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!