• Mark Gavalda

    I’m not sure I’m following: the subdomain (US site) had the same content (or almost the same) as the main (UK targeted) site?

  • Saurav Rimal

    Sorry for not explaining this right Mark, and yes it practically had the same content!

  • hyderali

    Hi Saurav,

    Honestly, I didn’t know what hreflang stands for & what was its use. Thanks to you for writing this case study & explaining the benefits of hreflang. It seems the client definitely gets lots of impression. What do other things says like visitors, clicks etc?

  • Brooke Kisker

    Did you use Google Webmaster tools to set the target country for the subdomain/subfolder?

  • Saurav Rimal

    Thank you Hyder, glad to hear that. Positive correlation between the indexation and organic visibility can be seen in the organic search graph. Hope that helps.

  • Kevin Kaiser

    Is this recommended for websites that are targeted only for one country? Would implementing this have any effect on that website? Or is it really only beneficial if you have a website(s) targeted to more than one country?

  • audette

    It’s great to see a concise and thoughtful article showing before and after with hreflang! One note, using the XML method for annotating URLs makes it even easier, and is especially attractive for those big enterprise international sites. Documentation here:

    For smaller sites I’d probably use it too, just easier that making template changes.

  • Rank Watch

    Great research folks! Improvement in local search rankings and hence traffic for websites to whom quality links where mostly built from the authoritative and relevant sites hosted in the same country.

  • Saurav Rimal

    Hi Kevin,

    You can do it for any site regardless of whether you have more than one country.

    Hope this helps.

  • Saurav Rimal

    Hi Brooke,

    We did this for subdomain.

    Thank you for commenting.

  • Brooke Kisker

    No problem. I was just wondering if this is a step that is worth my time. Thank you for the response!

  • Modesto Siotos

    Hey Saurav,

    Interesting case study.

    I’ve only tried the rel=”alternate” hreflang within XML sitemaps but without great success. In both cases tried them on sites with English content on different ccTLDs but their impact was very minimal. Your case, though, was quite different (competing subdomains) but your findings are quite useful.

    Although Google says that onpage and XML based rel=”alternate” hreflang annotations are equivalent, your case study makes me wonder whether the onpage ones are working better. Out of interest, how come you used the more painful onpage mark-up and not the easier to implement XML ones?

  • Gowebbaby

    Here is good example of hreflang

  • Rajesh Magar

    Great article, But I have one question to clarify!

    How HrefLang tags work on subdomain and on CCTLDs because anyway Google treats sub-domain and CCTLDs as different domains. So we can easily add and verify those website in GWT and can set specific target location for specific audience.

    So can we skip to add Hreflang tags on those versions of website, or something more I need work on.

  • Gianluca Fiorelli

    hreflang can be used even cross domain…

  • Gianluca Fiorelli

    And that proves also one “hidden” advantage of the hreflang mark up: it’s also an anti-Panda, as it prevents Google from considering all those contents as duplicate (they are but they are not, somehow).

  • Advanced Telecom

    I have a text message marketing .com site in the USA. I recently brought up a .ca version of this site and hooked it up with Canadian mobile carriers to send text messages in Canada. For the most part, the site is duplicate content to the USA .com site. I’ve struggled to get rankings on the Canadian site. Could this solve my problem?

  • Jon

    Did this not have any noticeable effect? I have a client that we have WMT targeted correctly but its not doing the trick. Shouldn’t WMT take care of things?

  • Tedel

    OK, silly question: What happens with HTML5 language declaration?

    <!DOCTYPE html>
    <html lang=”en”>


  • Mike Neal

    Hi there, did you still employ self referential canonicals on all the pages as well as href? I’ve been wondering if these may contradict or usupr any hrefLang alternates. We’re in the same boat (with .com for UK and .us for US) and have been experimenting with employing canonical on some pages and not on others but too early to gauge results fully! Obviously without the canonical you’re opening yourself up for dup issues with affiliate url strings etc.

    Many thanks!


