Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How to select the best caching solution for WordPress

There is no denying that the existence of an appropriate website is justified primarily by its loading speed: the faster, the better. Forty-seven percent of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, which is quite a task to accomplish as a new website owner.

Interestingly, even a single second of delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions, and Google’s algorithms favour fast-loading websites in the form of search engine rankings. With so much at stake with regard to your website’s loading time, the pain is real. So, how does one make sure that WordPress websites are fast to load?

Caching is an efficient solution

Caching serves the purpose of creating and keeping a static version of your website and serving it to a requesting visitor when they access your website for the second time or more. It enhances your site’s user experience by swiftly presenting the static version without any delay.

This delay, otherwise, is simply caused when a visitor is trying to access a website from their browser and all the website elements such as the posts, slider, headers, CSS files, JavaScript, images, videos, etc., take their own time to get downloaded on the browser. When caching is in place, your website is ever-ready to deliver a cached/static version – quickly.

If you are new to website creation, how do you implement Caching on your website? What are the ways and means? Are their tools that can help you do it?

To start, you must test your website for its speed monitoring using tools such as:

These tools are a great way to figure out anything that might not be going well on your website’s backend when it comes to its loading time and similar issues. Since WordPress websites have their own share of down time owing to a number of factors, you cannot always act laid back when it comes to the performance and WordPress security of your digital property. If you would like to learn about striking a balance with your WordPress site’s security apart from its performance, you can read more here.

Broadly divided into two, WordPress Caching can be determined as:

  1. Browser Caching: Reducing the load on the server is a great way of optimizing your website’s speed and that is what Browser Caching does. It reduces the number of requests per page, resulting in the superpower where your website loads faster.
  1. Server Caching: Used by websites that have spiked traffic rates, Server Caching is largely about when data is cached on the server itself, helping with the loading revisions.

The best plugins to incorporate caching onto your WordPress site

You can choose from the following list of plugins to manage caching on your WordPress website.

  1. WP Super Cache

Total number of downloads: 2+ million

One of the best caching plugins in the WordPress repository, WP Super Cache is a great cache management plugin. Generating static HTML files for your WordPress website, the plugin serves cached files in three ways, which are based on speed. It employs methods like Apache mod_rewrite and a modification of your .htaccess file to serve supercached static HTML files.

 

  1. W3 Total Cache

Total number of downloads: 1+ million

Highly recommended by web hosts and developers, this plugin has continued to reign the WordPress caching market for a number of years. By employing browser caching, it renders pages quickly, which results in reduced page load time, and further garners more page views and increased time on site.

A great plugin in itself, W3 Total Cache contributes to improvement in your site’s SEO, offers content delivery network (CDN) integration, and overall user-experience on the WordPress site.

  1. WP Fastest Cache

Total number of downloads: 600,000+

The plugin serves the usual caching functions, offers SSL and CDN support, allows Cache Timeout for specific pages, enable/disable cache option for mobile devices and for logged-in users. Available in over 18 languages, the plugin does not require the user to modify the .htacces file and is pretty simple to set up. However, it does not currently support WordPress Multisite, but it is hoped that the plugin developers are working towards introducing this. Also, their premium version has much more to offer.

  1. Cache Enabler

Total number of downloads: 40,000+

Working its way to improving the performance of your website, the Cache enabler plugin offers WordPress multisite support. Its disk cache engine is efficient and fast and the plugin can be easily setup. One of the unique features of this plugin is its ability to create two cached files: plain HTML one and gzipped (pre-compressed files). It also offers the features of clearing the cache in either a manual or an automated manner.

  1. Hummingbird Page Speed Optimization

Total number of downloads: 10,000+

A great speed optimization caching plugin by WPMU Dev, the Hummingbird plugin features file compression, minification and full-page, browser and Gravatar caching. It also provides performance reports for your WordPress site so that you can maintain its speed. Its scanning feature keeps a check on files that might be slowing your site and provides probable fixes.

