The hreflang attribute is one of the most complex tools for website promotion. It is used for portals that have several versions of the same content in different languages. In fact, hreflang is a code that marks different URLs of the site with similar content in a different language(s) or in the same language but for different regions.
What no reciprocal hreflang means
When testing a website, the following error often occurs: there is no reciprocal hreflang, namely, there is no return tag, and on some pages, there are no links of this attribute to other pages. In other words, the hreflang link on page P leads to page M, but page M should also have a link to return to page P.
Why is this important?
The absence of a return tag can disrupt the correct operation of search engines, which will ignore this code.
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What triggers this issue
Typically, the main cause of the error for the hreflang attribute is typos in the code or URL. This results in incorrect attributes that are considered wrong by search engines. Such attributes are not indexed by search engine crawlers and, therefore, not implemented.
Common errors in the hreflang code
Let us review common mistakes made when writing the hreflang code:
- Incorrect sequence of attribute components. You should always use the language code first before the country code. You should follow the standards: language – ISO 639-1, local – ISO 3166-1 alpha-2. For the attribute to be configured correctly, it is important to specify the language of the page; the country can be omitted. But not vice versa: if you specify the region but forget the language, the attribute will not work correctly. More details can be found here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/crawling/localized-versions .
- Inaccurate use of the separation line between language and region codes. You cannot use an underscore or a dash. Only a hyphen is allowed.
- Inconsistencies in the hreflang setting. Proper attribute writing implies that one language matches one page.
- The inaccurate spelling of letters or numbers in the code. To avoid such errors, use the hreflang tag generator tool.
- Errors in links. Several scenarios are possible here:
- redirect to non-existent pages – 4xx (5xx) errors;
- absence of some hreflang element, for example, language is not indicated;
- redirect to another page – in this case, the other address is not added to the search engine database;
- use of relative links with the first part missing;
- absence of reciprocal links confirming the attribute action.
All of the above errors lead to the outcome that the page will be ignored by search engines.
Errors in hreflang: how to fix them?
To eliminate spelling errors, as well as to correctly use the standards of languages and countries, you need to review all the codes manually. And the Screaming Frog SEO Spider tool will help eliminate inconsistencies between one language content and one page. You can also see how to properly configure the hreflang attribute in this video guide by Maile Ohye from the Google team.
The lack of backlinks in hreflang is also fixed by a thorough audit of each page where this error is found. To avoid such errors in the future, the following recommendations should be adhered to:
- add absolute links rather than relative ones;
- eliminate URLs that lead to non-existent pages;
- when adding parts of the hreflang attribute, constantly check them for compliance with the standards.
Also, to avoid errors that can prevent search engines from seeing the page, you should decide what is more important for your site – language or country. If you need language, you may not indicate the region. In the second case, it is worth specifying codes for both language and country.