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I've been told by an SEO company to add a hreflang attribute to every page on a single-language website (ie. 'self-referential' tags), but everything I've read about the hreflang tag, including Google's take, suggests that it's only really useful for multi-language websites. Adding this would be a huge amount of work for this particular site, and I really can't see the potential benefits (or even any indication that such a thing is considered best practice by anyone).

This Google Webmaster blogpost does recommend using self-referential hreflang attributes, but only in relation to multiple-language websites.

"If you have multiple language versions of a URL, each language page must identify all language versions, including itself. For example, if your site provides content in French, English, and Spanish, the Spanish version must include a rel="alternate" hreflang="x" link for itself in addition to links to the French and English versions. Similarly, the English and French versions must each include the same references to the French, English, and Spanish versions."

Is there any SEO benefit to adding such a tag to a single language website?

E.g. Just a single instance, like:

<link hreflang="en" href="http://www.example.com" rel="alternate">

...to the document <head>?

(Please note that this is in addition to the obligatory lang="en" attribute in the <html> element.)

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  • Great question! One up-vote on the way. I am not sure and I wait to see the verdict like you. I would suspect that there is no specific SEO benefit, but I have been wrong before. Go figure! Who wooda thunkit!? – closetnoc Jun 30 '14 at 17:33
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There is no benefit in using the hreflang on a single language website, it is meant exclusively for multilingual and international websites. I am not suggesting that Google (or other search engines) would penalize you for it, but they would definitely not reward you.

You can see a proper implementation of the hreflang tag over at trip advisor - a well respected multilingual and global brand (which includes both country and language targeting) below and you should read the following article and associated official Google Video publised a few days ago:

http://www.seroundtable.com/googles-international-targeting-webmaster-tools-18782.html https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z51qbs7wLx8&feature=youtu.be&t=22m40s

Bottom line: Do not add the tag to single language website

The sampled Trip Advisor code (where en-GB is targeting English in the UK and en-CA targeting English speakers in Canada) :

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="http://www.tripadvisor.com/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-GB" href="http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-CA" href="http://www.tripadvisor.ca/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="it" href="http://www.tripadvisor.it/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="http://www.tripadvisor.es/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="de" href="http://www.tripadvisor.de/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="fr" href="http://www.tripadvisor.fr/"/>

BTW - Google does not need the lang element as well, it reads a site's language just fine. If you want to target a specific English speaking country (for example), set your preferred country in Google webmaster tools. The lang element is a W3C recommendation and not Google's - they can associate a site with a proper language for quite sometime now:

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.il/2010/03/working-with-multilingual-websites.html

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There are no tangible benefits from using the hreflang attribute, beyond special usage like the one described by Google. It is declarative markup and does not cause any action or affect rendering, unless you make it to. The HTML5 LC explicitly warns: “It is purely advisory. [...] User agents must not consider this attribute authoritative — upon fetching the resource, user agents must use only language information associated with the resource to determine its language, not metadata included in the link to the resource.”

It is thus a bit of a mystery what the attribute is meant to be used for, except in link elements with rel="alternate". Browsers might communicate the information to the user, at least when the user asks for information about a link. But such things, though potentially useful, have been very limited in browsers.

The specific element presented in the question says that there is an alternate version of the current document in English language at http://www.example.com. The href attribute is rather pointless if the current document is in English. And if it is an another language, you actually have a page in two languages-

  • Apologies, I'm asking with regards to Google and SEO, not the user experience. – Django Reinhardt Jun 24 '14 at 17:20
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    My answer addresses the attribute in general. – Jukka K. Korpela Jun 24 '14 at 17:40
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    Are you able to edit your answer? I guess it's just missing "no SEO benefit". ;) – Binarysurf Jul 1 '14 at 13:12
  • I can edit my answer, and I had to edit it back after the person who asked the question had vandalized it by changing its content substantially. I don’t see any need to edit it unless it is vandalized again; it gives a correct answer to the question, including its mutated form. – Jukka K. Korpela Jul 1 '14 at 13:19
  • There's no references in this answer relating to the question. There's just a lot of speculation: "it is thus a bit of a mystery", "browsers might communicate the information" (do they or not?), "the href attribute is rather pointless if the current document is in English" (which contradicts what Google says in the blogpost linked to in the original question). What sources can you bring to your answer? Plus it's worth noting that the question is about the hreflang attribute, not the href attribute. – Django Reinhardt Jul 2 '14 at 17:11
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I prefer to use the lang attribute of the <html> tag to declare the language for the current web page:

<html lang="en" dir="ltr">

However, even that doesn't have any effect on SEO. Google doesn't trust any meta information (lang=, hreflang=, or anything else) provided with a page to determine what language it is in. It detects the language based on the words used in the page. I believe that Google finds enough instances where the meta data is wrong, that detection is more accurate.

Google does a very good job with language detection. I very rarely find cases in which they get it wrong and are showing pages to users who speak a different language. The corner cases are almost always cases where multiple languages are used in a page.

As far as hreflang goes, Google's blog post from your question states:

Your annotations should be self-referential. Page A should use rel-alternate-hreflang annotation linking to itself.

So if you use alternate hreflang links, they can and should have one that points back to the current page specifying the current language. This indicates that it is OK to use a self referential hreflang.

It won't hurt your site in any way if you do choose to to specify the language of the current page. It may even help in a non-SEO way: Browsers and browser plugins may use language meta data (especially lang=) to offer to translate the page.

When Google says the hreflang attribute "greatly helps search engines show the right results to your users", they are only talking about the case in which the same content is available in multiple locales. In the case in which only one version of the content is available globally, they use only language detection.

hreflang is most useful to Google when the language is the same but the targeted locale is different. An example would be the same content with minor changes for audiences in the US, UK, and Australia. In that case, language detection doesn't work well and they need to rely on meta data to determine which page to show to which user. As an alternate to hreflang, the geo targeting can be specified in Google Webmaster Tools by verifying each site, subdomain, or subdirectory independently and setting the geo targeting options for each from the gear -> "Site Settings" -> "Geographic target".

For more information on multiple languages for your website and geo targeting, see: How should I structure my URLs for both SEO and localization? The answer to that question should probably be updated with hreflang as another acceptable alternative to telling Google about your site's languages. Using hreflang would probably make specifying the language as a URL parameter OK. That is a practice that I wouldn't have recommended without hreflang.

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Don't use like you have used it. Use it in <html> tag. Like following example:

<html dir="ltr" lang="en">....</html>

It is not necessary to put this attribute to your page as it just tells Google the language of page. It is not necessary because Google itself detects the language and it is very good in detecting any language.

It is not necessary and then also if you want to add it then add it like given above. And one more thing, if you want to add this to just a single paragraph on your website then enter like given below:

<p lang="en">.....</p>
  • I'm sorry Adarsh, this is not the right answer. – Django Reinhardt Jun 30 '14 at 23:36
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    Actually, the lang attribute is sometimes useful for correcting problems. For example, I had a product listing page on a site lacking the lang='en' attribute that google chrome thought needed to be translated from Filipino. – Kzqai Jul 1 '14 at 23:30
  • @Kzqai The lang attribute is very helpful, but it's already mentioned in the original question. – Django Reinhardt Jul 2 '14 at 16:45

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