NOTE: While caching is great, you will also need to implement other efforts if you really want to increase your website’s speed. Some of the things that you can easily do are:

  • Invest in a reliable web hosting service and go with a hosting plan that suits the size of your business website
  • Getting a CDN service is a great way to cater to your site visitors from various geographical locations without having them to wait up a bit too long for the server to fetch your site data
  • Declutter your website’s database, uninstall plugins and themes that you no longer need
  • Always use a WordPress theme that has been optimized for speed.

Conclusions

Website speed matters, and caching is one of the easiest ways out there to accomplish a fast loading site. Since your site’s speed has a direct relationship with user experience and the traffic it drives in, it follows that search engine optimization also slides in. Therefore, you must direct all your efforts into making sure that your website is capable of impressing its visitors with an unmatched speed.

Lucy Barret is an experienced Web Developer and passionate blogger, currently working at WPCodingDev. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

How to use CRO as a power boost for paid search, social ads and SEO  

If you are doing paid search, paid social or SEO, and are not optimizing your conversions, you might be leaving money on the table.

Here is a true story shared by Momoko Price, partner at Kantan Designs: a company was investing thousands of dollars a month into PPC campaigns but wasn’t optimizing or even tracking on-site conversions. The AdWords department was focusing on getting clicks without any insight into whether or not they were getting leads. Back-of-the-napkin calculations showed that the average cost per acquisition (CPA) was $1,100. The estimated customer lifetime value was $1200. You can do the math.

This is an extreme case, but the truth is, if you don’t have a page that converts, you end up just paying for clicks instead of conversions. CRO can help you get more from your advertising dollars.

How to get a higher return on paid search with CRO

1. Use CRO to improve the landing page experience and turn more visitors into customers

When we make the landing page more compelling and user-friendly, it lifts conversions and starts an upward spiral of success: higher conversions > lower CPA > higher return on ad spend (ROAS) > increased ad budget > increased overall revenue and profit.

It may take a few tests to get a strong lift in conversions; it depends on how much research goes into building your test hypotheses. A legal services firm saw the positive impact of CRO in the very first test they ran on their paid search landing pages. Originally, the value proposition above the fold was not scannable and not easy to understand quickly. The CRO team at 3Q Digital created a variation that described the benefits the firm’s services clearly and concisely using the headline and a bulleted list. As a result, lead form submissions went up by 24% at 95% statistical significance.

Control:

Variation:

 

2. Use CRO to determine the best landing pages for paid traffic

When dedicated landing pages for search ads are not available, a lot of companies drive paid traffic to the homepage. Chris Goward’s “scent trail” metaphor shows why this might be hurting their results. Imagine: the ad promises a solution to a specific need the customer has – the “prey scent” is very strong. The customer clicks the ad and lands on the homepage that offers multiple products or services – the “scent trail” became much weaker. The customer now has to figure out how to get to the product or service they were originally interested in. This creates friction, and the risk of a bounce is very high.

CRO can help map out an effective customer journey from ad to conversion. The good news is, you don’t always have to create new landing pages from scratch. Simply redirecting paid traffic to a different page on the website can increase conversion rates. Here is how a regional bank reaped the benefits of this approach.

The bank was looking for a way to get more website visitors to submit a loan application. Paid search campaigns were driving people to the homepage. However, Google Analytics and Hotjar data showed that after landing on the homepage, many users instantly clicked the ‘loans’ tab in the top navigation. Our CRO team hypothesized that sending paid traffic directly to the loans page would better match the high motivation of the users and would increase conversions. It worked – with loans page as the new landing page for paid traffic, there was 51% lift in loan application submissions.

Control – homepage:

 

Variation – loans page:

 

 

If you do have custom landing pages for search campaigns, make sure to track their post-click performance. A story shared by Momoko Price shows why it matters:

“A client shared their PPC landing page metrics with me but hadn’t actually calculated which landing page variants were performing best past the click (they were only looking at impression-to-ad CTR, but not the landing page conversions-per-PPC click rate). After looking into it, I discovered that the highest-performing PPC ad-group was driving traffic to a *sub-optimal* landing page variant. By directing that traffic to the highest performing landing page variant, we were able to substantially lower the overall CPA.”

3. Use CRO to increase lead quality

With CRO, you can make informed changes to the landing pages that drive not only initial conversions, but also deeper metrics, such as sales, LTV, and ultimately profit.

