Increasingly we’ve been looking at SEO from an international perspective. We have looked at implementing the hreflang attribute on a regular basis and we have uncovered some of the most common errors.
I don’t want to suggest for a second that implementing hreflang correctly is the definition of international SEO, however using a strong domains authority to break into a new international market can be a great place to start.
Take a website like our own for example – if we were to translate the content into a variety of languages; adapt everything to target customers from the desired country – without adding the international mark-up, just putting the new pages in a subfolder – they might rank.
However, search engines may have trouble interpreting where it was supposed to rank and most likely would rank it for queries in a different language within the UK. Adding hreflang to a site is ‘informing’ Google that the site is offering content for queries in a specific language, tailored for a specific region of the world. Since you are doing all the hard work for the search engine the content will rank considerably faster and better.
Hreflangs in action
Here at Branded3, having the opportunity to work with a wide array of clients, we have come across multiple scenarios such as these. One US client in the technology industry had implemented hreflang a while back in order to help their UK domain rank, to no avail. These were implemented in an XML sitemap. The tag, however, had simple but fatal mistake: the country code was set to UK rather than GB.
Setting this right ensured a rapid rise for a UK domain that had existed for years with no visibility what so ever.
The graphs show that when previously US pages would have appeared in the SEPRs, the UK page was now brought up instead. Although this is a relatively small scale operation it can be seen that the traffic is definitely being diverted to the correct page for the given audience.
For a different client, on a slightly larger scale, and in a completely different industry, we can see the same effect again. Hreflang where implemented in an XML sitemap from a well renowned English dancewear brand and pointed ted to a French TLD.
Again taking advantage of the well-established brand’s Domain Authority has amazing effects:
Organic visibility sky rocketing thanks to the implementation of a hreflang XML sitemap is also demonstrated in Analytics:
The domain had just been launched, so this shows that the authority of a brand’s parent domain can be passed on instantaneously. These first two examples were both done with XML sitemaps across differing country TLDs (i.e., .com; .co.uk; .fr).
Implementing hreflang in the header code
The next example shows that even when hreflang is implemented as a link element in the header code this can also work on a single TLD with country subdirectories.
Admittedly this is not as vast an improvement, but this was implemented as “EN-FR” meaning that it should only rank for English search queries in France something that there isn’t that much of, however the clear benefit of this kind of international mark-up is obvious.
Although this is more notable on large domains, usually companies will implement this sort of thing before they get to that size and therefore the second example is probably the most impressive. A brand new domain getting such an advantage due to the authority of a parent company.
Lastly; although the implementation of hreflang is an incredibly successful way to launch an international site and break into a new market, the correct implantation of hreflang is only the beginning when it comes to international SEO.