by Neil Chevalier

With an increasing number of businesses doing business on a global scale, having a website that can cater to multiple languages is no longer an option, but a need.

One of the key benefits of having a multilingual website is the ability to reach a bigger audience and expand your consumer base. People from all around the world may now access the internet and buy goods and services online, thanks to a globalised economy. You may attract and retain clients from a range of linguistic backgrounds while potentially improving your revenue by making your website available in multiple languages.

Let us now deep dive into the technical aspects of hreflang and canonical tags and how you and your company should implement these.

What are Hreflang and Canonical tags and what is the difference between these two important tags?

Hreflang tags

Hreflang tags are HTML tags that tell search engines what language and area a webpage is targeting. These tags assist search engines in understanding the many versions of a website and ensuring that users see the correct version in the relevant language.

For example, if you have a Spanish version of your website at https://www.example.com/es/ and wish to indicate to search engines that the language and regional targeting is Spanish, you would add the following link element to the head section of the English version of your website at

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

This tag specifies that the page at https://www.example.com/ is the “default” page, while the Spanish version is at https://www.example.com/es/. Note that it is intended for Spanish-speaking consumers.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these tags should be included on all variations of your page, which means that in the preceding example, the Spanish version of the page (https://www.example.com/es/) should also have the hreflang tags indicating that it is intended for a Spanish-speaking audience. On the Spanish version of the page, for example:

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

This also indicates that the website at https://www.example.com is the default page and that it is intended for English speakers.

Furthermore, if you have various versions of your pages aimed at different languages, you may define all of them with the link element.
If you have a German version of the website, for example:

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

It’s also worth noting that Hreflang tags can be used in a website’s HTTP header, and they have the same syntax as HTML tags.

Canonical tags

Canonical tags, like hreflang tags, are pieces of code that offer signals (rather than directions) to search engine crawlers. Their function, however, is to notify search engines:

Which URL should be regarded as the “official” version of a web page, and how should that URL be indexed and ranked in searches? Canonical tags come in handy when you have:

URL for a specific web page, such as “http://example.com” and “https://example.com.”

Parameters in URLs indicate minor changes to a web page’s content, for as “http://example.com/products” vs “https://example.com/products?category=suitcases.”

You’ve duplicated material to multiple web pages on your website or on another website completely, and you want search engines to consider a specific web page on your website to be the official version of the information.
Canonical tags appear as follows:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”https://www.example.com/” />

The difference between hreflang and canonical tags

Both canonical and hreflang tags assist website owners in avoiding duplicate content concerns, which might lead certain pages to be incorrectly omitted from search engine rankings.

hreflang tags give more detailed instructions on which web page to provide to a searcher based on language and regional settings. Canonical tags, on the other hand, instruct search engines only on which page to serve in searches, out of several sites with comparable content.

Assume we have a homepage with the URL “https://example.com/es” with content that is generally comparable to that of two additional web pages with the URLs “https://example.com/es-1” and “https://example.com”.

In such a case, you should:

“Page ‘https://example.com/es’ is the official version of the ‘https://example.com/es’ homepage,” a canonical tag will indicate. Rank ‘https://example.com/es’ in searches rather than ‘https://example.com/es-1.'”

A hreflang tag would indicate “Page ‘https://example.com/es” is the official version of the page ‘https://example.com’ for Spanish language searchers in Spain. ‘https://example.com/es’ should be ranked for Spanish language queries in Spain.”

A note on the importance of implementing hreflang and canonical tags correctly.

If the hreflang and canonical tags are not implemented correctly on your website. The following issues can occur.

  1. Google Search Console can return a “Your website has no hreflang tags” error. This means Google is having difficulty finding the hreflang tag in the source code of the pages of your website. You will need to troubleshoot this to resolve it.
  2. Google Search Engine may fetch and serve the wrong version of the website to a prospective user. This is considered a poor user experience and will impact the website’s traffic and ultimately, revenue.
  3. Your website is at risk of being penalised and marked down by the search engine for duplicate content being served up to the search engine result pages. This can ultimately impact the equity of links across multiple pages on your website. The worst-case scenario is you will lose all equity if the content is found on a competitor or another website.

Moreover, with multilingual websites, you need to ensure that each hreflang and region variant has its own “self-referencing” canonical tag that points back to the current language/region version in order to send a signal to the search engine to index this correctly in the user’s geographical area.

So the following HTML attributes would be employed:

<link rel=”alternatehreflang=”eshref=”https://example.com/es/”/>

<link rel=”canonicalhref=”https://example.com/es/” />

Conclusion:

In conclusion, Hreflang tags and canonical tags are important for indicating to search engines the language and geographical focus of a webpage. They ensure that consumers see the correct version of a website in the relevant language and area, and they can improve search engine rankings from an international SEO perspective. You may boost the visibility of your website and create a better experience for your users by inserting the tags in the head section of each version of your website

Author: Neil Chevalier

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