  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi Modesto, Saurav is away for a few weeks with limited connection to answer about his specific scenario, nonetheless, I can comment from my own experience that not all the scenarios are the same and sometimes, with some CMS or platforms adding the code in the HTML can be not so painful as generate a huge XML with it. Anyway, in order to maximize the signals that you give to Google about the languages / geographies you’re targeting the ideal situation is that you do it in both ways if you can :)

  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi Rajesh, the more signals you give to Google about the different ccTLDs language and geographic targeting the better, so even if you geolocalize through GWT, the best is that you also add the hreflang code and if you can, generate XML sitemaps for them adding the hreflang annotations too. Thanks!

  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi there! Yes. Take a look at the recommendations we gave in the International Q+A from last week here: You’ll see that you’ll need to geolocalize your ccTLDs through Google Webmaster Tools, differentiate the content by adding the locality in the titles, meta descriptions, headings, that you’re targeting also helps too, besides of course, featuring the hreflang on the code and sitemaps.

  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi Jon, Besides the Geolocalization option of Google Webmaster Tools, hreflang also serves to give additional signals to Google about language and location, especially when you have content in the same language targeting to different countries. We answered about all of the aspects you can optimize in order to geolocalize your sites well (there are many options and if you can, it’s always recommended to make the most out of all of them) here: Thanks!

  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi Jon, Besides the Geolocalization option of Google Webmaster Tools, hreflang also serves to give additional signals to Google about language and location, especially when you have content in the same language targeting to different countries. We answered about all of the aspects you can optimize in order to geolocalize your sites well (there are many options and if you can, it’s always recommended to make the most out of all of them) here: Thanks!

  • Jon

    Thanks Aleyda. We’ve just implemented the XML sitemap now for this client so we’ll see what that does. Content is for UK and US audiences so we’re talking about two separate subdomains, already targeted in WMT but not doing the trick.

  • Jon

    If they’re ccTLDs then the country is implied and can’t be overwritten in WMT. Or did you mean something else?

  • Jon

    Self-referential is fine, recommended in fact (though I don’t think actually *required*)

  • Aleyda Solis

    Yes it is! Setting independently your subdirectory or subdomain in Google Webmaster Tools and geolocalizing it if it’s targeting to a specific country (and not to all of the audience speaking a language, that can be based in many countries) is a good practice as specified by google here:

  • Aleyda Solis

    Hi Mike,
    If you use the canonical tags to refer to the original version of your URLs in their own language/country version then it’s ok. What is not recommended is that you refer from a country version to another with a canonical tag and then also add the hreflang, since then it would be contradicting. You can see Google recommendations about that here: Thanks!

  • Aleyda Solis

    I didn’t explained myself well on the comment, sorry! Wanted to say: to geolocalize when you don’t have a ccTLD :D Thanks for noting!

  • Aleyda Solis

    You should also use it too as specified in:, although from my experience it wasn’t taken in consideration as a strong signal as hreflang now.

    You can take a look at a list with all of the factors you can use to inform Google about the language / country targeting here:

    Thank you!

  • Graeme Benge

    I would imagine that this is worth implementing but I would also ensure your targeting settings in Google Webamaster tools for your .ca site are updated too.

  • Heather Physioc SEO

    Very, very cool little subtlety for international SEO. Much appreciated.

  • Rajesh Magar

    Thanks Aleyda.

  • Saurav Rimal

    Thank you Aleyda :). Hey Moddie, nice to hear from you mate, got a chance to check emails thought I would reply back. In this scenario we tried one and it worked for us. In our industry we are always experimenting different stuff (you already know that) to see which works and which doesn’t and in this case it worked and it wasn’t the fact that we didn’t want to use XML it was just that href lang was already in the cards.

  • Dries B

    This might be a rather strange question, but we had the question from one of our clients. Should you focus on those pages that are duplicate to the other language sites or add the tag sitewide? I personally would prefer sitewide, but I can’t find any info about this matter.

  • David

    These tags are good only for google?
    How am I able to use Geo tagging for a Chinese sub-folder on a multi-lingual site?


    Thank you!

  • Modesto Siotos

    Thank you both!

    Just wanted to let you know that the XML hreflang sitemap I built 3+ months ago has finally worked. No idea why it took Google so long it worked in the end.

    @aleyda:disqus will definitely try your recommendation :)

  • Modesto Siotos

    Double win :)

  • Saurav Rimal

    That depends on how much work is put in to go through individual pages? Or would you rather have your developers help you out with one line of code that provides the hreflang to be sitewide, which may prove to be a better option?

