What You Need to Know About Hreflang & X-Default for International SEO

Chase Porter Chase Porter November 5, 2019 Category Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

When executing an international and multilingual site, it’s crucial to take into account how search engines view each country and language on your website. That’s where hreflang tags come in. Hreflang tags indicate which country and language are represented on the page content when you’re including international audiences in your site content. 

Google uses hreflang attributes as an indicator of what country/language page to surface in the search engine based on the specific country and language being searched. The attributes help tailor your content for your user, which may increase the click-through rate of your listing in the search results as well as improve the user experience on the page.

In October of 2013, Google introduced the hreflang=”x-default”.  Hreflang=”x-default” tags allow you to set a default country and language when your website surfaces on Google outside of the language-region specified in the code. However, to understand hreflang=”x-default,” you must first understand hreflang attributes.

What Does an Hreflang Attribute Look Like?

Hreflang code signals to search engines which page should be shown based on the specific country and/or language from which a user is searching. Google introduced hreflang attributes in December of 2011 and helped websites create content that better suited the user’s experience. For example, hreflang can be used to address the slight spelling differences between American and British words like:

  • Favourite (British) & Favorite (American)
  • Theatre (British) & Theater (American)
  • Colour (British) & Color (American)

Hreflang sends a signal to the search engine to surface the page with content that is tailored for that user’s country and language.

Rel=”alternate” Hreflang=”x”  

Hreflang code signals to Google to surface a page based on the language-region of the searcher.

Example: 

The code instructs Google to surface the page with the English language for the British viewer.  

Example:

In the example, the code tells Google that there is different content in the same language (English) for Australia, the United States, and Great Britain.

Another reason to include hreflang attributes would be if the page contains a currency value (the dollar sign in the United States versus the pound sign in Great Britain). Both pages are written in the English language, but it is beneficial and more appropriate for searchers in either country to see their native currency in the content.

How to Use Hreflang=”x-default” on Your Website

The hreflang=”x-default” signals to search engines to surface a default page that does not target any specific location or language. It is typically used on the homepage that uses a language selector. 

Example:

This code allows Google to surface different content for the English language for Australia, United States, and Great Britain while also signaling to search engines that when no other language-location page is suitable, the x-default will be the default page. It can also serve as a default attribute when a homepage is using an Accept-Language header.

Example:

It’s important to note that you can use any version as your x-default. In this example, Australia would be the x-default and will surface Australian-tailored content for searchers outside of what is specified in the code. If none of the other languages are relevant, the Australian content will show up in the search results. 

Is the Use of X-default Optional?

X-default is not an obligation. When you do not set an x-default, you simply leave it up to Google to identify and choose the version of the page it should show in search results. It is also unlikely that your English (U.S.) version of the page would rank in someone’s search in a Spanish country. According to Aleyda Solis, in the opposite scenario when someone searches in another English speaking country—such as New Zeland—Google will likely rank the most popular and authoritative page version if the US and UK page both have similar content. If you choose not to use x-default, it will further limit your ability to rank in other languages if it does not match the country/language you are targeting. 

X-default can also be used on a page-by-page basis. You can leverage x-default on an internal page which tells Google to show an English (U.S) page when searched in a Spanish country; however, you will not rank well due to the irrelevance of the language/content. 

How to Implement the Hreflang

The hreflang attribute can be implemented in the following:

  • HTTP header of each page
  • XML sitemap
  • Header of the HTML code of each page 

Make sure to only use one of these locations at a time. Furthermore, only use hreflang on pages you would like to be indexed. 

Does Hreflang Affect Ranking?

After implementing hreflang and x-default markup, John Mueller of Google has explained that you will not see an effect on ranking, but it is a part of Google’s recommended best practices. The main point would be to better target your international audience and give a better user experience for searchers from different regions or who speak different languages. Targeting your content correctly to international audiences could lead to a higher click-through rate, more goal completions, sales, and ROI.

Here at Path Interactive, that is our bread and butter. Our dedicated, talented SEOs pride themselves on client communication and achieving results. Get in touch—we’re happy to put our experience to work towards your business.

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