International SEO Challenges That Arise During Implementation of Hreflang

Webpages or websites made for the audience of a specific country might start appearing in the search results among a user in a different country or countries. This has been, until now, a major challenge in international SEO. This problem may not necessarily be a site-wide issue and it could happen with certain search queries.

Certain target country signals, such as ccTLDs and server location, started being used to counter this issue but this solution didn’t prove to be an answer for all of the geo-targeting problems.

In 2013, Google announced hreflang to counter the above mentioned issues. While this announcement had been a reason for most of the international SEO professionals jumping with joy, it remains quite surprising that many people still struggle benefiting from the hreflang.

In this article, we are not going to get into the technicalities involved in the implementation of hreflang. Instead, we will talk about most common challenges in this implementation.

All sites do not have the same content

The main function of hreflang is the listing of URLs of pages that have similar content on each language/country site.

The grouping or mapping of the same content pages is fairly easier when the content type and content structure are shared by all of the sites. However, it is the ideal case scenario we are talking about,it is often not the case.There can be certain business reasons behind it as certain items might not be available in certain regions.

In that case, the audience in a specific region might see the result page comprising of webpage suggestions which are created for other regions.

In certain cases, the individual responsible for hreflang sitemap simply replaces or removes the country or region filter to give the site an overall better coverage. The site’s web traffic may get boosted this way but it leads to the site getting included in the SERPs being shown to the region where the audience doesn’t have anything to do with that site.

False Positive by the Hreflang Validation Tools

Bringing variations in the URLs to make them suitable for their respective audiences is one of the hreflang’s functionality. But what may serve as a challenge, aside from being an advantage, is that many of the websites can get creative to structure the URLs, but the result is the formation of irregular URL structures. Some examples include:


The biggest challenge in this regard is that most of the validation tools do not crawl through the sites to confirm that such URLs are really valid.

Business cannibalization

The main purpose of hreflang is to provide information about a business to the audience that can reach that business easily. If content is shown to the audience belonging to wrong region, the conversion falls under wrong local offices. And what can be worse is that it will not convert at all.

For instance, if your page is created for US audience and it appears in the search results in Japan, the users are simply going to bounce back to find the website that can offer them the services available to them.

Things that need to be done

The only way you can use hreflang correctly is to get the good grasp over URL structure. While tools are great because they can automate things by crawling through the websites, you need to do a manual check of the URLs to make sure that every page is accessible.