If you run a website with content in a variety of languages, getting to grips with the basics of the hreflang attribute is essential. A fairly simple HTML attribute, the use and importance of hreflang is often overlooked by multi-language website owners.
But when it comes to SEO, things are not nearly as simple. In fact, Google’s very own John Mueller once went on record to say that hreflang is “one of the most complex aspects of SEO” and is notorious for getting “really hard quickly.”
But don’t despair, as you really only need to understand the basics of hreflang to make appropriate use of it. Plus, when it comes to SERP performance, hreflang apparently has no impact on rankings whatsoever.
What is hreflang?
Hreflang specifies the geographical targeting and language of a webpage.
In a typical everyday example, search for the official Apple website using Google in the US and the first result will be www.apple.com. By contrast, conduct the same search in Spain and the first result will be www.apple.com/es.
This is hreflang in action – the HTML attribute that ensures the right version of the website is presented to the right people, in accordance with their location and language.
Does hreflang Have SEO Value?
Logic would therefore suggest that as hreflang has a major influence on the user experience, its SEO value should be significant. In reality, this simply is not the case at all.
Not for the first time, Google’s John Mueller is gone on record to state outright that using hreflang does not contribute to better rankings, and will not influence your SERP position.
Instead, hreflang simply ensures that the appropriate regional URL is included in Google Search, as a position in the rankings defined by your site’s SEO value in general.
Via Twitter, Mr Mueller was asked by a website owner whether hreflang has any influence whatsoever.
“Is there any chance someone would see a rank increase after implementing hreflang?”
To which, he provided about as clear a response as anyone could ask for:
“No. Hreflang does not change ranking.”
Though frankly, this really should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following and heeding his words for some time. It was back in 2016 that Mr Mueller set the record straight on this contentious issue, providing the following explanation on how hreflang works (and doesn’t):
“Kind of think, if you didn’t have those local pages, would the dot-com pages rank in the local search results? And if they would rank then we’d like to swap at the URLs out against the appropriate local versions.”
“So if you have a website, I don’t know that, that’s targeting furniture and you have a UK website and it doesn’t show it all in in France for example, then just setting up at the href lang with completely new pages for France wouldn’t change anything because we wouldn’t have anything to swap out.”
“It wouldn’t be that your UK page would be excessively ranking.” “Another hand if you have liked for Germany and Austria where the content is German both the same and your pages for the country of Germany happened to rank in Austria then that would be something that we could swap out.”