The topic of potentially conflicting hreflang signals is discussed in the Google Search Central live stream from November 27.
Specifically, the following question is addressed:
“Let’s say we’ve implemented the correct hreflang using sitemaps, but because of some reason the web pages also have another set of hreflang in there, even though they’re not the most correct version.
I know that we have to try to minimize conflicting hreflang like this, so my question for you is how does Google actually treat conflicting hreflang?
Does Google prioritize the sitemaps over the on-page hreflang, or vice versa?”
Mueller first responds with a question of his own, asking what is meant by “conflicting” signals.
The person says the hreflang signals are conflicting in the sense that the directive is correct in the sitemap for US English users, but the source code for the same page has hreflang signals for US French.
Here’s how Google handles that type of situation.
Mueller on Conflicting Hreflang Signals
In cases where hreflang directives are included in the sitemap and the source code of web pages, Google will combine the signals.
“What would happen there is we would combine those. From our point of view hreflang is not something where we say you can only have one language or country version on one page, but rather you can have multiple country versions on the same page.
And you can have multiple different levels. So you could say this is the page for English in Singapore, English in US, English in UK, and you have a different page for English in Australia, for example.
You can have one page with multiple country/regional targeting on them. So if you have some hreflang in the HTML, and some in the sitemap, then we would try to combine that and add that together.
That means that if you have multiple different country versions across those different things we would just combine that into one setup.”
There is one exception to this rule, and that’s if the signals are not in sync with each other.
Meaning one country version of an hreflang directive appears on the page, but that same directive is assigned to a different page in the sitemap.
Here’s how Mueller puts it:
“The one place where it would get confusing, or where we would see it as conflicting is if you have one country language version on the page and you use the same country language version for a different page in the sitemap file. That’s one situation where our systems would probably have to guess.”
As far as which directives are more important between hreflang in HTML and hreflang in a sitemap, Mueller adds that Google does not prioritize one over the other.
If conflicting signals are discovered in the way Mueller describes in the above quote, then Google will drop the signals rather than taking one over the other.
“As far as I know we don’t have any prioritization where we say sitemaps are better than HTML, or better than the headers. But rather we would see this doesn’t work and we would probably drop that pair [of conflicting signals].”
Hear the full question and answer in the video below:
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. With a degree in communications, Matt has an uncanny ability to make the most complex subject matter easy to understand. When he’s not ferociously following and covering the search industry, he’s busy writing SEO-friendly copy that converts.