You’d swear hreflang tags were a leading edge brand new phenomenon in the world of international eCommerce SEO. I say that because most agencies, freelancers, developers and even international store owners we speak to are completely oblivious.
What do hreflang tags do for eCommerce stores?
Put simply, if you have multiple eCommerce websites to serve multiple geographies across the world – hreflang tags tell Google which website should be shown in the search results in each country.
What happens if I don’t use hreflang tags on my eCommerce stores?
If you have multiple eCommerce websites for multiple countries and you DON’T use hreflang tags your websites will compete with each other in the search engines.
This could mean that your UK site starts showing up in the USA search results INSTEAD of your USA site. Obviously meaning website visitors browse, but are unable to checkout as they’re in the wrong store.
Do hreflang tags solve duplicate content issues?
Yes – if you operate eCommerce stores in 2 separate English speaking geographies, such as the USA and the UK it’s highly likely your product pages will be identical – meaning Google will likely see the content as duplicate content.
If Google recognises this type of duplicate content, it will likely just disregard one of the product pages – regardless of country or location.
Can I switch on hreflang tags within Shopify?
In short, no. Shopify doesn’t have a native setting to implement hreflang tags. With each store being an independent SAAS instance of eCommerce software, the stores share no common data threads and IDs.
Without getting too technical, Shopify users need to get into the nuts and bolts of theme code and page by page code to deal with exceptions and where necessary, translations of URLs.
For large Shopify stores with extensive product catalogs the management of hreflang tags can be a serious time expenditure and source of cost and frustration!
Can I switch hreflang tags on in WooCommerce?
WooCommerce comes with a few really cool options for implementing hreflang tags. This should be unsurprising as when it comes to WooCommerce vs Shopify – WooCommerce is the only platform even trying when it comes to eCommerce SEO.
WooCommerce can have a single website generate multiple versions of pages using something like the WPML plugin. This is useful when you split order routing on the back end (you have a single order capture system, but then split those orders out by country as part of the fulfilment integration).
WooCommerce can also be installed as what they call a “multi-site” installation. This essentially allows you to create a separate website for each country you want to sell to – and then using Multilingualpress you can automatically switch on hreflang tags which will reference all the different versions of the web page in the different countries easily.
This is essentially the most scalable solution for implementation of hreflang tags across multiple eCommerce stores.
Do I need to use hreflang tags if I sell in just 1 country?
No, you don’t NEED to use hreflang tags if you just sell in a single country with a single website. However, if you ever plan on expanding your store to multiple countries, it’s best you set them up from the beginning.
Why set them up from the beginning? You’re going to have an SEO challenge on your hands if you implement a second or third country later down the line – as you’ll rely on Google removing one website and replacing it with another.
Doesn’t the TLD domain extension tell Google which country the website is aimed at?
The TLD (the bit at the end of the domain name like .co.uk) is ignored when it comes to international targeting for SEO. Google doesn’t care what letters are at the end of your domain name.
Hreflang tags are what Google takes it’s guidance from for ranking websites in different countries.
We actually rank .co.uk sites in the USA as a matter of course – it’s no more difficult than ranking a .com or .de site in the USA.
Want to implement hreflang tags?
Be sure to speak to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about – ask for specific examples of where they’ve implemented and managed hreflang tags on other eCommerce stores.
Don’t underestimate the value – or the cost of not implementing hreflang tags on your eCommerce store.