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If you are planning on taking your online business international and target different countries and languages, you may have heard about hreflang tags, which is one of the most complex elements of SEO.

There are other technical best practices to follow for multilingual/multi-regional websites, but in this guide, we are going to offer a complete hreflang tags guide for beginners.

What are hreflang tags?

Hreflang tags are html attributes which are used to tell Google the language and the regional target area of a page, this helps search engines determine what version of a page to offer should there be more than one.

For example, a business operating in Canada could have two versions of the same page for English and French speakers.

link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”en-ca” />

link rel=”alternate” href=”” hreflang=”fr-ca” />

These are three components of a hreflang tag:

  • rel=alternate: This tag is used to indicate that a page is an ‘alternate’ version of the main version of another page.
  • Href=: It’s used to tell search engines the location of an alternate piece of content
  • hreflang=: This tag indicates the language and the country that that page is targeting.

It’s worth noting that hreflang tags are signals, not directives. This means that Google uses these tags as a hint, but it could decide to ignore them. Therefore, hreflang tags shouldn’t be used in isolation and other localised signals such as pricing, translated content, delivery information etc. should be in place when targeting other regions.

Why are hreflang tags important?

As Google has previously stated, using Hreflang tags won’t have an impact on your rankings:

I am John Hreflang

You may be wondering what the benefit of implementing these tags is if it’s not rankings, but their main objective goes beyond ranking higher on Google.

When hreflangs are implemented correctly, they could help reduce bounce rate and increase user engagement as the relevant version of a page is served to users.

For example, a business operating in the UK and in Spain with two different versions of a page would want to ensure that Spanish speakers are served the translated version of a page.

Additionally, when operating in countries that speak the same language e.g. United States, Australia or the United Kingdom, hreflang tags could help prevent these pages from competing against each other in SERPs.

How and where to add hreflang tags?

When it comes to the implementation of hreflang tags, it’s worth mentioning that there are 3 different ways to do this, which are:

  • Using on-page markup
  • HTTP header
  • XML Sitemap

Google’s documentation indicates that all three methods are valid and that there’s no preferred way to implement these tags. However, it’s recommended to only use one of the above methods.

The below guidelines apply to all methods:

  • Each language version of the page must list itself and all the other language versions. This is very important, because if there isn’t a return tag, these will be ignored.
  • A full URL must be used, not just the URL string.
  • Alternate URLs don’t need to be under the same domain.
  • It’s recommended to use the “x-default” value for any unmatched language or country.
  • Use the standardised nomenclature for language and country codes. Google uses the ISO 639-1 format for language codes, and the ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format to represent the country.

language and country hreflang

Don’t forget to check out Google’s documentation for further details on guidelines and best practices for multilingual websites.

Useful tools for hreflang tags

Creating and mapping hreflang tags could be a daunting task, however, luckily for us, there are loads of tools in the market that could help with this.

We need to differentiate between tools that help generate such tags and those that can check the implementation of the annotations to ensure everything is working as intended.

Hreflang Tag Generators

  • Sistrix:

Apart from being a powerful tool to have a view on websites’ visibility, keywords and competitor analysis, one of the free tools that they have is a hreflang tag generation tool, which is very intuitive and easy to use.

Hreflang generator image

  • Aleyda Solis

Aleyda Solis have developed a tool that allows generating annotations to up to 50 URLs in bulk using a CSV file.

After adding the URLs, you’d just need to select the language and country, as well as the method you will use to implement the tags, via HTML or XML sitemap.

Hreflang generator continued

Hreflang Tag Checkers

  • Ahrefs

Apart from being one of our favourite keyword research tools, it’s also a great tool to check and monitor the hreflang tags implementation.

Ahrefs’ site audit tool will flag issues such as pages missing tags, invalid annotations and many more. This report can be found under the ‘localization’ section.

There are other site crawlers such as Screaming Frog, which are also useful for monitoring your website’s international setup.

  • is another easy-to-use testing tool that allows you to check the implementation of hreflang tags in bulk, as well as those that have been added via the XML sitemap.

Hreflang testing tool


Merkle offer a wide range of tools, from robots.txt testers to sitemap generator. In this case, we are going to talk about the hreflang tags tester, which is a powerful tool to check hreflang annotations regardless the method used to implement them, HTML & HTTP headers, as well as XML sitemap checker.

Merkle hreflang

In conclusion, although hreflang annotations are a very complex element of SEO, the correct implementation will help boost your SEO performance when targeting different languages and regions. Once you are set to go global, you’d need to decide which of the three implementation methods is best suited for your website, as this will guide you on which tool to use to generate and check their implementation.

If you are looking for an international SEO agency to help with your upcoming expansion plan, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Alternatively, you can find out more about our international SEO services online.