Benefits and Considerations of Using Hreflang Tags in International SEO

If you have an international business with multilingual websites, you might have heard of hreflang tags. But you may not completely understand the significance and benefits of using them for your website.


Hreflang tags are necessary to establish a connection between multiple language versions of your website. They also allow search engines to choose the relevant language version and present that in a user query based on the location.


Before the existence of hreflang tags, businesses were mostly limited to targeting customers in their country. If they wanted to attract potential customers from another nation, they had to develop and host a separate website targeting those customers. It made the entire process of tapping international customers extremely tricky.


Search engines also produced the same result pages for a keyword in the olden days, no matter where the user was located. However, things are quite different now, and a business cannot expect to expand in the international market without targeting local keywords.


For example, if sellers from the United States want to sell products in Hong Kong, they would have to rely on hreflang tags to make their website appear on search engine results in Hong Kong. Of course, they would have to hire an SEO company in Hong Kong if they want their website to rank higher locally.


But at least using hreflang tags, they can make the Cantonese version of their website appear on Google result queries. Bear in mind that people in Hong Kong also use Bing and Baidu for search queries. Hreflang tags work on Google, but they are ineffective for the other two search engines.

SEO Benefits of Hreflang Tags

Google is yet to make an official statement whether hreflang tags are a ranking factor or not. However, international businesses use hreflang tags as an on-page SEO technique because they are helpful in several critical ranking factors for Google and other search engines.


When a business website is available in the local language, it Improves the user experience significantly. That means the local people are likely to spend more time on the website going through the content, products, and services. Availability of a business website in the local language reduces the bounce-off rates and increases the click-through rate (CTR).


Hreflang tags are also helpful to stop Google from considering multiple versions of content in the same language as duplicate. Some business websites publish more than one version of the same content depending on the region.


For example, the Portuguese version of a website intended for Portugal would be different from the one for Brazil. Even if Google considers them to be duplicate content, it will consider one of them as the canonical version as long as the relevant hreflang tags are there.

Considerations While Implementing Hreflang Tags

There are certain things that you must consider before implementing an hreflang tag successfully for your website content. The tags might not work properly if you fail to complete these steps.

Generate a Content Map

Your first step should be to conduct a site audit and map out any efforts you have undertaken to target potential customers from new regions. That includes any existing webpages or content that you have already translated successfully. Once you have done that, you should check your website analytics to understand your visitor locations and the language settings used in their browsers.


That way, you can plan for a better impact from your decisions and changes. You can also decide whether you want all the content from your site to appear in another language or would it be enough to translate some parts of it. It will allow you to focus precisely and avoid wasting your time and resources.

Choose the Correct Language and Country Codes

The next step will be to choose the correct country codes needed to create the hreflang tags. The language codes and country codes for hreflang tags are already established. So make sure you get the right ones and cross-check them. You would think that you could just use the language codes and not bother about the country codes.


But as we mentioned before, languages can have different versions according to the country. Even if you consider the English version of your website, you might have to target different keywords according to the country. For example, if your company sells flip-flops, you will have to mention them as thongs in Australia and jandals in New Zealand.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Make a list of the common pitfalls so that you can avoid them. Here are a few to get you started.

  • Using the wrong language code
  • Using the incorrect country code
  • Trying to use the same code for a large and varied region like the EU
  • Not making the website versions self-referential
  • Forgetting to make the webpages bidirectional
  • Maintaining valid attributes when content is deleted or added


You should also bear in mind that hreflang attributes merely function as a guide for search engines and not a directive. That means using a hreflang tag does not guarantee its success.


And as we mentioned before, hreflang tags work on Google and Yandex but are ineffective for Baidu and Bing. So you might have to take additional measures to make sure that your website appears on these other search engines.


Hreflang tags are the most useful tool to tell search engines like Google which language or region you are trying to target through your website content. It is an effective step to reach international target audiences as well as increase your SEO in other countries. But make sure that you keep the limitations and pitfalls in mind while implementing hreflang tags for your website.

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