Google Webmaster Tools Adds International Targeting Report to Show hreflang Errors

If you're marketing internationally, it is important that your content is translated properly. Why? Even though many countries have English speakers, your prospective customers might only speak the native language. By marketing to consumers in the language they prefer, you can improve the way that they interact with your content.

Unfortunately, translating your content may be easier said than done. Google Webmaster Tools has announced the addition of a new reporting feature to help marketers troubleshoot rel-alternate-hreflang annotations (an attribute that communicates with Google if there are requirements for alternate languages on a web page).

How Does hreflang Work?

If you utilize hreflang, Google will be able to display the correct language right in the search results. In order to ensure that the proper content is displayed you will need to add the proper tags into the code for each page. Below are examples of hreflang annotations for English, French and Spanish.

< link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en/test.htm" hreflang="en" />
< link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/fr/test.htm" hreflang="fr" />
< link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/sp/test.htm" hreflang="es" />

Missing Return Links

Often, marketers may put the proper tags (like the ones above) on certain pages, and forget to include them on other pages. This creates a problem known as "missing return links". Google simply explains this by saying "If page A links to page B, page B must link back to page A, otherwise the annotations may not be interpreted correctly."

Because of this issue, Google has improved reporting to detect when pages aren't linked properly.

Google Webmaster Tools No Return Tags

[insert no return tags]

Utilizing Proper Language Codes

Another issue that some users were experiencing was "incorrect hreflang values". In order for a hreflang attribute to function properly it must be in one of the following formats:

Fortunately the new reporting will also identify improper language codes so that they can be fixed.

Google Webmaster Tools Language Codes

Glenn Gabe of G-Squared Interactive participated in the beta-testing of Webmaster Tools hreflang debug tool.

"In my opinion, the reporting can be extremely helpful for larger-scale websites that are implementing hreflang across many pages," Gabe said. "Being able to quickly identify problems via the new reporting can lead to quick fixes. And that's always a good thing."

About the author

Ashley Zeckman is the Director of Marketing for Benovate, a Minneapolis based health management company. She is responsible for the digital marketing strategy for the organization which includes search engine optimization, social media, and content marketing. She also provides guidance on communications best practices and on the communications support available for each client's unique business needs and budget.

Prior to joining Benovate, Ashley was a Communications Manager for RedBrick Health. Ashley also held the position of Marketing Manager for TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing agency. Her areas of expertise include communications, client relations, integrated marketing, online marketing, marketing strategy, content marketing, SEO, digital PR, blogging, B2B and B2C marketing, customer segmentation, and social media strategy.