When to Use HREFLANG

I’ve been diving deep into international strategy development for my presentation at SearchLove San Diego next week. I had previously spoken on international search at SearchLove Boston in May, and this is an update to that presentation.

I wanted to share something that I am moving from presentation to presentation. Something that I just cannot leave out because it is something I see confused far too often, and that’s the use of HREFLANG, or it’s cousin, the language meta tag.

Do note that Bing still does not support HREFLANG and only uses the language meta tag for identifying translated content.

HREFLANG is for Language Changes

Rule 1: If geo-targeting, content should be developed on a per country basis and may or may not have translated content from that original content.

Content per Country

This rule applies even if you just have one country targeted or universal content (no geo-targeting).

Universal Content

If your international strategy means geo-targeting content, you might not have any need for HREFLANG. Content should be developed for sites or subsites only once. So if you have a US and UK side to your site, the content should be different. You are targeting those countries, so the content needs to change. The language doesn’t change between the countries, but there is some localization (localisation) that needs to be done that includes some wording changes. That is different than translation.

Rule 2: Use HREFLANG between translations, not between country targets.


Note that in the above chart that Spain and France do not have translated content. Those sites or subsites would have no need for HREFLANG.

For universal content that is not geo-targeted in any way would utilize HREFLANG or the Language Meta tag to inform the search engines where the translated content is on the site and what content language is the original. That’s it.

Wait, NO HREFLANG?!?!?!

There is no reason to use HREFLANG when you have geo-targeted content in the same language, the content should be different.

Could you have a UK section to your site that is almost an exact replica of your original English content and just use the EN-GB HREFLANG tag to note that you changed words like “localization” to “localisation” only?

Yes. Yes, you can. But it’s not recommended from a quality standpoint. Why? Watch out for my post coming up on my presentation at SearchLove and the tool I’ll launch along with it.

About Kate Morris

Kate Morris is the Director of Client Strategies with Outspoken Media. She is a well seasoned online marketer with a passion for teaching others. For the last 10+ years she has covered the paid, natural, and social sides of search.