Can multiple hreflang tags point to one URL? John Mueller of Google says YES.

Last updated on Mar 3, 2017

One URL can receive several hreflang values, for example several combinations of the same language code with different country codes, or an “x-default” value in addition to the language or country codes it already has.

The correct implementation of hreflang annotations is quite a challenge for lots of webmasters, especially as Google’s official documentation leaves a lot of room for interpretation. At SMX Munich 2016, John Mueller of Google shared some interesting information that is not included in Google’s specifications. Read the full story here.

SMX Munich invited the amazing Ralf Ohlenbostel of Zalando and me to do a session on hreflang. Ralf presented some of the challenges Zalando has faced with the implementation of hreflang in the past and I shared some things I knew about hreflang.

eoghan-henn-talking-about-hreflang-at-smx-munich-2016

My part of the presentation included how to implement hreflang correctly, how to use hreflang and canonical tags together, how to find the right domain strategy for maximal international SEO performance, and also my view on how to use x-default. I expressed my doubt about whether it was correct to assign two different hreflang values to one URL, like in this example:

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en/about/" hreflang="x-default">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en/about/" hreflang="en">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-gb/about/" hreflang="en-gb">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-ie/about/" hreflang="en-ie">

In the Q&A session that followed Ralf’s and my presentation, one member of the audience said that he believed that John Mueller had mentioned in the past that Google did accept this double-assignment of hreflang values to one URL.

John Mueller, who was in the audience, confirmed that Google accepts implementations like in the example above.

This statement resulted in an interesting discussion. Read on below to learn which other interesting details John Mueller shared.

hreflang-google-bot

Most of all, this piece of information that John Mueller had just shared immediately raised the following question in my mind:

If you can assign more than one hreflang value here, will Google also accept more than one hreflang value in other cases?

Look at this one:

<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-us/about/" hreflang="en-us">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-gb">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-ie">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-nl">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-be">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-lu">
<link rel="alternate" href="https://www.yourwebsite.com/en-eu/about/" hreflang="en-ch">

Here we have a website with a US version and an EU version (in English) that targets a number of European countries. The US version is marked up as an English language version for users in the US, while the EU version gets several hreflang annotations with different values – one for every country it targets.

Before speaking to John Mueller, I would have not recommended this implementation to my clients. But as he had confirmed that you can assign more than one value to a URL when using x-default, I asked him if the solution we see here would also be possible.

He confirmed that you can also assign multiple hreflang values to one URL in a case like this.

This is great! Another option for reaching the right user with the right content in the right place. I will test this when I get the chance and I will let you know how well it works.

UPDATE (3rd of March, 2017) – John Mueller recently reconfirmed what has been written in this blog post when a user on Twitter asked him about it:

By the way, it is really nice how John Mueller takes his time to patiently answer all of the questions everybody asks him on Twitter or when he goes to an event like SMX. Thanks a lot, John!

If you want to see the entire slide deck I used for the SMX session (in German), check this out:

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14 Comments

  1. Sebastian Müller
    12. September 2017

    Hi Eoghan,

    thanks for your post about hreflang and multiple language websites.

    I have a question you might can help me with. I think its not such a complicated big deal as others mentioned above but I just want to make sure I`m doing the right thing. My general confusion is about how to target none speaking english people with our english website fo example french natives at google.fr. We do not have a french website and I read above that the best way to target french speaking customers is to have a french website as well. But is there a possibility to have a good google ranking for /en version on google.fr and google.it for instance.

    Our website is mostly used in german, turkish and english for worldwide users.
    I use hreflang as follows.

    Maybe you can take a short look at it too see if the x-default is implemented properly and will not be ignored by google.

    Thanks a lot in advance.

    Reply
    • Eoghan Henn
      14. September 2017

      Hello Sebastian,

      Thanks a lot for your comment. My website swallowed your code examples. Sorry about that! But I think I will still be able to answer your questions.

      Your first question was how you could target users of a certain language without a website in that language. Let’s stick with your French example: Without French website content, you will not be able to generate traffic from people that search in French. In this case, it doesn’t really matter if they’re on google.fr or another country version of Google. A search in French will mainly show results for French content. When users in France search in English, or use keywords that don’t belong to a certain language, like your brand keywords, you have good chances of ranking for these keywords, if you have content that matches the search phrase and also ranks well for this topic in other countries.

      I had a look at the hreflang annotations on you website. The implementation is OK as it is. I guess you did not link to the Turkish version because it is too different from the English and German ones?

      Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions.

      Reply
  2. Palla Sridhar
    20. August 2016

    Hello Eoghan.
    Very good informative article.

    As I understand, if I want to target English users in US, UK, Canada and Aus, can I have the hreflang tags to the single version of the article. Or should I create atleast a second version.

    Also, if I want to create a second version of the post. How do I do that. Do I need to create a new WordPress installation and copy all the files from the first installation or is there any easy method.

    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Eoghan Henn
      29. August 2016

      Hello Palla,

      Thanks a lot for your comment and sorry about my late reply. I’ve been quite busy.

      You could look at your first question from another perspective: If you have only one version of an article you do not need any hreflang tags. An English article on an international domain (a gTLD like .com, .org, etc.) will automatically target English speaking users in US, UK, CA, AUS, and all other countries in the world.

      Second question:

      Managing international websites in WordPress can be quite a challenge, but creating multiple WordPress installations is probably one of the most complicated options you have. There are plugins for international WordPress websites and I know that some also support hreflang annotations. Unfortunately, I cannot make any recommendations, because I do not have enough experience with international WordPress websites myself.

