What is an hreflang sitemap and does my site need one?
Put simply, a hreflang sitemap allows you to tell Google (other search engines are available) the most appropriate version of your site to serve to users – depending on their language and/or region.
The benefits of providing visitors with content specific to their locality are pretty obvious, for example, users are far more likely to spend money – and time – on a site which uses their own currency and language. Also, serving users with content that’s more appropriate to them leads to fewer “bounces” back to the search results. Fewer people bouncing back leads to better SEO performance.
Ensuring Google are aware that you are offering similar content, in different languages, also avoids the potential issue of duplicate content.
As clever as search engines are at interpreting the geo-targeting of a site without hreflang tags, there are a range of potential complications, such as one domain having more authority than another, which can result in them being unable to identify which domain is most relevant to each specific region, leading to indexing errors.
If you are an organisation with an international reach then the chances are you should make use of hreflang sitemaps. They help Google understand that you have local market versions of your site and will ensure that only localised pages appear in country-specific search results. If you have spent time creating a site that caters to different languages, naturally, you should want to ensure that these pages are accessible to the target demographic.
The way in which you specify the target location of a URL also depends on your site’s structure, for example whether you are using ccTLD (theproclaimers.es), subdomains (es.theproclaimers.co.uk) or subfolders (theproclaimers.co.uk/es). I won’t go into the individual benefits of each format at this point, but this is something to bear in mind.
For more information about the benefits and importance of using hreflang sitemaps, check out this pioneering case study we carried out when the functionality first became available. I am going to be focusing more on creation and implementation rather than general outcomes throughout this post.
Creating and Implementing a Hreflang Sitemap
Wouldn’t it be incredible if someone had concocted a handy tool that created hreflang sitemaps and was simple to use? Meet our very own hreflang tool.
The first step of the process involves creating a ‘map’ of the pages on your site that target each specific region/language. This is done by creating a CSV file with a list of URLs, with their equivalents for each region all on the same rows, like the example URL map below:
Obviously The Proclaimers only have fans in these three countries but you should include every language/region your site targets in this CSV file. You won’t always have/need an alternate URL in every different language but, when using the tool, each row must have an element for each country supplied.
Next, ensure you have saved the file as a CSV and upload it using the form provided. You’ll then be emailed with a link to a combined version of the file (for sub folder implementation of hreflang on one domain) and individual sitemaps for ccTLDs or sub domains.
One common mistake, according to Google, is using incorrect language codes. You should make sure that all language codes you use identify the language (in ISO 639-1 format) and/or also the region (in ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format) of an alternate URL. Specifying the region alone is not valid.
You should now have a hreflang sitemap for each domain – if using more than one – which looks like the one below:
If you have any problems with the tool at this point then feel free to contact us. Now it is time to implement.
Once tested, each individual sitemap.xml file should be uploaded to the corresponding root domain, providing you are using a sub-domain format.
It is important to continually update and assess your hreflang files as they will need to reflect changes to your site itself. To check the status of your sitemaps – and for future monitoring – you should ensure that each individual site (.es, .fr etc) is added to Google Search Console. You can see the status of, along with any potential errors with your uploaded file here:
It is clearly advantageous to use hreflang sitemaps when a company embarks upon internationalisation. It enhances the user’s experience, as well as the site itself, in terms of SEO. It allows local targeting of content and avoids potential duplicate content penalties. Using our tool, you can create a sitemap.xml file quickly and easily, provided that the CSV uploaded is created as outlined above.
Then it is simply a case of adding the hreflang files to your site as you would with any other sitemap and continually monitoring them in Search Console. For more information on why Hreflang implementation is important for websites to utilize – as well as other insights from the worlds of SEO, content and CRO – take a look at other articles in our blog.
For more information about hreflang, including our tool and implementing tags not sitemaps, then see the resources below: