Inter­na­tional SEO just got eas­ier. Google recently launched hre­flang alter­nate anno­ta­tions that work to ensure the cor­rect local­ized pages are deliv­ered to searchers. Quite sim­ply, searchers around the world will now be shown a URL tai­lored to them instead of being shown only the global URL. If you’re a global web­site, hre­flang is by far one of the most effec­tive tac­tics for improv­ing your traf­fic worldwide.

Prior to hre­flang, geo sites were often out­ranked by their global coun­ter­parts in search results. This occurred for mul­ti­ple rea­sons includ­ing the author­i­ta­tive lift of global pages, geo sites being hosted in sub-folders with no coun­try code top-level domain, and Google’s pre­vi­ous assess­ment of dupli­cate con­tent, which either excluded from its index or assigned lower rel­e­vancy to mul­ti­ple sites in the same lan­guage with sim­i­lar or iden­ti­cal con­tent. They are now viewed as pages tar­get­ing dif­fer­ent geo audiences.

Adobe recently set out on a mis­sion to explore just what hre­flang could do. We imple­mented hre­flang alter­nate (language/country) anno­ta­tions in XML sitemaps for the home­page, top 15 Cre­ative Suite pages, and top 15 Acro­bat pages in the United King­dom. Using Adobe Dis­cover, we tracked a per­for­mance increase in UK page ranks and a decrease in US page ranks. Still, the cumu­la­tive effect on ranks was pos­i­tive, result­ing in sig­nif­i­cant increases in aver­age daily vis­its and rev­enue for UK entry pages. Both global and UK ver­sions of these 31 pages resulted in a 68 per­cent increase in aver­age daily vis­its and a 47 per­cent increase in aver­age daily rev­enue. Hre­flang also gave a boost to page rank­ings, espe­cially on UK pre­ferred land­ing pages for non­branded key­words, impres­sions, and clicks as Google began serv­ing more geo pages to tar­geted audi­ences. Once we rolled hre­flang out world­wide, the per­for­mance improve­ment aver­aged around 20 per­cent, which is still sig­nif­i­cant in terms of traf­fic and revenue.

Hre­flang allows Google to bet­ter under­stand your site by help­ing it crawl and index more effec­tively. Local busi­ness units are able to pro­mote their own mes­sag­ing and ensure that local searchers stay in the loop for local news, trends, and mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Cur­rently, hre­flang only works for Google. Other search engines have devel­oped their own solu­tions to geo­tar­get­ing, how­ever, such as Bing’s use of meta­lan­guage tags or HTTP headers.

Over­all, I think it is safe to say that hre­flang sitemaps serve as a strong geo­tar­get­ing sig­nal for Google. Hre­flang moves us away from the pre­vi­ous fall­back of geo­tar­get­ing in Google Web­mas­ter tools. Although there is no guar­an­tee that geo pages will inherit Global page rank­ings, our study clearly indi­cated poten­tial for rank­ing and other increases. Of course, hre­flang results will fluc­tu­ate on a case-by-case basis and it is there­fore in your best inter­est to con­duct your own studies.

What has been your expe­ri­ence with hre­flang? Let me know!