How To Use rel=alternate hreflang For International SEO
10 January 2013, Jonathan Saipe
If you’re serving web content or web pages to different countries, it’s critical to get your local SEO right. As the mantra goes – Think Global Act Local.
Aside from local SEO issues, having similar content on multiple pages targeting different regions, might be considered duplicate content.
So, to avoid any similar content issues and to address local SEO best practices, it’s important to follow Google’s guidelines.
I’ve run many SEO courses with brands who have made the leap of producing regional, sometimes multilingual content, but have missed SEO opportunities by not deploying the rel=alternate hreflang annotation.
Whether you are targeting users around the world using the same language, or translated content, the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” annotation will help Google deliver the correct language or regional URLs to people searching for specific content on local search engines.
Here are some examples of where you should consider using it:
- All of your web pages are all in one language and you have similar content targeting different regions. For example, your content is English, but you are targeting audiences in the UK, US and Australia.
- Your website content is 100% translated. E.g. you have English, French and German versions of each page.
- Part of your page is translated e.g. the footer or header, but the main content is in one language.
Using the rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” annotation is pretty straightforward.
If your standard English language website is at http://www.mysite.com and your French alternative is at http://fr.mysite.com, there are 3 ways you can inform Google of the French content you are targeting:
- In the HTML <head> section of http://www.mysite.com/, add a link element pointing to the French equivalent of your web page http://fr.mysite.com/, e.g.:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”http://fr.mysite.com/” />
- If you publish non-HTML files such as PDF files, you can use an HTTP header to indicate an alternative language version as follows:
<http://fr.mysite.com/>; rel=”alternate”; hreflang=”fr”
- Or, you can submit language version information in a sitemap
If you’re serving multiple languages (across multiple web pages), every unique language page must identify itself as well as the other language pages.
E.g. if you are producing French, Spanish and English versions you should include a rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” link for the page itself as well as the other language versions.
This can also apply to pages that contain the same language content, but target different regions, the most likely example being English content targeting English speaking countries such as Ireland (en-ie) and Australia (en-au).
- English language content with no specific regional targeting:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en” href=”http://www.mysite.com/page.html” />
- English language content targeting Ireland:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-ie” href=”http://en-ie.mysite.com/page.html” />
- English language content targeting Australia:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”en-au” href=”http://en-au.mysite.com/page.html” />
- French language content with no specific regional targeting:
<link rel=”alternate” hreflang=”fr” href=”http://fr.mysite.com/page.html” />
The values used in the hreflang attribute follow the ISO 639-1 format for language and the ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format for region, for example:
en-GB: English content, for GB users
fr: French content, independent of region
de-ES: German content, for users in Spain