Are Hreflang HTML Language Tags an SEO Ranking Factor?

Are Hreflang HTML language tags an SEO ranking factor and can they be used to boost your SEO rankings?

Before we dive into this, let’s clarify that we are discussing the issue of whether hreflang tags, also referred to as hreflang attributes, can improve SEO rankings for a single-language website targeting English speakers.

For example will a website primarily operating in Australia see a boost in rankings by choosing “en-au” targeting English-speaking Australians, over “en-us”?

We’re not here to undermine the value of hreflang attributes for multilingual SEO campaigns, we’re looking specifically at whether websites will see a boost in SEO performance from hreflang tags. Rather, we want to look closely at the hreflang attribute variations from different regions of the same language.

What Google Says About Hreflang Tags & SEO Rankings

Google’s John Muller addressed the question of whether having an incorrect HTML language attributes affect search rankings at Google’s English Google SEO office-hours from July 23, 2021:

“No. So, the lang attribute in HTML is not used by Google. So whatever you put in there is kind of up to you.”

John Muller further explains the function of lang attributes by saying:

“I would, however, do it properly because it does affect things like screen readers. So that’s something where I would still try to get it right. But I wouldn’t assume that you’ll see any SEO effect on Google with regards to that.”

John Muller on whether other search engines use HTML language attributes:

“I’m not 100% sure on other search engines. It might be that, I don’t know, Bing or one of the other ones uses the lang attribute in HTML. But at least at Google, we don’t use that. What we try to do is understand the primary language of the page based on the actual content.”

Here is the video of John Muller addressing the issue of SEO rankings and HTML language tag attributes at Google’s English Google SEO office-hours from July 23, 2021

And here is a further exchange that John Mueller had with a Twitter user in March 2022 when answering the same question.

So then, fairly conclusive information that Google does not use the hreflang HTML attribute to determine SEO rankings.

Hreflang Tags & SEO

Hreflang attributes are not designed to boost traffic and separate ‘good’ from ‘bad’ in the SERPs. Instead, hreflang tags are there to ensure that websites targeting users in multiple locations/languages are serving the correct version of a page based on the location and language preferences of the user.

Our Thoughts

When it comes to hreflang attributes and SEO rankings, there is no shortage of misinformation.

For sites targeting multiple locations and languages, the use case for language tags is not under question. We use language tags in multi-language, multi-location SEO campaigns, however, in the case of ISO region and language codes in ‘en’, Google does not use this to determine SEO rankings.

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