Steven Shyne, senior CX strategist at 6D Global shares a story about an experiment that impacted both conversions and lead quality:

“Our client, a telecom solutions provider, was debating whether or not to show pricing on the landing page. On the one hand, there was pressure from internal stakeholders and competitors to list the prices. On the other hand, the company provides customized quotes to its customers based on their business needs, and showing boilerplate pricing would go against this core value proposition. Our hypothesis was that removing pricing from the landing page would encourage prospective customers to fill out the form and request a precise quote. This would increase engagement with the sales team and improve metrics all the way through the sales funnel.

“The variation with the pricing information removed showed a 47% increase in qualified leads. Our client is continuing to see very strong performance and we are continuing to test/optimize when, where, and if at all we show pricing, all the way from ad unit to landing page to lead qualification page.”

 

Control:

 

Variation:

 

In summary, the connection between paid search and CRO is natural and profitable.

 

Miguel Madrigal, search account lead at 3Q Digital sees CRO as a big value multiplier: “As performance marketers, there is only so much we can do on the front end. We can take the search queries, match them to keywords and ad copy, then mirror the ad copy on the landing page. If we tie these pieces together, we have done everything in our power. Working in tandem with CRO, always iterating, we can use the engagement and traffic we already have to drive better results.”

How to get more from social ads with CRO

There is a lot of pressure on social ads and landing pages to be both relevant and engaging. CRO can provide a valuable boost and help beat cat videos in the battle for customer attention.

Here’s how you can use CRO to make your social ad campaigns more effective.

1. Use CRO to create compelling ad copy and landing page copy

Conversion research can help identify the customers’ biggest pain points, desires and objections and translate them into effective copy. Customer interviews, surveys, Exit Intent Polls, customer reviews mining, etc., are great sources of powerful messaging that speaks to customers in their own language and drives action.

Talia Wolf, CEO at GetUplift, always uses in-depth conversion research to inform Facebook Ad and landing page copy:

We use our emotional targeting research to optimize every step in the funnel, including social ads and social content. During a project with Fiverr last year, we worked to identify the prospects’ stage of awareness and their emotional drivers. We discovered where the customer was emotionally in the buyer journey. These insights helped us write new Facebook ad copy, choose new hero images and craft a new landing page strategy which got a 17% increase in conversion rates.”

2. Use CRO to optimize the landing page experience for the visitors coming from social media

Scott Olivares, growth and conversion director at Nabler, shares a story about how tailoring the landing page to social traffic helped boost engagement:

Our client, an online university, invests heavily in social media advertising. All of the visitors from their campaigns go to landing pages made specifically for those campaigns. The lead acquisition rate was pretty bad, which made the cost per lead very high.

“In our research, we discovered that desktop visitors had a much higher conversion rate than mobile visitors – at least double. However, mobile visitors made up about 80% of all traffic. When we looked at the landing pages, we saw that they were very text-heavy and obviously designed with desktop in mind. We came up with a new experience designed specifically for mobile visitors referred by a social media site – people who are looking for a quick endorphin boost from something funny or interesting, that doesn’t take too much effort to consume. Our new experience condensed all the content into about five single lines listing the excuses that people usually have for not going back to school. The excuses were crossed out with a plus sign next to them. Clicking the plus sign revealed why that particular excuse was no longer valid at this university.

“This had a tremendous impact and many more mobile visitors began down the lead path. The lead start rate increased by 19% with 95% statistical significance.”

 

                           Control:                                                                      Variation:

                                                

 

CRO can help you make the most of your investment in paid traffic – both search and social. If your focus is organic traffic, CRO can help on this front as well.

How to get more from SEO with CRO

First, the burning question: does CRO help or hurt SEO?

