Hreflangs. This is one of the most complicated areas of SEO for many non-SEOs.
You may be frustrated by it because, well, as complicated as it is, it’s only a signal, not a directive.
Nevertheless, it’s a very strong signal.
And if you have an international website you should have hreflang tags implemented.
I’ve come across sites that have the implementation terribly wrong, which pains me to see because, done incorrectly, hreflangs sends mixed signals to Google.
So, let’s cover a few things off and demystify hreflangs – specifically for international websites.
Firstly, hreflangs considers two things: the language you wish to target, and the country (or locale) you wish to target.
Notice I use the word target. This is key. I’ll get into this in a moment.
When you have a website, like Apple, for example, that has country folders in the URL, you want the appropriate country URL to appear in the appropriate country where the search takes place.
In other words, if you have a UK folder, an AU folder and a SG folder, each with the same content, just for the different locales, you want the correct country to be shown on search engines.
When someone in the UK searches for something on Google, you want the UK folder to show.
When someone in AU searches for something, you want the AU folder to show.
When someone in SG searches for something, you want the SG folder to show.
This is the solution that hreflangs provides.
The tags signal to Google which country should be shown in the SERPs, and also the language version of the site that should be shown.
So, with the above example, for AU, the tag signals to Google AU that the AU site should be shown, and the site is in English.
When the tag is implemented, both the country and language should be attributed.
Let’s extend this example set.
Let’s say you also have a CH folder, that targets English, French, German and Italian.
All four languages for this country will need to be attributed in the hreflang tags.
When someone in CH searches for something in French, you want the French version of your CH site to be shown, not any of the other 3 versions.
When someone searches for something in German, you want the German version of your site to be shown.
It’s no good having the incorrect country site, and/or the incorrect language, shown in the SERPs when someone searches for something.
This will affect your click-thru rate, not to mention your business.
If you’re in the UK, imagine searching for ‘shoes’ on Google, and seeing an Arabic site in the SERPs.
Would you click on it?
Most likely not, right? It wouldn’t be appropriate for you. It wouldn’t be a site that’s targeted for you.
Targeting is important.
You cannot market your product, your service, your subscription to everyone on Earth.
There are people interested in what you have to offer.
Your job as a Digital Marketer is to reach them. This is where targeting comes in.
Targeting allows you to appropriate your product, your service in order to communicate to the audience that you seek.
Your website, no matter how global it is, cannot accommodate everyone on Earth.
It’s designed with targeting in mind, i.e. it’s designed for the audience you wish to acquire, in mind.
Yes, you could aim to target a Malaysian speaker, living in the UK, with a Malaysian website.
Yes, you could.
However, you’ll be far more successful in your marketing, by targeting an English-speaking person living in the UK, with your website being in English.
The reasoning to this is simple, English is the national language in the UK.
French is the national language in France.
German is the national language in Germany.
But wait, you may say. What about Canada – a dual language speaking country?
What about Switzerland? You have four, five languages over there!
Well, with multilingual countries, you still want to focus on the audience you wish to target.
If you want to target English, French, German and Italian speaking people in CH with your CH site – go for it.
Heck, you could, if you wanted to, target both English and Spanish speaking people with a UK site. Yes, you could.
But this wouldn’t be a very good way of targeting an audience.
This is where I see businesses go wrong.
In an attempt to scale, in an attempt to grow aggressively, they put aside the importance of targeting.
For your UK site, you could have subfolders for every language on Earth.
For your German site, you could also have a subfolder for every language on Earth.
For your French site, the same.
For your Australian site, the same.
For your Swiss site, the same.
What do you end up with?
A cluster mess!
The reality of managing a site with multiple languages is comparable to managing separate websites.
A site with multiple languages is technically multiple websites, just managed under one domain.
So whilst you could target multiple languages for every country, stick to the targeting the national language.
For CH, CA, and others that have dual, or multiple national languages – treat them as the exception.
About 28% of the countries in the world are multilingual.
There are around 195 countries in the world.
If you don’t have a website that caters to every country in the world, you don’t need to account for every single language in the world – as individual pages on one website.
Unless, of course, languages is your business and your site is based on this.
Right, next week, we’ll get into the implementation of heflangs – an area that confuses Developers and Marketers, alike.