If you represent a multinational organisation, you might want to offer your website in some or all of the different languages your customers use, and it’s important to have an international SEO strategy to support this.

There are several different reasons why you might have a multilingual website, including:

  • Multinational brands with a presence in multiple countries.
  • Brands with a presence in bilingual countries (e.g. English and French in Canada).
  • Including major languages (e.g. Spanish, Mandarin, Urdu) for wider reach.

Visitors to your website should not have to arrive in English and only then be able to select their preferred language; wherever possible, information that is relevant to them should appear in their language in the search results.

But when you have two or more languages side by side on the same website, international SEO strategies are about keeping things organised, as well as about improving your search performance in the usual ways.

What is Hreflang?

Hreflang is a metadata tag that you can use to tell the search engines — and especially Google — the country and language that your page is intended.

This is potentially a very powerful meta tag to use, as in some minor languages there will be far less competition for audience share than in English; it also vastly increases the relevance of your page when it appears in results for people from that country or language.

By including this data, you can improve your page relevance, gain a greater number of clickthroughs from visitors who are likely to feel much more engaged with your content, and ultimately reap the benefits of better user experience in sales and revenues.

You can read up about Hreflang in greater detail in this previous SALT.agency article.

What is X-Default?

X-Default is an attribute of Hreflang that allows you to set a default country and language for your website.

It’s been supported by Google since October 2013, yet is still relatively rarely used, but it serves as a fallback for when a suitable international version of the website cannot be found for the location the user is searching from.

How to implement Hreflang

There are several ways to implement Hreflang. One of the easiest is to include a metadata tag in the header of each page:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com/en-gb” hreflang=”en-gb” />

You can include this tag several times for each of the different language versions that are available for the page.

These Hreflang tags then indicate to search engines which international website version should be served to which geolocation.

For example, if you have a French version of your website and this is declared in Hreflang; then users searching from France will see the French version in the search engine results rather than a different language.

How to implement X-Default

You’re not obliged to use X-Default but it gives you control over the language that should be shown to visitors whose own hreflang does not match any of your options.

The format is very similar to that already shown above:

<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://www.example.com/” hreflang=”x-default” />

You can use any version of your page in the href attribute. So for example, you might be based in the UK with a primarily English-language website, but have a growing number of customers in South America, so decide to use Spanish as your X-Default language.

Other uses for Hreflang

Hreflang can be used to distinguish between any two or more languages that have their own unique ISO language code – and that includes the many different varieties of English.

You could, therefore, display different content to visitors from the UK and USA, so that you can include the correct regional spellings of words like colour/color, metre/meter and aluminium/aluminum.

On eCommerce sites, you can also use Hreflang as a way to implement default currency for visitors from different countries – and X-Default to decide what currency should be shown to everybody else.

Where is Hreflang used?

There are several places where you can use Hreflang tags, but you should only put them in one location (although you can use multiple Hreflang tags, one for each supported language and an optional X-Default tag too).

You can implement Hreflang in:

  • The HTML <head> code of the page.
  • The HTTP header of the page.
  • An XML sitemap.

Hreflang does not officially affect your search rankings, so you might not see an immediate shift in your SERP positions after implementation.

However, by catering better to international customers, it can still have a big impact on your broader search performance by bringing in a larger, more engaged audience, increasing retention and return rates, and driving conversions and revenues higher.