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Maximizing International SEO presence with Hreflang tags

Maximizing International SEO presence with Hreflang tags

For global brands with multi-regional presence and multi-lingual websites, precise SEO targeting of their customers is a must.

There is nothing more frustrating for a customer than finding what you want but at the wrong locale – for a brand that means missed opportunity.


Problem & Solution

When the same brand has several websites for different markets and languages it’s often the case that one of the websites has an overpowering organic search presence over all other brand sites. For instance, if the .com (English-US website domain) dominates the brand-related search results in all the markets customers tend to finish their customer journey before it even started.

Resulting in negative brand awareness and missed opportunities for the brand. Also, a website with multilingual content is often faced with the problem of having the wrong language or incorrect country pages showing up in the search results. 


This creates a problem for both the user and the brand, and the problems are many. Either the customer realizes the mistake and opts out, or he consumes the content just to realize it has nothing to do with his location. The biggest problem is when the customer is ready to buy the product and is directed to the e-retailer website for a different country, or is unable to make a purchase at all.

As users get frustrated, the brand loses potential revenue and the opportunity to utilize the existing local-market website.

Implementing international SEO with Hreflang tags solves this problem as it optimizes Google organic search results and maximizes and distributes SEO presence across multiple domains and regions. Simply put, by using Hreflang tags we make Google aware that the content on one page is also available in other languages and make it realize the relationship between web pages in alternative languages.


How Does Hreflang Tag Work?

There are various signals Google is considering. The domain name (if it’s country-specific), content language, incoming links to the website, outgoing links, and many more. However, the best way to separate multiple websites by their target audience is to use the Hreflang tag. Although we cannot force Google to rank one website higher than the other for a specific country or language, we can make sure that all our websites are properly tagged with Hreflang tags. By doing that Google’s algorithm will have all the signals it needs to understand the relationship between our websites and their target audiences.

To avoid spamming, Google will consider only cross-referencing Hreflang tags. Meaning if Hreflang has been implemented on website A to link its content to website B, it won’t work if it isn’t implemented on website B also.


The implementation needs to be done on all the pages of all the websites, and it needs to be regularly updated as new pages are added or removed from each website. It is a labor-intensive task, but it is the only way for website owners to reach the intended audience for each website.

SEO benefits of Hreflang:

  • Improves user experience – serving the relevant content to the right audience
  • Increasing domestic traffic from organic search
  • Prevents the problem of duplicate content – Google will understand that the same content is optimized for different audiences
  • Lowers bounce rates and improves engagement

CMGC Hreflang Implementation Case Study

One of our global brand clients had many organic impressions and clicks for the LATAM websites coming from Spain. To tackle this problem, we decided to implement Hreflang tags across all brand’s websites.

The result was a success. After Hreflang implementation, the number of impressions and clicks from Spain decreased.


Impressions:

Graphical user interface, chart, line chartDescription automatically generated
Source: Google Search Console

Clicks:

Source: Google Search Console

At the same time, the number of impressions for LATAM websites coming from LATAM countries increased by 155% over the last 6 months in comparison to the previous period. The number of clicks increased by 79k, and CTR increased by 62%.

Mexico:

Source: Google Search Console

Argentina:

Source: Google Search Console


After the implementation, the number of organic users from LATAM countries increased by 55% and user behavior improved.

Source: Google Analytics

How Do We Do It?

For the successful and efficient implementation of Hreflang tags we devised a process consisting a couple of steps:

1. Conducting a URL audit – all URLs should be indexable with 200 status code and should contain self-referencing canonicals

2. Fixing all URL issues from the URL audit – broken links, incorrect canonical tags implementation, wrong 301 redirections

3. URL mapping - mapping of all pages from one website to equivalent pages on another, alternate website. This is a grueling and time-consuming task that can take several weeks to complete, and unfortunately cannot be automated in most cases.


Example of Hreflang mapping sheet

4. Sitemap.xml creation – creating sitemaps for each website containing hreflang tags indicating the different language/country pages equivalents

Example of XML Sitemap with Hreflang tags

5. Uploading sitemaps on all websites

6. Verification scan and submitting the sitemaps to Google Search Console

7. Maintenance (Hreflang mapping and XML sitemaps updates) – based on the website’s updates – adding, changing, or removing URLs

Connect Your Markets by Keeping Them Individual

You want your audience to have the best customer experience journey you can offer. To do that, avoiding multi-market and multi-lingual misconnections is a crucial step. Hreflang tag implementation can sort that out and make your brand stand out from the others. Hreflang setup is a challenging process. It is not a one-time job, but an ongoing process that requires maintenance based on changes within the brand’s websites. 

Keeping brands truly global means focusing on different locales and tending to their needs. If you need SEO masters with extensive experience, you’re at the right address.