Rand Fishkin from Moz has the answer:

“The truth is, there is no conflict between the two. Here are the broad elements that factor into the page’s ranking ability:

  • keywords and on-page (content and HTML source code)
  • content quality
  • user and usage data
  • domain authority
  • page authority (individual shares and links)
  • SPAM analysis

Changes made to the page with CRO affect just the first three factors. Nothing you’re going to do with CRO is going to have a negative effect on your domain authority, your page authority or SPAM analysis. If you are doing high-quality CRO and your conversion rate is rising, you are positively impacting two of the factors: your content quality signals and your user and usage data (with improved user experience, more people are spending time on the page, more people are engaging, Google ranks the page higher). The only factor we need to worry about is keywords and on-page. Here you just need to stick to some basic principles:

  1. Put the words and phrases you are trying to rank for into HTML page title – you probably won’t be messing with your HTML page title when you are doing CRO anyway
  2. Use your target words and phrases in the URL (URL doesn’t matter much for CRO)
  3. Use your target words and phrases in the headline – headline does matter for CRO, but you almost certainly want to have the terms and phrases you are going after in your headline for SEO as well as CRO.

Long story short – there is no CRO requirement that would interfere with getting your SEO right.”

The goal of SEO pages is providing information, building awareness and authority; however, it doesn’t mean they can’t have commercial value and generate conversions. You can use CRO to turn SEO pages into additional funnel entry points.

Harrison DeSantis, SEO account manager at 3Q Digital, firmly believes in optimizing SEO pages for conversions: “I wish I could use CRO on every SEO account! We are putting in effort to drive traffic to these pages; I want to make sure we don’t squander it. Since SEO pages are top of the funnel, most visitors might not become customers right away, but then there are those organic visitors who are ready to convert. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to take action. Not everyone is going to do it, but everyone needs to know that they have the option to take the next step – the end game they can go back to when they are ready.”

Here is an example of how a company used this approach and saw substantial lifts in conversions on SEO pages:

A platform for getting psychic advice has a dozen high-ranking SEO pages. However, in the past these pages generated very few registrations – most visitors left immediately after reading the content. Conversion research showed that the next steps on SEO pages were not obvious, the visitors were not engaging with the call to action on the right rail, possibly because of “banner blindness”.

Our CRO team ran a test placing a call to action into the body of the article, directly in the line of sight of the reader. The goal was to create interest and provide an easy opportunity to take action. The experiment was successful – the variation showed a 94% lift in registrations at 99% statistical significance.

 

Control:

 

 

Variation:

 

In the follow-up test, the team focused on improving the mobile experience on SEO pages by adding a “sticky” drawer CTA with an offer relevant to the article content. The variation provided the page visitors an opportunity to enter the funnel easily at any point during their session. The variation showed a 349% lift in registrations at 99% statistical significance.

   Control:                                                                            Variation:

                                            

 

Conclusion

CRO is a superpower that can help you amplify results from paid search, paid social, and SEO, and position your business to scale effectively online.

Here is a checklist of how you can use CRO to make the most of your user acquisition dollars:

  • Use CRO to improve relevance and clarity and ease of landing page experiences for paid search campaigns.
  • Use CRO value proposition testing to create winning ad campaign copy.
  • Use CRO to determine the best pages to drive paid traffic to.
  • Use CRO to increase lead quality.
  • Use CRO to inform ad and landing page copy for paid social campaigns.
  • Use CRO to tailor landing page experience for social traffic.
  • Use CRO to drive conversions from SEO traffic.

 

Svitlana Graves is CRO specialist at 3Q Digital. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

How to force Google to recrawl your website

If you have launched a new website, updated a single page on your existing domain, or altered many pages and/or the structure of your site, you will likely want Google to display your latest content in its SERPs.

Google’s crawlers are pretty good at their job. If you think of a new article on a big domain, for example, the search engine will crawl and index any changes pretty quickly thanks to the natural traffic and links from around the web which will alert its algorithms to this new content.

For most sites, however, it is good practice to give Google a little assistance with its indexing job.

Each of the following official Google tools can achieve this. And each are more or less suitable depending on whether you want Google to recrawl a single or page or more of your site.

It is also important to note two things before we start:

  1. None of these tools can force Google to start indexing your site immediately. You do have to be patient
  2. Quicker and more comprehensive indexing of your site will occur if your content is fresh, original, useful, easy to navigate, and being linked to from elsewhere on the web. These tools can’t guarantee Google will deem your site indexable. And they shouldn’t be used as an alternative to publishing content which is adding value to the internet ecosystem.

