Google’s Take On Simplifying Hreflang Implementation

John Mueller, the search advocate of Google, brings a simplified approach to the audience for implementing hreflang tag attributes. He says that hreflang implementation is not as complicated as people perceive it to be. 

Hreflang remains one of the most confusing segments of technical SEO yet the most crucial for international publishers and businesses. Recently, Muller has outlined a much-simplified approach for the publishers to refer to. 

The Issue

Hreflang, a link attribute, delivers information to Google regarding the language that’s used on a page. With such information in hand, Google delivers a specific version of the page that will be in correspondence with the visitor’s language. 

Suppose there’s no hreflang attribute in place. In that case, Google will serve you a page in any country’s language without prioritizing your language, country, or region. 

Further, the users put up questions regarding the importance and use of hrelang across countries. Users want to know whether or not partial implementation would work. For instance, establishing a hreflang for numerous versions of one website in the same languages, such as Switzerland and Germany. 

The alternative method promotes linking hreflang with all the versions of all the pages. This consumes a considerable amount of time and effort.  

Muller’s take on this is that it’s one of the best solutions you could go for, but it’s not quite practical. Suppose you successfully link every version of all pages with the hreflang. Undoubtedly, it’s a clean approach. However, there’s a considerable amount of effort that goes into maintaining it. It would be almost next to impossible to maintain if the sites run individually.   

The Solution

Mueller recommends first figuring out the area of concern that needs to be addressed. Identify where the problem lies. Is it the search leading to completely opposite versions of the site? If that’s the case, hreflang implementation is not required. 

Muller says: 

“In practice, you can simplify the problem. Where are you? In fact Do you see issues with people coming to the wrong country/language site? This is where you have to apply hreflang sparingly (and of course, the JS country/language/recognizer to catch any direct visits). Much of that will likely be limited to same/different country situations, so Switzerland/Germany in German might be the place to start. Nothing breaks if you setup hreflang for 2 versions and you have 4 unrelated versions.

If these sites are already up and running, I’d check your analytics setup for visits from search, and compare the country they came from against the country they ended up in (choose one, filter traffic from search, and compare domains they end up on). If you don’t find a major mismatch there, you probably don’t need to do much (or anything) for the hreflang. There is no bonus for hreflang, it’s just about showing the most relevant page in a search for users in a particular country/language”.

Secondly, take note of the pages that searchers are arriving at. Google frequently mistakenly serves the searcher with a different version of a site’s home page. Given the fact that the brand name doesn’t reflect the locality it belongs to, Google has no idea which version it should display to the researcher.  

When you come to know that the visitors are getting access to the wrong homepage, partial hreflang implementation would get the job done. Point to be noted: apart from the homepage, other pages should work properly. 

Mueller explains: 

“When checking, focus on the most likely mistakes first: same-language / different-country sites are one, but there’s also homepage traffic. Often times a brand name is not localized, so when people search for it, it’s unclear to search engines what the expectation is. If you find a lot of mismatches on the homepage but not elsewhere on the site, you can also just do hreflang across the home pages (that’s often easier than all pages in a site). Or you could do a combination, of course, all home pages + all German-language pages. Hreflang is on a per-page basis, so the beauty (and curse) is that you can pick & choose.”

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