Who Does/Should Own HREFLang Management?

For any multinational company, the HREFLang (HREFLang) element is an extremely powerful tool to ensure that the correct page is represented in the local market versions of search engines.  While we have demonstrated the immense value of the HREFLang it is not really taken seriously nor given the attention and respect that it deserves.  This is most obvious inthe high error rates and mistakes with impletation significantly higher than any other SEO element. 

For those unfamiliar with the HREFLang element, it is a method for you to tell search engines which specific regional language version of each localized page to present in a market.  For example, due the similarity in language, a UK page may appear in the search results in Australia.  If a user encounters the wrong country page they may not buy due to different currency, tax or shipping cost.    

Given that HREFLang implementation touches many stakeholder responsibilities, who should own and maintain the HREFLang element?

SEO Team & Digital Agency

This is the typical owner as it is primarily related to performance in Search Engines and they are the direct beneficiaries in terms of the correct page ranking in a local market.   Many internal teams have a decentralized role with each market handled independently or by different agencies.   If there is a global SEO Manager they are often the driver of HREFlang.  In some cases, markets that are negatively impacted by the wrong page ranking will start the process. 

Ecommerce Team

We have started to encounter a new player with a number of requests for assistance from the global or local eCommerce teams.  In the big picture, they care the most about sales and local market performance.  It is critical to them that the best page for a product show up in each market.  We have had the most contact from eCommerce mangers in Latin America trying to get their local market page to appear vs. Argentina or Spain.

We actually had one manager from Peru that wanted to find a way to implement that did not require assistance from the SEO or his Dev team since neither of them thought this was a problem.  In most cases another country page was the one ranking.  The SEO team showed him a rank report that showed they were ranking well for most of the products in Peru but would not generate one with the URL’s to show what was actually ranking.    These are interactions you would never believe if you had not seen them directly. 

Localization Team & Agency

The localization team would seem to be the next obvious candidate as they are responsible for the local language versions of the site.  Interestingly, we have had a few subscribers that have introduced the tool, for its Cross-Language Mapping Report to the SEO agency as they use HREFLang Builder to detect missing or non-localized versions of pages on the site.  

I have spoken to internal localization teams and a handful of agencies and many were not aware of the functionality and others indicated it was the responsibility of the SEO agency to develop them.  Lionbridge’s Global Technical SEO Brendan Walsh has been one of the main advocates for this audience for making the HREFLang element part of the localization process.

IT & Dev Ops Team

The Web or Dev Operations team is typically tasked the implementation of either the page-level code or loading the XML site maps.  They are also the people the SEO team goes to find out how many pages are in each localized version and to correct the errors identified during the process.

We could argue that IT is a strong candidate for ownership, as they manage the infrastructure it represents and where it is implemented.   Some of our HREFLang Management Service clients have found our error reporting to be a excellent addition to their own diagnostics.   As we are detecting redirects, broken URL’s or canonical problems during the import process this report gives them a market by market list of all the errors detected. 

It Takes a Village

Hopefully our arguments for assigning ownership to one of the stakeholders has helped identify the best candidate in your organization of this effective tool to the right owner but as you may have determined it does take a village to create and manage your HREFLang process effectively.   If you need help with developing a process and training your team let us know and we would be happy to work with you. 

To help us understand more broadly who manages the process and what challenges companies have we have created this HREFLang Management Survey.   We will post the details as we get reliable sample sizes.  Take a moment and provide your insights.   https://goo.gl/forms/8EHpQaeqdl0dmS1q1