Hreflang Alert: Google Signals Bug – Check Your Tags!

In recent developments, Google has identified a bug affecting hreflang tags, a crucial element for multilingual and multiregional websites. This issue can significantly impact your site’s ability to serve the correct language and regional version of your content to users. Let’s dive into what this bug entails, how it affects your site, and steps you can take to ensure your hreflang tags are correctly implemented.

What is the Hreflang Bug?

Google has recently alerted webmasters about a bug impacting the processing of hreflang tags. Hreflang tags are essential for indicating to search engines the language and regional versions of your web pages, ensuring that users see the appropriate content based on their location and language preferences. This bug can lead to incorrect or non-optimal versions of your site being displayed to users, potentially harming your international SEO efforts.

Common Hreflang Issues and How to Fix Them

To safeguard your site from the impacts of this bug, it’s important to audit and verify your hreflang tags. Here are some common issues and how to fix them:

  • Nonexistent Hreflang Values

    • Ensure that your hreflang values use the correct ISO 639-1 language codes and ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 country codes.
    • Example: Use en-US for English in the United States, not en-UK for the United Kingdom which should be en-GB.
  • Irrelevant Hreflang Values

    • Verify that the language and region values match the content on the page. Tools might not catch this, so manual checks are essential.
    • Example: A page intended for Spanish speakers globally should not have a country-specific code like es-ES unless necessary.
  • Incorrect URLs in Hreflang Tags

    • Make sure the URLs in your hreflang tags are correct and point to the right version of the page.
    • Tools like Screaming Frog and DeepCrawl can help identify these issues.
  • No-Return Tags

    • Hreflang annotations must be bidirectional. If page A points to page B, page B must also point back to page A.
    • Check for this in Google Search Console and with SEO crawlers.

Best Practices for Implementing Hreflang

Given the complexities and potential issues with hreflang implementation, here are some best practices to follow:

  • Use Sitemaps

    • Implement hreflang tags in XML sitemaps for easier management and scalability.
    • Example: <url><loc></loc><xhtml:link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href=""/></url>
  • Regular Audits

    • Conduct regular audits of your hreflang tags using tools like Google Search Console’s International Targeting report and third-party crawlers.
  • Testing and Validation

    • Use Google’s hreflang testing tool and other SEO tools to validate the correctness of your hreflang annotations.

The hreflang bug reported by Google underscores the importance of correctly implementing and regularly auditing your hreflang tags. By following best practices and using the right tools, you can ensure that your multilingual and multiregional content is correctly served to users, enhancing their experience and your site’s SEO performance.