Google’s Gary Illyes has clarified that the hreflang attribute is not a ranking signal, though it will result in more targeted traffic.
On the use of hreflang, Illyes says:
“You will NOT receive a ranking benefit per se, at least not in the internal sense of the term. What you will receive is more targeted traffic.”
This information was provided during a Reddit AMA on February 8 in response to a question regarding conflicting statements Googlers have made about hreflang.
The question reads:
“Hey Gary, you and [John Mueller from Google] have conflicting statements on hreflang. John says they will not help with rankings and you have said they’re treated as a cluster and they should be able to use each others ranking signals. Can we get an official clarification on this?”
Illyes says the confusion likely stems from peoples’ interpretation of what is considered a ranking benefit.
Technically, there is no ranking benefit associated with using hreflang in an algorithmic sense.
But it might seem like there is because it allows the most relevant version of a page to be served to users based on their location.
There’s a two-pass process that occurs when Google detects an hreflang attribute.
Google will first retrieve the version of the page with the strongest ranking signals.
If the page has a sibling page in a language that’s more relevant to the user, then Google will do a second pass and serve the sibling page in search results.
Here’s how Illyes explains it:
“Let me give you an example:
User country and location: es-ES
Your site has page A for that term in EN and page B in ES, with hreflang link between them.
In this case, at least when I (re)implemented hreflang, what would happen is that when we see the query, we’d retrieve A because, let’s say, it has stronger signals, but we see that it has a sibling page B in ES that would be better for that user, so we do a second pass retrieval and present the user page B instead of A, at the location (rank?) of A.”
A follow-up question was asked about Illyes’ use of the word “strongest.”
Does that mean strongest based on a page’s own signals?
Or does that include signals from other pages in the same cluster?
Illyes confirms that signals aren’t shared between pages.
“Strongest on its own. Within the cluster the signals aren’t passed around. That would be like a really bad game of squash”
For more insight from Google’s Gary Illyes, read the full AMA here.