Optimize International SEO with Hreflang Tags: Targeting Languages and Regions

September 13, 2023
Hreflang Attributes

Why Are Hreflang Attributes Used?

The hreflang attribute is utilized in HTML to indicate a web page's language and geographic targeting. When you have multiple versions of the same page in different languages, using the hreflang tag can inform search engines such as Google about these variations. This enables search engines to display the appropriate version to their users, ensuring the accuracy and relevance of the search results.

For example, if we search “Lenovo official website” on Google, we will see the following result:

But if we perform the same search in Germany, we will see an extra “de” affixed at the end of the website URL:

Hreflang makes this possible.

But How Are Hreflang Tags Related To SEO?

Hreflangs look like meta tags but it's not that simple. It is one of the most complex aspects of search engine optimization. Hreflang tags are important in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for several reasons:

1. Language and Regional Targeting

Hreflang tags indicate to search engines the language and geographical targeting of a web page. This is particularly relevant for websites that cater to an international audience or have content available in multiple languages. Hreflang tags help search engines understand which version of the page is most relevant to specific users based on their language preferences and location.

2. Content Duplication and Canonicalization

If you have similar or identical content in different languages or regional variations, hreflang tags help prevent content duplication issues. Without hreflang tags, search engines may treat these pages as duplicate content, which can lead to ranking penalties or dilution of search visibility. Hreflang tags guide search engines to index and display the correct version of the content to the appropriate audience.

3. Enhanced User Experience

By implementing hreflang tags, businesses can provide a better user experience for international or multilingual users. Users searching in their preferred language are more likely to find and access content that is relevant to them. This can lead to increased engagement (dwell time), lower bounce rates, and higher conversion rates.

4. Targeted Search Engine Rankings

Hreflang tags help search engines understand the target audience of each version of a web page, allowing for more accurate ranking and visibility in regional search results. This is crucial for businesses targeting specific regions or languages, as it helps improve their chances of appearing in relevant search queries for those specific audiences.

How To Identify A Hreflang?

Hreflang is an HTML attribute used to indicate a web page's language and geographical targeting. It helps search engines understand which versions of a page to serve users based on their language and location. Hreflang tags have a standard format of

rel="alternate" hreflang="language-code"

where language code is a two-letter code indicating the language and optionally a two-letter country code indicating the geographic region.

An example of a hreflang tag for a page in French language and targeting users in Canada would be:


  • link rel=”alternate” indicates that the link in this tag is an alternate version of the original link
  • hreflang=”fr-ca” indicates that the alternate version is directed at Canadians from the original French
  • href=”https:// is the URL of the alternate version

How To Create a Hreflang?

To create a hreflang implementation, follow these steps:

1. Determine the Languages and Regions

Identify the languages and regions you want to target with alternate versions of your web pages. This could include different language variations or regional variations.

2. Create Alternate Versions

Generate the alternate versions of your web pages in the desired languages or regional variations. Ensure that each version has a unique URL.

3. Add Hreflang Tags to the HTML Header

In the HTML header section of each web page, add the hreflang tags using the following syntax:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="language-region" href="URL">

Replace "language-region" with the appropriate language and region code (e.g., "en-us" for English United States) and "URL" with the URL of the corresponding alternate version of the page.

4. Implement Bidirectional Links

For each alternate version of a web page, add a reciprocal hreflang tag pointing back to the original page. This helps search engines understand the connection between the pages. For example:

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="language-region" href="URL">

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="language-region" href="URL-of-original-page">

5. Verify the Hreflang Tags

Validate the correctness of your hreflang tags using tools like Google Search Console or third-party SEO auditing tools. This ensures that the tags are correctly implemented and recognized by search engines.

6. Monitor and Maintain

Regularly monitor your website's performance in different languages and regions. Update and adjust your hreflang tags as needed to align with changes in your website's structure or target audience.

Remember to maintain consistent and accurate hreflang tags across your website to ensure proper language and regional targeting. Hreflang tags can be a powerful tool for international SEO and optimizing the user experience for multilingual audiences.

A company selling a single product needs to cater to customers in the US and UK who prefer to buy in dollars and pounds respectively. To solve this, two versions of the product page are created with identical content but different pricing. Hreflang tags can inform search engines why the two versions exist.

A Final Word: 3 Things To Remember Regarding Hreflang Attributes

Implementing hreflang tags is a relatively straightforward process, and we will go over three ways to do so shortly. However, it is crucial to keep in mind three essential rules regardless of the method you choose.

1. Hreflang Attributes Are Bidirectional

The use of hreflang tags should be understood in pairs. If a page in English has a hreflang tag pointing to the Italian version, then the Italian version must have a hreflang tag pointing back to the English page. This indicates to search engines that both pages are under your control and that they have a mutual relationship. It is like setting a relationship status on Facebook, where both parties have to confirm the relationship. If the hreflang tags are not implemented properly, you may see incorrect pages or titles in search results.

2. Hreflang Attributes Must Be Self-referential

Google requires every page to include a self-referential hreflang tag along with all other language versions. This means that each page should have a hreflang tag that points back to itself and all other language versions. For instance, if an English page and an Italian page want to add a hreflang tag, each page should have both hreflang tags that specify the URL of the alternate version and a self-referencing tag that points back to itself. The Italian page should also have both hreflang tags. This is what we mean:
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="it" href="" />

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="" />

3. X-default Tags May or May Not Be Present In Hreflang Attributes

The hreflang x-default tag is used to display a default or fallback page when there is no appropriate language variant available. It is not mandatory to use this tag, but it is recommended by Google. The tag is written in the following format:

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

FAQs: Why Are Hreflang Attributes Used

1. What is hreflang used for?

The hreflang tag is responsible for indicating the language of the linked webpage. It is only applicable if the href tag is present. It is essential to note that the hreflang tag is only suggestive and not mandatory.

2. What is the difference between href and hreflang?

The href lang indicates to Google the primary URL of the alternative webpage. On the other hand, the hreflang attribute specifies the language and country that the webpage is intended for.

3. What is the hreflang tag for SEO?

Hreflang SEO is an effective way to indicate the relevance of your web pages. By using the hreflang tag, you can inform Google about the specific versions of your pages that are relevant for particular search queries. This tag also determines the ranking of those pages in search results.

REIN Digital is a leading global marketing and advertising firm focused on providing the best services and partnership. Our journey began in 2015 in Gurgaon, and since then we have been believing in putting in every ounce of effort in order to bridge the gap between our client's present and hopeful future. 

Throughout these years, we have collaborated with businesses from India as well as other nationals including Australia & the USA.

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