Complete Guide to Using the Using X-Default HREFLang Element

Back in 2013 Google announced the introduction of the X-Default hreflang to designate interenational landing pages.  Unfortunatly we se a lot of people confused on how and when to use it. 

What is the X-Default HREFLang Element?

When you use the X-Default tag for a specifc URL annotations you are telling Search Engines that this page does not target any specific language or location AND is the page to be shown to users when a more appropriate language or local page is not available

X-Default Syntax

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/" hreflang="x-default" />

When should I use the X-Default HREFLang? 

The definition is pretty clear but here are some specific scenarios:

1.  If you use IP detection to serve a specific country or language experience to your users. 

For example IBM, they have 65 language/country versions of their site.   Depending on where you come from you will get pointed to a version of the site.  This works in cases where they have a site but what happens when a user comes from Uzbekistan looking for cloud computing information?  Since they don't have a Uzbekistan site they may want them to see the "master global page" for cloud computing.  http://www.ibm.com/cloud-computing/.  However, if a person comes from the United Kingdom they want them to see the UK specific page http://www.ibm.com/cloud-computing/uk/en/.   By setting  the global page to X-Default, Google would serve that global cloud page to those from Uzbekistan. 

2.  You force users to select a Country or Languge Before entering the site. 

This is the case with Fedex.com. When a user visits the site they have to pick their country or language of preference which then sets a cookie to get then back to the original page.  This selector is not tied to any specific country so it should be tagged with x-default. 

3.  You use a global site for any market where there is not a local version. 

Same as reason #1.  When you want the global version of the site to show up when you don't have a local language version.    This is not for a regional site like LatAM where you are trying to cover multiple countries and languages with the same site.  For specifics on using HREFLang for regional sites please review our guide. 

Huawei is an example of this.  While they offer 107 individual country and language versions of the site, they have a Global English version that is the default site to show when they do not have a local version.  

Can I use the X-Default HREFLang to designate the page is also a target language?

YES

Yes, you can pair an X-default and maybe "en-US on a page if your global page is also the preferred page for the United States AND you do not have a specific page. 

For example, Dropbox has set their core domain to both X-Default and to Global English

<link href="https://www.dropbox.com/" rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" />

<link href="https://www.dropbox.com/" rel="alternate" hreflang="en" />
<link href="https://www.dropbox.com/en_GB/" rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" />

Another variation is Ancestry.com where they map the global site to both X-Default and to en-US

    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="http://www.ancestry.com/" />
    <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://www.ancestry.com/" />

What are the most common X-Default errors? 

The X-Default error we see the most is when the x-default is set for multiple counties and regions.   For example, Samsung, on the US site they have set /us as the X=Default and also as the en-US version.  If you go to Samsung UK you see they have also set /uk version of the site to be the X-Default and teh page for en-gb which is incorrect and confusing to search engines.  

       <link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-us" href="http://www.samsung.com/us/">
       <link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="http://www.samsung.com/us/">

UK site is also set as X-Default

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="x-default" href="http://www.samsung.com/uk/home/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-gb" href="http://www.samsung.com/uk/home/">
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-ie" href="http://www.samsung.com/ie/home/">

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