Can Hreflang Solve All Your Geo-Targeting Issues?
First things first. What the heck is Hreflang tag, otherwise known as the “link rel alternate” tag, anyway? The short answer is: it tells search engines the relation between different language/country versions, so the they can serve result to users searching in that language/country. If you want to dig more into the topic, Moz did quite a comprehensive post about it. However, we are here today not to give you a lecture on Hreflang 101 but to bust one popular myth: “Is it true that Hreflang ultimately solves all geo-targeting issues?” *Spoiler alert* It does not!
Hreflang should be implemented in alignment with other geo-targeting factors, otherwise it will only confuse search engines. Therefore, you need to layout your geo-targeting strategy first.
- Who are you targeting?
- Where is your audience?
- Are you targeting a language group or a geographical group?
- When targeting a geographical group, is your offer really geographically specific?
Once you have clarified these questions, make your geo-signals accordingly. In case of local targeting, your links should be coming from the same area, not some other location. Do you use local offices? Good, include NAP information then. Also, don’t forget to link to a local Google+ listing. However, if you target a language group worldwide, make sure not to present any NAP information, as this will confuse search engines. You see, all these factors depend solely on your digital strategy, so get it sorted out first. Where do you start then? Don’t you worry about it. We’ve got you covered. Kick-start your digital strategy with a custom geo-targeting report.
You must keep in mind that Hreflang serves search engines to better understand geographic targeting of your website, not to replace the targeting.
Here are some Hreflang best practices:
- You are using a generic top level domain (.COM) along with subdirectories. There are not many geo-signals from the website structure itself and Hreflang may help clarify them.
- When you want a different ccTLD (.FR) to rank for locally specific queries (like “accommodation montreal”). Actually, AirBnB nailed this point. Learn from them.
- When you are using multiple gTLD domains (like .COM, .EU, .ORG) with the same or similar content in English. It is the domain not the content that sends out zero geo-signals to search engines, so we need Hreflang tag to properly communicate the targeting.
What will happen if I use Hreflang even though my links are from a different market than I’m targeting or my website is actually in a different language?
Two things can actually happen.
- Nothing in good case scenario. In worst case your website’s location-relevancy can weaken and you will lose existing traffic and will not reach your targeting goal.
- Hreflang’s value will override the other signals, but as other signals are not strong enough, you will probably lose existing traffic and will not reach your targeting goal again.
What’s the worst thing I can do when using Hreflang?
Forget all ‘use the proper ISO code and you’ll be fine’ tips. You can actually mess up your geo SEO pretty bad by using Hreflang incorrectly. Here are a few examples how people messed up their geolocation SEO:
- Setting a geographic target in Search Console to United States and using “en” Hreflang (English language)
- Using “en-cz” Hreflang (English, Czech Republic) and setting up a redirect based on IP location to the cs-cz version even though their browser is set to English.
- Restricting Hreflang by country (e.g. “de-de”, “es-es”, “pl-pl”), even though they target users by language. With language targeting, it’s perfectly fine when a Polish users finds your website when in Russia and vice versa.
Bottom line. Hreflang is not a ranking signal, so implementing it will not increase your website authority or rankings. Hreflang needs to be aligned with other geographic/language signals and your overall digital strategy.
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