No self-referencing hreflang: correct vs. incorrect implementation

WebDev April 30, 2024
No self-referencing hreflang explanation
On this page
  1. Purpose of self-referencing hreflang
  2. How self-referencing hreflang is implemented
  3. No self-referencing hreflang potential issues
  4. Self-referencing hreflang vs No self-referencing hreflang
  5. Hreflang duplicate content issues
  6. Potential issues with incorrect hreflang implementation
  7. Best practices for self-referencing hreflang tags
  8. Conclusion

The hreflang attribute is used in HTML to specify the language and optional geographic targeting of a webpage. This attribute is particularly important for websites that have content available in multiple languages, as it helps search engines understand which version of a page to show based on the user's language preference and location. A self-referencing hreflang is a specific implementation of this attribute where a webpage includes an hreflang attribute pointing to itself.

Purpose of self-referencing hreflang

Self-referencing hreflang tags are included for several key reasons:

  • Complete language/region mapping: It ensures that each language or regional URL in a set points back to itself along with pointing to other language versions. This completes the cycle of language or region mappings, making it clear to search engines that each version is indeed intended for a specific language or region audience.
  • Avoiding errors in search engine indexing: Including a self-reference confirms to search engines that the page is intended for that specific language and region. This can help prevent errors in search engine indexing and ensure that the search engine accurately lists and ranks pages in search results according to user locale.
  • Validation and completeness: Having a self-referencing hreflang helps validate the hreflang implementation. Some SEO tools check for self-referencing hreflang tags as part of an overall audit to ensure that every locale version of the site correctly references itself and others.

How self-referencing hreflang is implemented

Here is an example of how hreflang tags might be implemented in the <head> section of an HTML document, including a self-reference:

<link href="" hreflang="en-us" rel="alternate" />
<link href="" hreflang="en-gb" rel="alternate" />
<link href="" hreflang="fr-fr" rel="alternate" />

In this example, each page would include a similar set of tags, including one pointing back to itself. For instance, the U.S. English page ( includes a tag with hreflang="en-us" that points to its own URL.

No self-referencing hreflang potential issues

When pages do not include a self-referencing hreflang, several issues can arise:

Search engine confusion: Without a self-reference, search engines might not fully understand that the page is meant for users of that specific language and region. This could lead to less optimal rankings in different regional versions of search engines or incorrect language versions appearing in search results.

Inconsistent language or regional targeting: The absence of a self-referencing hreflang could lead to inconsistencies in how different regional or language versions of a site are served to users. For instance, users might be directed to a version of the site that isn't in their preferred language or is less relevant to their location.

SEO and user experience impact: The overall user experience can be negatively affected if users are not directed to the appropriate version of a site. From an SEO perspective, this could reduce engagement metrics, increase bounce rates, and ultimately affect rankings negatively.

Self-referencing hreflang vs No self-referencing hreflang

Consider a website with English, Spanish, and French versions:

With Self-Referencing Hreflang:

<!-- English page -->
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="en" />
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="es" />
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="fr" />

Without Self-Referencing Hreflang:

<!-- English page -->
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="es" />
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="fr" />

In the second example, the absence of a self-referencing hreflang="en" for the English page might lead search engines to be less certain about the intended audience for the English version, potentially leading to less accurate targeting in search results.

Hreflang duplicate content issues

The hreflang attribute plays a crucial role in managing multilingual websites by helping to prevent issues related to duplicate content among different language versions of the same content.

How hreflang helps with duplicate content

Search engine understanding: hreflang tags inform search engines that certain URLs are alternate versions of the same content but targeted at different language or regional audiences. This clarity helps search engines understand that these pages are not duplicate content but rather localized versions of the same content. For example, if you have an English page and a Spanish page, hreflang tags can be used to tell search engines that the content on these pages serves the same purpose but is intended for different language-speaking users.

Improves SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) accuracy: By correctly implementing hreflang, search engines can display the appropriate version of the content based on the user’s language preference or geographic location. This not only improves user experience but also ensures that the right content is shown to the right audience, thus maintaining the SEO value of the content across different regions and languages.

Potential issues with incorrect hreflang implementation

Improper use of hreflang tags can lead to issues including unintended handling of what might appear as duplicate content:

Incorrect language or region codes: Using wrong or non-standard language-region codes can lead to the incorrect association of content with a language or region, which might confuse search engines and lead to content not being served correctly in search results.

Incomplete implementation: Not including all language and regional variants in the hreflang tags can result in incomplete signaling to search engines. For example, if a site has content in English, Spanish, and French, and the French version does not have corresponding hreflang tags, search engines might not recognize it as part of a multilingual set, treating it potentially as duplicate content.

Conflicting signals: If hreflang tags conflict with other signals, like geo-targeting settings in Google Search Console or contradictory canonical tags, it can confuse search engines about which version of the content to prioritize.

Best practices for self-referencing hreflang tags

Complete pairing: Every hreflang entry should point to another. For example, if page-en.html includes a reference to page-fr.html for French speakers, then page-fr.html should reciprocally reference page-en.html.

Self-referencing tag: Include a self-referencing hreflang tag on each page, indicating that it is indeed an intended version for that particular language and region.

Consistency: Ensure that the URLs provided in hreflang tags are live, correct, and return 200 status codes. Also, make sure that each URL in your hreflang set is consistent in terms of main content.

Use canonical tags: Alongside hreflang tags, use canonical tags to point to what you consider the primary version of duplicate content across your site (if there is one), or self-reference each version to itself if each serves as a "canonical" for its respective language or region.


When properly implemented, hreflang tags are a vital tool for managing multilingual content and preventing SEO issues related to duplicate content. They help search engines understand how to display the right content to the right users, enhancing the global reach and effectiveness of websites catering to multiple regions or language groups.