences will be worldwide and thus, multilingual. Introduced by Google in 2011, the Hreflang attribute will show the relationship between pages which are in different languages.

Following, is the code with the English – US setting:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”en-us” />

How Does The Hreflang Code Work?

Let’s say you have an English and an Italian version to your website: we can all agree that most people will prefer to land on the english version while people in Italy or typing in Italian will want to be redirected to the Italian version. In order to do so, you can add the hreflang=”it” code so that Google automatically selects the Italian website when it senses the IP is Italian.

The component allows the search engine to understand that the content on the page matches the user’s desired language. These URLs can either be adjusted for a specific language or as aforementioned be in a language but targeted for a specific geographic location. For example, a German website which also operates in Switzerland and Austria could be optimised as such:

  • De-de for IP addresses in Germany
  • De-ch for IP addresses in Switzerland
  • De-at for IP addresses in Austria

However, don’t go overkill with hreflang, a user in Belgium or France wishing to access the specific website should simply be redirected to the original one.

If your website already automatically offers users to choose between a selected language upon arrival on the site, this is called general targeting. In this case, the code you should use will be:

– <link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”x-default />

What Are The Benefits Of Using Hreflang?

Using hreflang guarantees to help you avoid bounce rate as users will be redirected to the relevant website to them. It will increase user experience, engagement as well as boost conversions. One should always remember that communication is indispensable as every successful business should speak the language of their target audience.

Another big positive is it stops the possibility of a duplicate content problem. This problem is caused by a search engine not knowing which page to include or delete from their indices. Duplicate content will also often affect your search rankings, leading to fewer clicks, fewer conversions and so on.

Language Codes

There are five different language codes that will indicate which language the page is going to be in. However, only two are commonly used for day to day websites. There are called:

  • ISO 639-1 Code
  • ISO 639-2 Code

Now, this may seem confusing, but it is actually extremely straightforward. The ISO 639-1 code is a two-letter code used for all major languages across the world. As of October 2015, there were 184 entries registered for the two letter code. ( E.g ‘fr’ for French or ‘de’ for German).

The ISO 639-2 is a 3 letter code that has the same use, but a different meaning. They can cover individual languages; macro languages; a collection of languages; living or extinct languages; dialects; or languages reserved for local use. As of today, it contains 433 entries.

In order to avoid complications, Rich Clicks highly recommends sticking to ISO 639-1 when deciding to use Hreflang.

To Conclude

Although it is important to remember that Hreflang is a signal and not a directive, it gives search engines a clear signal to enable right content for the right user. This, as we all know, is very important for a good SEO optimization. However, be wary as a lot of web pages end up having an invalid Hreflang due to a mistake in the code.

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