Hreflang tag: what it is and how to use it

The Hreflang tag is an indispensable attribute for multilingual sites, in fact it allows you to communicate in a clear and simple way which nationality and language a particular page is addressed to.

If you have a multilingual site it is essential that you know this HTML attribute and that you use it correctly. It is one of the most complex meta tags of multilingual SEO, but it is possible to make its use easier by relying on specific plugins.

Let's see together what it is and how to best use it for your multilingual site.

Hreflang tag: what it is and how to use it
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What is the Hreflang Tag?

Hreflang is a tags which tells the search engine that a certain web page is intended for a specific audience. By specific audience we mean a target of people who speak a certain language and consequently connect to the website from a specific place.

Hreflang is therefore a HTML attribute used to specify the language and geo-targeting of a web page and helps search engines deliver the correct page version to their users. For example, if an American user types "Apple" on Google, he will obtain the American Apple homepage as a search result, while if an Italian user types the same query, the URL of the homepage translated into Italian by the 'agency.

When and how to use the Hreflang Tag

The Hreflang Tag is an attribute that you first need to use when you have a website in two or more languages. In fact, the attribute is used to be able to communicate to the search engine into which language a particular content has been translated in order to provide it to the correct audience.

Second, the Hreflang Tag should be used to identify different content for visitors from different regions who speak variations of the same language. For example, it serves to indicate a web page in German for visitors from Germany and another web page in Swiss-German for visitors from Switzerland.

Finally, search engines, especially Google, recommend using it in pages that contain user-generated content, such as forums, if the main content is kept in one language and only the model is translated (for example the navigation bar or footer).

To technically use the Hreflang tag, the procedure is simple: just search for the code for the chosen language and fill in the tag. Also, it is important to know that the Hreflang system supports any language code ISO 639–1 composed of two letters. Eg, de is the tag that allows you to identify the German version of a page written in Italian (or another native language of the site).

In case you want to show the user a region-specific version of the page, you can use the hreflang tag in ISO 3166–1 alpha‑2 format. For example, if your site is in English, but you have different versions of the content for the United Kingdom and the United States of America, you could use the tag en-gbwhile in the second case en-us. These two tags communicate to the search engine that those contents are both written in English, but in the first case they are intended for users in the United Kingdom, while in the second case for users in the United States of America.

There are three ways to implement the Hreflang tag code into your website:

  • through i HTML tags, i.e. by adding the appropriate Hreflang tags in your page tag;
  • through the HTTP headers, useful when dealing with PDF documents that don't have HTML code;
  • through the XML sitemaps, more complex method, but more efficient because everything is defined in a single file and it is not necessary to edit multiple HTML documents each time a change is made or a page deleted.

However, the implementation of the tag can be automated by relying on plugins dedicated to translation such as TranslatePress Pro, which in addition to providing the automatic translation function of the site, has advanced packages dedicated to Multilingual SEO which allow you to implement Hreflang tags automatically.

Why it is important to use the Hreflang Tag

The Hreflang attribute is very important for any kind of multilingual website, because it allows search engines to show the most appropriate version of your content to their users. This allows you to improve theexperience using the search engineIn fact, showing content in the right language leads people to avoid returning to the search results page and this reduces the bounce rate and increases the time spent there, thus improving the website's positioning.

The Hreflang Tag is also very useful to avoid forwarding to Google content considered duplicate. For example, if you have a translated page on your website in two versions, one targeting readers in the United Kingdom who speak British English and one aimed at readers in the United States who speak American English, these two pages will be almost identical and Google may see them as duplicate content and will choose to index only one version. Using Hreflang tags helps Google understand that these two pages are related to each other and therefore both need to be indexed to provide the right content to the user.

However, there are some people who have doubts about the power of the Hreflang tag to avoid sending duplicate content to Google, but in reality the latter has clarified that “Localized versions of a page are considered duplicates only if the page's main content remains untranslated”, consequently using this attribute correctly also solves the problem of content duplication.

Obviously, however, it must be taken into consideration that the Hreflang tag is not a definitive indicator, in fact, it is one of the many pieces of information that Google, together with the other search engines, verify by making a comparison with other elements present on the page and text, such as the alphabet used, specific cultural references and all other elements that contribute to the correct localization of a web page.

Finally, the Hreflang tag is very important for improving the Multilingual SEO of your website, in fact the tag allows you to highlight the link between pages translated into different languages and, above all, to target organic traffic more accurately, because Google will show a version of the site in line with the users' geographical location.

Use the Hreflang Tag

In conclusion, the Hreflang Tag is a tag that communicates to the search engine that a specific web page is intended for a specific audience and its implementation will allow you to correctly position your multilingual site in search engines and reach your target audience.

Relying on a dedicated plugin like TranslaPress Pro greatly simplifies the use of this tag, making it almost completely automatic. Contact us to optimize the multilingual SEO of your website and improve positioning.

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