Fetch as Google

Google’s Fetch tool is the most logical starting point for getting your great new site or content indexed.

First, you need to have a Google account in order to have a Google Webmaster account – from there you will be prompted to ‘add a property’ which you will then have to verify. This is all very straightforward if you have not yet done this.

Once you have the relevant property listed in your Webmaster Tools account, you can then ‘perform a fetch’ on any URL related to that property. If your site is fetchable (you can also check if it is displaying correctly) you can then submit for it to be added to Google’s index.

This tool also allows you to submit a single URL (‘Crawl only this URL’) or the selected URL and any pages it links to directly (‘Crawl this URL and its direct links’). Although both of these requests come with their own limits; 10 for the former option and 2 for the latter.

Add URL

You might also have heard of Google’s Add URL tool.

 

Think of this as a simpler version of the above Fetch tool. It is a slower, simpler tool without the functionality and versatility of Fetch. But it still exists, so – it seems – still worth adding your URL to if you can.

You can also use Add URL with just a Google account, rather than adding and verifying a property to Webmaster Tools. Simply add your URL and click to assure the service you aren’t a robot!

Add a Sitemap

If you have amended many pages on a domain or changed the structure of the site, adding a sitemap to Google is the best option.

Like Fetch As Google, you need to add a sitemap via the Webmaster search console.

[See our post Sitemaps & SEO: An introductory guide if you are in the dark about what sitemaps are].

Once you have generated or built a sitemap: on Webmaster Tools select the domain on which it appears, select ‘crawl’/’sitemaps’/’add/test sitemap’, type in its URL (or, as you can see, the domain URL appended with sitemap.xml) and ‘submit’.

As I pointed out in the introduction to this post…

Google is pretty good at crawling and indexing the web but giving the spiders as much assistance with their job as possible makes for quicker and cleaner SEO.

Simply having your property added to Webmaster Tools, running Google Analytics, and then using the above tools are the foundation for getting your site noticed by the search giant.

But good, useful content on a well-designed usable site really gets you visible – by Google and most importantly humans.

 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

How to integrate SEO into the translation process to maximize global success

When expanding internationally, there is common misconception that SEO, and in particular technical SEO, should be done once the website has been built. However, by implementing any SEO recommendations after a website has been translated, there could be extensive rework which will delay a website launch and impact on budgets. There are also some aspects in a site’s infrastructure that are essential to optimize in advance to avoid extensive rework later. So, how do you go about building this into the translation process?

The old approach to translation

For a while now, companies have been aware of the need for a local language website when targeting new global markets. Back in 2014 a Common Sense Advisory report stated “75% [of web visitors] prefer to buy products in their native language. In addition, 60% rarely or never buy from English-only websites.” Competing in global markets with a non-translated website is no longer seen as a viable option if a company wants to compete against local business.

The traditional approach has been to focus on translation only, with the key debate being around whether you should use a human translator or machine translation, such as Google Translate.

This approach is now shifting as companies have begun to realize the benefits of localizing their content and website for their target markets. Instead of a single piece of content being translated word for word, companies are now adapting the content to resonate and engage, allowing them to compete more effectively against local competitors. This is known as transcreation, where marketing messages are adapted to different cultures and languages whilst maintaining the original context and intent of the messaging.

However, localization and transcreation are still not enough to succeed globally. Customers need to be able to find your website and the only way to do that is to increase your online visibility. This is where integrating SEO into translation workflows comes in.

A new approach to succeeding globally

To succeed in new markets, you need to maximize the visibility of your products or services. To do this SEO needs to be woven into the translation process, but it needs to be adapted to different markets. The key elements to consider are localized keyword research, site structure and hreflang implementation.

Localized keyword research

Many companies simply translate domestic keywords in the hopes of ranking well in new markets. The problem with this strategy is it doesn’t take account of the search volume in different markets or country-unique keywords that may have high search volume but no domestic equivalent terminology.

The only way to ensure you are targeting the right relevant keywords is to use a vendor with native linguists who also understand the process of keyword research. However, many believe keyword research is enough to help you rank in new markets. This process needs to occur alongside technical SEO, two elements of which we will now discuss.

Site structure – which domain?

