SEO Tutorial: Geo Targeting with Hreflang Tag

International websites often have similar content for different language groups and countries. The hreflang tag is an HTML tag communicating the language targeting of single pages to Google. This does not only ensure correct indexing but also avoids problems with duplicate content. Duplicate content issues are caused for example if the same content is provided for German speaking users in Germany and Switzerland using different URLs.

Geotargeting languages with Hreflang tag

There are two possibilities to implement the hreflang tag – Google equally supports both options:

  1. In the <head> section of the website
  2. In the sitemap

The example below is based on a website with the following language and country versions:

Hreflang example country and language versions

The website is in English (“/global/en”) and German (“/global/de”). In addition, for the target market Switzerland there is specific content in the subfolders “/ch/en” (English) and “/ch/de” (German). Users who do not speak English or German should see the pages in “/global/en” (default).

1. Implement the hreflang tag in the <head> section of the website

The hreflang tag has to be added within the <head> section on every page of the website. The following example shows the tag for the home page. It is important to keep in mind that it has to be defined for every subpage.

The ISO 639-1 format is supported for the language values and the ISO 31661-1 Alpha format for the country specifications.

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

<link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”de” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=””  hreflang=”en-ch” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”de-ch” />

The value “x-default” defines that this version of the page should be the default version, for users who do not speak any of the defined languages. All German speaking users are meant to use the version “/global/de”, except the ones located in Switzerland: For these users the content is provided as “/ch/de” (German) and “/ch/en” (English).

2. Implement the hreflang tag in the sitemap

Alternatively these specifications can be defined in the sitemap. In this case each URL needs to be listed separately as well. An example sitemap with hreflang information can be found on the Google support pages.

Monitoring the hreflang tag

Once the hreflang tag is implemented, possible errors and problems are displayed in Google Webmaster Tools. They can be found in the section “Search Traffic” – “International Targeting”.

Hreflang errors in Google Webmaster Tools


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