  • Saurav Rimal

    Would love to see the results ;)

  • Barton


    very informative article. One question, should the HREF be constant, i.e. set to the landuage default directory, or be dynamic, e.g. canonical, href=””


  • optimise_seo

    How long does it usually take for the HREF lang tag to take place. I have placed it for a clients site nearly 6 weeks ago and have seen no change.

  • Peter

    Hey Saurav, hope your’e well mate. Got a client who uses the .com version for the states and a subfoldered version for UK, France, Germany and Spain ( Presumably we have to use the href lang in would you recommend submitting separate xml sitemaps via GWTs?

  • Peter

    Sorry Saurav, I missed out a sentence in my first question. ‘Presumably we have to use the href lang in conjunction with the canonical tag?’

  • Saurav Rimal

    I am well mate, how about yourself? Yes, you will need to use the href lang in conjunction with the canonical tag (assuming you want to avoid duplication).

    In terms of subfolder structure, I do prefer using separate xml sitemaps, similar to segmented sitemaps. It just makes life easier to be honest.

    Hope this helps.

  • Christian Schickler

    Hi Saurav,

    Great read! Always good to see others successfully implement the hreflang tag. We had a similar story with a client where the .com version was outranking the .de and .fr in Germany and France respectively. We just published a small blog post on this and I’m sure the results could be interesting for you to check out:

    Would be great to hear your thoughts on this.

  • Spook SEO

    Hello Saurav,

    Thanks for sharing this very informative article. I never tried using this technique. It really seems HrefLang Tag is a good SEO strategy. I’m amazed to see the progress after the implementation of this technique as shown in your post. I can’t wait to try this to my subdomains. Thanks a ton!

  • Gee

    Hi there,

    Just for clarification:

    Google Spain:

    Why are you declaring just hreflang=”es” rather than hreflang=”es-es” at this point? Is it because theoretically you only have one spanish variation of your site targeted towards Spain specifically e.g. not targeting mexico (es-mx) for example so you there is no need to specify the country within the hreflang?


  • Samantha W


    An informative case study. With regional URL subfolders targeting the same language, what’s your suggested approach using XML sitemaps
    Xdefault + default=en + hreflang for each region e.g. en-ca, en-gb

    Using your example here, would you add x-default

    Google UK:

    (in this example their .com domain is for Google UK)

    (for sites)

    Google US:

    Google Australia:

    Are you adding regional subfolders to WMT and submitting hreflang sitemaps for each region

    How are you handling potential duplicate content within same language regional subfolders ?


  • Saurav Rimal

    Hi Samantha,

    Thank you for taking your time to read and comment.

    In regards to your questions:

    1 Are you adding regional subfolders to WMT and submitting hreflang sitemaps for each region?

    - This is something we had in place for any subfolder country targeted, yes. If it is the subfolder structure you are going with then I would suggest doing this to review the performance via GWT features.

    2. If you have hreflang implemented correctly, it doesn’t affect duplication. However, I would ask myself a question, am I writing to the right audience? If you are then great, if you are not then perhaps your approach to Australia should be different to England or USA? Understanding the audience and their intent is key to provide value to user’s query’s that Google also deems valuable.

    I hope this helps.

  • Craig Paddock

    Looks like traffic increased to the US subdomain, but did the UK domain stop outranking the US subdomain after implementation?
    Did the US subdomain replace the UK domain so the UK domain stopped appearing? Or did they just swap places in the results?

  • maple VOIP

    Very interesting reading. It looks like it answers my prayers re: targeting our Country-speciific domains. I.d be grateful if you can take a look at my scenario, and what I think is the solution, to make sure I’m on the right track.

    Scenario: 4 domains – COM (generic domain), CO.UK (targeting UK), DE (targeting (Germany) and FR (targeting France).

    I have the following source code for []

    and I have derived this source code from the following

    <link rel="canonical" href="http://” />
    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="” />
    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="” />
    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="” />

    Comments/feedback most welcome.

  • Hareesh B Choudhari

    Hi, instead of this tag implementation, can I use International targeting option from Google web master tools?