      I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Reply
  3. Sungod
    16. June 2016

    Interesting and Scary
    say e.g.
    rel=”alternate” href=”https://example.com/in/” hreflang=”en-in”
    rel=”alternate” href=”https://example.com/us/” hreflang=”en-us”
    rel=”alternate” href=”https://example.com/fr/” hreflang=”en-fr”
    rel=”alternate” href=”https://example.com/” hreflang=”x-default”
    In this will French language using people of France will get which page?
    ideally I want them to get
    rel=”alternate” href=”https://example.com/fr/” hreflang=”en-fr”

    Also our website they if people from France click
    https://example.com/mobiles
    then will be redirected to
    https://example.com/fr/mobiles {based on IP}

    But what will search engine show for french in France google and
    for english people in France google.?
    Will they show x-default or french page

    Also should we geo target in webmaster tool to have better results?
    https://example.com/fr/* to France
    https://example.com/us/ To USA
    https://example.com/in/ India

    Save me google and Eoghan

    Regards
    Sungod

    Reply
    • Eoghan Henn
      17. June 2016

      This is a complex topic. Let me try to share some thoughts on it very briefly.

      First of all, if you want to target French speaking users in France properly, the best way of doing so would be a French language website version.

      Now there are exceptions to this obviously. The solution Filippo mentioned above looks interesting and quite clever, although it seems a bit tricky from my point of view. You are clearly abusing hreflang tags this way by assigning language values to pages that are different from the actual language of the page. Google might end up ignoring your annotations completely if they send confusing signals.

      When Google shows results in a certain language, the language the user is using Google in and the location of the user do matter, but what matters most is the actual language of the query itself. If a user enters a query that is clearly in French, let’s say “chaussures blanches” (white shoes), Google will obviously show pages that are in French first, no matter which language or country version of Google the user is on. If you only have an English website version, your hreflang tags will not do much about this.

      Same if the user searches in English! Let’s say a French user that is using google.fr in French searches in English. Of course Google will show your “en-fr” version, if you have one. So no worries here.

      If Google can’t detect the language of the query because it is ambiguous, the language the user is using Google in will count. If you only have an English version for France that you assign the language/country value “en-fr” to and a default version that is also in English language, Google will probably show a user that uses google.fr in French the default version.

      Does this make any sense to you?

      Reply
      • Sungod
        17. June 2016

        You made my Day Eoghan.
        Everything you said has made sense.
        You have driven my to take very good business steps.
        May your knowledge, encouragement and benevolent nature bring you happiness.

        Happiness is achieved by making others Happy.

        Thank You for giving me time and explaining me .

        Regards
        Sungod

        Reply
        • Eoghan Henn
          20. June 2016

          Thanks for your kind words, Sungod!

          Reply
  4. Filippo Calanca
    31. May 2016

    Hi Eoghan, firstly thanks for your article, I was missing an “official” confirm by Google on how handling multiple hreflangs with same target URL.

    I would add to your info a really specific case I came across recently. I have a client with an e-commerce website which provides users with slightly different purchase catalogues based on their actual location. So for example, UK users have different purchase options than US users, as well as generic UE users and, of course, also specific countries like DE, IT, etc.
    To briefly go through the hreflang scenario, I suggested an hreflang implementation like the one you posted above due to the EU section of the website being entirely in English.
    – hreflang=”en-fr” href=”…../en-eu/…..”
    – hreflang=”en-bg” href=”…../en-eu/…..”
    – hreflang=”en-se” href=”…../en-eu/…..”
    and so on, plus a final
    – hreflang=”x-default” href=”…./en-ww/….” AKA the Rest of the World

    Big issue -> This actually works for English users on Google.FR, but doesn’t for French users on Google.FR, as the formers get the EN-EU landing while the latters resolve to the generic international EN-WW.

    My best understanding of this behaviour is: if I really want to bring users from France (both French & English speakers) to the EN-EU section instead of the international EN-WW, I have to implement both the following hreflangs

    – hreflang=”en-fr” href=”…../en-eu/…..”
    – hreflang=”fr-fr” href=”…../en-eu/…..”

    That actually works as it is correctly understood by Google, but this means I have to implement TWO hreflang (minimum) for every specific European country.

    BOOM, say a last goodbye to your .

    Cheers,
    Filippo

    Reply
    • Eoghan Henn
      31. May 2016

      Hi Filippo,

      Thanks a lot for sharing this additional information. It is very useful to know that the implementation you described actually works.

      Still, it does seem slightly counter-intuitive to assign the language value “fr” to English content (or any other language value than the actual language of the content). But if it has the desired results, we are not going to complain, right?

      Nevertheless, if you want to target French speaking users properly, I think it is still most advisable to have a French language website version. With the solution you describe, I guess your results will only show for French speaking users that search for your brand or for English search terms. Your visibility for French search queries will be pretty low, right?

      Thanks again for sharing your case here! It really adds value to this article.

      Best regards,

      Eoghan

      Reply
  5. Jan Sievers
    4. April 2016

    Hi Eoghan,

    Thank you for clearing that up with John Mueller and writing about it! A client actually asked me that same question today. 🙂

    Cheers
    Jan

    Reply
    • Eoghan Henn
      4. April 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Jan! I’m glad this article helped you.

      Eoghan

      Reply

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