HREFlang No Return Tags Errors

These are one of the most common errors given by Google for HREFLang.

What does this error mean?

It means simply your pages are not cross-referencing each other.

If you received this Error it means that Google found a HREFLang Entry on one page referencing it as an alternate to another page. But when it went to that page it did not find When it looked at the page referencesdi it did

In order for the HREFLang to work you need to link page A to all the alternates and then all of the alternates back to A. We see this is the number 1 error that people make especially with home grown or some of the free mapping tools. (if page A links with hreflang to page B, there must be a link back from B to A as well).

Reason #1 - You DO NOT Have Bi-Directional Linking

You can check this quickly. Go to the alternate page or country HREFXML Site Map and make sure you actually have the reference to the other site

For example, if you have a Spanish and English Site. View the source of both pages and you shold have an entry like this on BOTH sites.

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en" href="https://www.mysite.com/en/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="https://www.mysite.com/es/"/>

If on your Spanish site you only have the single entry for itself and not the reference to the English site it is incorrect

<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es" href="https://www.mysite.com/es/"/>

Reason #2 - Incorrect Syntax - using underscore and not dash

We are seeing site that are using the HREFLang element with an underscore and not a dash as the syntax requires.

ar_ie_syntax_incorrect

Based on our process above, we should look at both sites and confirmed that they both have bi-directional HREF elements. But do they really?

Int eh example below we see on the Argentina site they are referencing the Ireland site with an _ and not a - which is a syntax error.

Ireland Site https://www.mysite.com/ie/
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-IE" href="https://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-AR" href="https://www.mysite.com/ar/"/>

Argentina Site - https://www.mysite.com/ar/
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en_IE" href="https://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-AR" href="https://www.mysite.com/ar/"/>

Reason #3 - Incorrect Syntax - Combining HREFLang and Canonical

We are seeing people mixing the canonical and the HREFLang elements which is INCORRECT for example this site got the following error.

ar_ie_syntax_incorrect

Based on our process above, we should look at both sites and confirmed that they both have bi-directional HREF elements. But do they really?

Ireland Site https://www.mysite.com/ie/
<link rel="Canonical" hreflang="en-IE" href="https://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-AR" href="http://www.mysite.com/ar/"/>

Argentina Site - https://www.mysite.com/ar/
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-IE" href="http://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="Canonical" hreflang="es-AR" href="https://www.mysite.com/ar/"/>

Reason #4 - One or More Sites Not Validated in Google Search Console

This is an interesting problem and we typically only see a site uses a HREFLang XML Site Map including multiple sites with different ccTLD's. Google does not give this as an error but when we have checked all the other possible problems we find this is the case when the site has a single XML file but not all of the local domain versions included and verified in Search Console. .

Reason #5 - HTTP and HTTPS References

I have seen cases where the site is selfreferenceing to itself with HTTPS but the element for the other sites are HTTP. This is incorrect as they are 2 different sites. This is a problem when the site has a canonical to the HTTPS as well as a 301 redirect.

Ireland Site https://www.mysite.com/ie/
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-IE" href="https://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-ES" href="http://www.mysite.com/es/"/>

Spain Site - https://www.mysite.com/es/
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="en-IE" href="http://www.mysite.com/ie/"/>
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="es-ES" href="https://www.mysite.com/es/"/>

Reason #6 - XML Site Map Errors prevent Bi-Directional Linking

If you swear that you have all of your links set with A to B and B to A and you are using an HREFLang XML Site Map for each country then maybe Google cannot or will not update your XML files! I had a call this morning from a new customer that swore that they had them all mapped. We looked into their Webmaster tools account and there it We have seen this when people do not clean HREFLang XML Site Maps and load broken, redirected or URL's with canonical links to other pages. As in the example below, Google will slow or stop indexing XML Site Maps that have a lot of errors in them resulting in them not detecting the rel=alternate element and give and error.

not_index_site_maps

Shameless Plug - we build in error detection functionality into HREF Builder to catch the most common errors from redirects, 404 robots and canonical differences. The tool will not add any page with an error to the file ensuring you have 100% clean files. You can then export the list of errors and give them to the tech team to fix them.

Preventing Bi-Directional HREFLang Linking Errors

One of the first features we built into HREFLang Builder was the cross reference testing. This will detect all sorts of errors from redirects, 404 robots and canonical differences. The tool will not add any page with an error to the file ensuring you have 100% clean files. You can then export the list of errors and give them to the tech team to fix them.

Green - means that we found a match with that page between these countries

Red - means we did not find a match for that page between countries

missing_match_report

How to Fix Bidirectional Errors?

The Webmaster Console view for this error is fairly confusing but it will tell you which pages are missing the links or are missing a reference in XML Site Maps. If you have XML Site Maps then check for errors as I note above and make any fixes. Remove any that are redirects, 404 or robots blocked URL's. If you have them in pages you can use a great HREF Testing tool from the guys at Merkyl. The other option is go over and set up an account with our HREF Builder and we can import the files and find the missing pages.

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