By Chris Lee
One of the biggest difficulties with international SEO is the successful targeting of the correct website to the correct region so that search users in a particular region find the site that is aimed at them. This is the view of Pete Handley, SEO director at search marketing firm theMediaFlow.
Accordingly to Handley, one new and extremely useful solution to this problem are rel=”alternate” hreflang=”x” XML sitemaps. These allow webmasters to tell Google what versions of their brand’s content they want to have showing up in search results for various targeted regions and languages. This is particularly effective when they have one powerful website ranking in all regions, despite having specifically targeted pages or sections for that area or language.
theMediaFlow has since created an XML sitemap generator to help assist others with the implementation of this work. < i>NMK caught up with Handley to learn more.
Briefly explain hreflang to us
rel=alternate and hreflang is a way to tell Google about content that you have which is specifically targeted to a region and/or language.
If, for example, you have content in multiple languages or have specific content developed for different regions that use the same language, Google can be confused and need a bit of help serving the right versions of this content to the right searchers. Hreflang is a steer to assist with serving this correctly.
Why has Google introduced this algorithm and what difference does it make?
It’s not an algorithm – it’s additional mark-up in the code of a group of Web pages or notification of multiple pages using an XML sitemap. Something that webmasters implement to notify Google about this regional/language targeted content.
Google introduced this as a way to help webmasters ensure that searchers are reaching the most appropriate content for them, based on location of the search or the language used.
When correctly setup, the main difference is that users should reach the version of the page that a webmaster is specifically targeting towards them, rather Google determining this without this “steer”. Google has at times struggled to get this working perfectly without this assistance (powerful .com sites quite often outrank regional .co.uk or .com.au sites without this help).
Can every site benefit from hreflang or is it just clients with international sites that you’re looking at?
This technique is not for all websites – it’s only when you have content that you have that should be being served specifically in an area. For example, if you have a blog, that is the same to that audience all over the world, then this is likely to be unnecessary, but if you have an ecommerce site with English language product pages in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, then this is a perfect example of when to use it.
Do you have any top tips for webmasters?
This is particularly useful for sites that have content targeted to different regions using the same language, with substantially similar if not duplicate content, except for things like price/address/phone number on the page. In the past, the canonical tag was often used in these situations so that only one version of this content would be seen/indexed/ranked, but this often meant that users were not reaching the version of the page that was right for them.
You also need to be careful about using this with canonical tags. Initially, particularly in the case I mentioned above, it was recommended to use rel alternate, hreflang with canonical tags, whilst Google now says “Update: to simplify implementation, we no longer recommend using rel=canonical” at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/new-markup-for-multilingual-content.html.
Part of the benefit of this technique is that it can work across different domains when content is on different sub domains from the same main website or even when it’s all on the same website with sub folders or individual pages.
Using hreflang is also good when launching in a new region, as any visibility that the website previously had in that area can then be sent to the new regional content, giving that new content an effective kick start to its search visibility.