Google Issues Caution Over Certain Hreflang Implementations

  • June 12, 2024
  • SEO
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Google has recently revised their hreflang documentation to highlight a specific nuance in its application that some websites have been overlooking. This particular issue, when improperly managed, can lead to unintended consequences in how Google processes the hreflang attribute.

Understanding hreflang Link Tag Attributes

The <link/> tag in HTML serves as a communication tool for browsers and search engines, providing information regarding linked resources that are relevant to the webpage. This can include a variety of data types such as CSS, JavaScript, favicons, and hreflang attributes.

When it comes to the hreflang attribute, its primary function is to denote the language of alternate versions of the webpage. It is essential to ensure that all <link/> elements, especially those with hreflang attributes, are included within the <head> section of the document.

The Quirk in hreflang Implementation

Google has identified a particular unintended behavior that occurs when multiple attributes are combined within a single <link/> element. This prompted an update to their hreflang documentation to better inform webmasters and SEO professionals of this issue.

The change log from Google elaborates:

“Clarifying link tag attributes

What: Clarified in our hreflang documentation that link tags for denoting alternate versions of a page must not be combined in a single link tag.
Why: While debugging a report from a site owner we noticed we don’t have this quirk documented.”

Enhancements in the Documentation

The recent update to the documentation includes a critical warning for publishers and SEO specialists to be cautious of this issue. It is particularly relevant for those involved in website audits.

Previously, the documentation stated:

“Put your <link/> tags near the top of the <head> element. At minimum, the <link/> tags must be inside a well-formed <head> section, or before any items that might cause the <head> to be closed prematurely, such as <body> or a tracking pixel. If in doubt, paste code from your rendered page into an HTML validator to ensure that the links are inside the <head> element.”

The updated version now reads:

“The <link/> tags must be inside a well-formed <head> section of the HTML. If in doubt, paste code from your rendered page into an HTML validator to ensure that the links are inside the <head> element. Additionally, don’t combine link tags for alternate representations of the document; for example, don’t combine hreflang annotations with other attributes such as media in a single <link/> tag.”

While Google’s documentation does not specify the exact consequences of this quirk, the fact that it required debugging suggests that it has caused notable issues. This seemingly minor oversight can potentially have significant repercussions.

Explore the Updated Documentation

For a detailed overview of the newly revised guidelines, visit: Tell Google about localized versions of your page

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Mix and Match Studio

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