When it comes to site structure, it is important to consider future expansion plans and ensure the option you pick is future proofed for your needs.

There are three main options to consider:

  1. ccTLD – Country Code Top-Level domain (example.fr)

In general, this is the preferred domain option when expanding internationally. By using the ccTLD you’re not only sending a strong signal to search engines that you are targeting a specific country, but you are also establishing trust with the user, which will result in a better click-through rate from the SERPs. For example, users in France are notoriously swayed by .FR websites and will be more likely to click on these than generic domains such as .com

The downside to ccTLD is there is no sharing of link authority from any parent top-level domain. In essence, you’re building up the link authority of these sites from scratch, which can make it harder to rank. There is also the potential for your domain to be unavailable in new markets.

  1. Sub-folder (example.com/fr)

The main benefit of using the sub-folder approach is the shared link authority of the top-level domain. Any links built across all the country sites will benefit each subsequent site because that link authority is held within the top-level domain. This can have a real ranking benefit for all your regional sites, even if they are relatively new.

The downside is it creates less trust than using a ccTLD structure and as a result, this may impact on the click-through rate. It is also a weaker location signal to search engines compared to ccTLD and using a sub-domain structure.

  1. Sub-domain (fr.example.com)

This approach sits between the other two in terms of pros and cons. Firstly, there is a degree of location signal given to search engines because you can host separate sub-domains in separate countries, which could potentially give you a ranking boost in that country. There is also some sharing of the authority of the main domain, but certainly not as much as you would see with the sub-folder approach.

The downside is that there will still be some linking activity required because you won’t benefit from all of the link authority of the ccTLD. The location signal is also not as strong as you would get with a unique ccTLD.

It is important to choose a domain structure that is right for your business and future expansion plans. ccTLD is the ideal structure but for some companies it may not be possible, or you may decide the sharing of link authority is more important and opt for a sub-folder structure. Whichever option you chose, it is important to consider site structure before building a website, not after.

Implenting hreflang

Hreflang is an HTML tag that you can add directly to the source code of a page when you have duplicate content in multiple languages. It helps search engines understand the language of a piece of content and therefore help ensure it’s served to the right users in the right market. Correct implementation of hreflang is essential to ensure your localized websites are ranked correctly.

A key element to consider is how to implement hreflang correctly for two bits of same-language content that target two different countries e.g. French for France versus French for Canada. By incorrectly implementing the hreflang code you could not only affect your chances of ranking organically in an entire market but also affect the original and other connected sites.

One vendor or two?

When it comes to integrating SEO and translation into one workflow, a big consideration is whether to have one vendor who specializes in search engine-optimized website translation or two vendors, one an SEO specialist and the other a professional translation company.

If you already have agency support for SEO as part of your integrated digital marketing strategy, deciding to just outsource the translation element may seem like the easiest option. However, managing two vendors can become a tricky task and it is difficult to weave the SEO into the translation process this way. Also, some digital agencies may be experts in SEO but they may not have the same expertise when it comes to international site structures or international keyword research. Finally, every time you update content, there is also a potential for previous SEO work to be overwritten and this can lead to large costs as previous SEO work will have to be redone having implications not only on project costs but also search traffic to your site.

Having one vendor allows you to manage the process much more easily. The workflows of the language service provider should be refined to weave SEO in throughout and there should be one upfront cost for the SEO work, which should save you money in the long run. Having one vendor also helps with ensuring keyword research has been carried out that is relevant to the new market rather than a simple translation of domestic keywords.

So, what next?

The translation industry has changed a lot in the last few years, moving from just accurately translated content to localizing content to resonate and now optimizing on a local level for increased organic visibility. Whilst incorporating SEO is a big step in the right direction, there is still more that can be done to increase the chances of success in new markets. The next step for companies is to consider the cultural elements when they expand internationally. This includes the best payment methods, delivery options and trust signals for those markets. By incorporating this with SEO, you will improve your online visibility, conversion rates and ultimately your overall ROI.

