Hreflang attributes may not help you increase traffic; instead, the goal of using them is to serve the right content to the right users.
They help search engines swap the correct version of the page into the SERP based on a user’s location and language preferences. For information on how geotargeting can help with rankings, learn about ccTLDs.
The Difference between Hreflang and Canonicalization
Canonicalization is a tool for showing search engines which version of a URL (each with the same content) is the dominant one to avoid duplicate content issues. Hreflang, on the other hand, is a tool to show which of the different (but often similar) pages (based on language or region) should show up in a search.
Google recommends not using rel=”canonical” across country or language versions of your site. But you can use it within a country or language version.
If you have multiple versions of a page for different languages or regions, tell Google about these different variations.
Doing so will help Google Search point users to the most appropriate version of your page by language or region.
Note that even without taking action, Google might still find alternate language versions of your page, but it is usually best for you to explicitly indicate your language- or region-specific pages.
Some example scenarios where indicating alternate pages is recommended:
- If you keep the main content in a single language and translate only the template, such as the navigation and footer. Pages that feature user-generated content, like forums, typically do this.
- If your content has small regional variations with similar content, in a single language. For example, you might have English-language content targeted to the US, and Spanish-language content targeted to the US Hispanics.
- If your site content is fully translated into multiple languages. For example, you have both Spanish and English versions of each page.
Expanding your site to more languages
URL Structures: ccTLDs vs. Subdomains vs. Subfolders vs. Parameters
There really is no one-size-fits-all solution. It is important to establish a URL structure that does not only make sense from a human perspective but is also logical and therefore easy to comprehend for crawlers, including search engines.
The most important factor is that whichever URL structure you choose, you should stick with it throughout your whole internationalization efforts.
Here are your available options:
- ccTLDs – yoursite.com → to target all users located in the United States
- gTLD With Subdomain – espanol.yoursite.com → to target all Spanish-language users located in the United States
- gTLD With Subfolders – yoursite.com/es → to target all Spanish-language users located in the United States
- gTLD With Parameters – yoursite.com?lang=es-us → to target all American users that speak Spanish
- Combinations – If you want to apply language targeting and geotargeting at the same time, you will have to use combinations of the structures above.
What are ccTLDs?
Probably most recognizable as the letters after the final period in a domain name (e.g., the “mx” in www.example.mx), a ccTLD shows users and search engines in what country, sovereign state, or dependent territory a website is registered — and usually, by extension, where in the world searchers who will find this site relevant reside.
In each of the following examples, the ccTLD is bolded:
- www.example.mx (Mexico)
- www.example.es (Spain)
- http://www.sample.pe (Peru)
- http://www.sample.co.ar (Argentina)
- http://sample.com.br (Brazil)