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Brighton SEO: Emily Mace – Diagnosing Common Hreflang Tag Issues On Page & In Sitemaps

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Emily Mace is the head of international SEO at Oban International. Emily gives a great talk on Hreflang tangs and explains how to identify and solve international issues.


Emily starts by reminding us that when it comes to adding Href lang tags it can go terribly wrong…

With a hreflang tag we are trying to target the correct the content for the correct country. We are not the only the people asking questions about this. Both Rand Fishkin and Google have expressed confusion and said it’s difficult to get right.

The core things that can go wrong

Conflicts in your tags

Your canonical tags must match your href lang tags. If they are not the same then what does the search engine use as a reference point?

Messages on each of your language sites must be the same too. It’s going to confuse things, we have to be consistent.

No return errors

Make sure you are not getting any no return errors. This means that your pages are not reciprocally linking to each other. All of your pages must politely link to the other pages —> the french version has to link to the irish version and vice versa

Some other core issues that should be identified

  • Links in your Hreflang tags should be live
  • Your links should be live, not 404s etc.
  • Having communication issues
  • Use correct language and country code options

The EU issue

Each individual URL can only be targeted to to ONE language and country. Multiple targets for the same page look fake. You can’t target one page to 14 locations

Code reminder: on page

Make sure all of your code is mentioning ALL the countries, even the one that you’re on.

Don’t IP serve

Say no fundamentally. Google will serve your Swedish site in Norway.

Two options

There are two options to handle Href lang issues.

  • Sitemap: commerce, large sites, regularly updated sites
  • Onpage: everyone else

Don’t do both. You will be arguing with yourself about the target of your site.


Other considerations and how to keep track

  • Consider your site set up and talk to your devs.
  • Google does fix things BUT with international targeting there are other search engines so do rely solely on this.
  • Check domains in each country (in ahrefs). Calvin klein have a problem with their targeting because they do IP serving.
  • Traffic coming from the wrong countries.
  • Let’s spot check code
  • Does the link agree with the canonical tag?
  • Are Hreflang tags in the right place?
  • Errors from Google Search Console can be useful. We can review which pages aren’t linking correctly.
  • Easily pull off data from Screaming Frog.
  • Set up your sites and create a massive spreadsheet with a tab for each of your sites. Are all Hreflang tags the same? Highlight what’s different.

We will link Emily’s slide deck into this presentation once she has put it live.