 

Nicola Carmyllie is the managing director of Translation Laboratory, an optimized website translation company.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Six Hreflang tag pitfalls to watch out for on e-commerce websites

When taking a website international, one of the most important technical SEO elements to get right is the Hreflang tag. When you add into this process the unique challenges of managing an e-commerce website such as seasonal changes of products and stock availability this process can increase in complexity. At this month’s BrightonSEO I’ll be covering this in more detail but here’s a teaser of what I’ll be talking about.

Why are Hreflang tags so important?

Hreflang tags help search engines understand which version of your content to show to which audience.

Google has been moving away from relying on ccTLDs as the main indicator of location. Instead it is making decisions on serving content, based on user settings of location and language, thus increasing the importance of the Hreflang tag.

Anyone who has taken a well-established brand international will have tales of the original high authority site appearing in the search results in their new international market.

What are the most common issues with Hreflang tags?

Over the years we’ve reviewed thousands of Hreflang tags, and time and again we’ve seen the same types of errors occurring. Hopefully, after reading this you’ll know what to avoid.

Incorrect codes

One of the most common issues is the use of made up language or country codes. Often, the official codes are different for the language and the country, so your tags are different.

Good examples of this include:

  • Swedish – not SE-SE but SV-SE. SV standing for Svenska, the name of the Swedish language
  • Japanese – not JP-JP but JA-JP for Japanese
  • The UK – The official country code for the UK is GB not UK so the correct code is EN-GB not EN-UK.

You don’t have to remember these codes, as you can easily find a list of the two types of code online:

Incorrect coding of the Hreflang tag

Another area that can result in issues with Hreflang tags is the way in which these are coded.

For e-commerce websites we recommend adding the Hreflang tags to the sitemap of your website, as these are dynamic and so it’s easier to keep up with stock available and product changes.

The use of the syntax is one of the most common things we see as an issue with either on-page Hreflang tags or those implemented in the sitemap.

There are three simple rules to help with this:

  1. The language code always goes first
  2. Language and country codes must be separated by a hyphen not an underscore or any other mark
  3. A website can target a language only (so for example ES for Spanish speakers anywhere in the world). A website cannot target a country only (as you have to identify the language you are presenting your content in).

Missing self-referencing Hreflang tag

When listing all the Hreflang tags, whether it’s on-page or in the sitemap file, make sure that you include a tag for the current language. So, if you are providing Hreflang tags from a German page or sitemap make sure that there is a German Hreflang as well as the other markets.

Conflicts with canonical tags

Make sure that the self-referencing tag uses the same URL as the canonical tag on the page when adding Hreflang tags. If the two tags conflict it will just confuse the search engines.

Hreflang tag URLs which aren’t correct

This might be a URL which redirects or a page which isn’t live any more. The best example of this we’ve ever seen was a website using a translation proxy which was creating Hreflang tags for the original English page names. All of these tags, site wide, then redirected. An example would be something like this:

English URL www.example.co.uk/womens

German URL www.example.de/damen

Hreflang tags

<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://ift.tt/2EW40dm; hreflang=”en-gb” />

<link rel=”alternate” href=”https://ift.tt/2Hw9GAg; hreflang=”de-de” />

However, www.example.de/womens redirects to www.example.de/damen so the tag is ignored.

No return errors in Google Search Console

These errors are created when the pages listed in the tags don’t link to each other reciprocally. If you only put the Hreflang tags on the UK version of your website and not on the French version, this will cause this error. It can also be the result of pages being mapped incorrectly, an issue such as the above redirecting URL problem, or because the pages just don’t match.

How can e-commerce websites get their Hreflang tags right?

As mentioned, the most successful way of delivering Hreflang tags for e-commerce websites is in the sitemap.xml files.

As your site will have regular changes to products, owing to new products arriving or old ones being discontinued, or have stock availability differences from market to market, it’s considerably easier to keep Hreflang tags up to date when you do this in the sitemap.xml file. These files are mostly generated automatically now, so this means that they are more likely to be able to see the most up to date stock availability from market to market.

Getting your Hreflang tags right can cause some headaches, but it’s not that hard when you know what you are looking for.

Join my talk at BrightonSEO on April 27th at 10.00am, Auditorium 2, to find out how you can correct your Hreflang tags.

Emily Mace is Head of International SEO at Oban International.