Google's John Mueller explains how hreflang signals are handled when displaying instructions in a sitemap as well as in on-page HTML.
The topic of potentially conflicting hreflang signals will be covered on the Google Search Central live stream starting November 27th.
In particular, the following question is addressed:
"Let's say we implemented the correct hreflang using sitemaps, but for some reason the web pages also contain a different set of hreflang even though they are not the most correct version."
I know we have to try to minimize conflicting hreflang like this. So my question to you is how Google actually deals with conflicting hreflang.
Does Google prioritize the sitemaps over the on-page hreflang or vice versa? "
Müller first answers with his own question and asks what is meant by "contradicting" signals.
Read on below
The person says the hreflang signals are contradicting in the sense that the policy in the sitemap is correct for users in US English, but the source code for the same page contains hreflang signals for US French.
This is how Google deals with such situations
Mueller about contradicting hreflang signals
In cases where hreflang instructions are included in the sitemap and the source code of web pages, Google combines the signals.
“What would happen there would be that we would combine these. From our point of view, Hreflang is not something where we say you can only have one language or country version on a page, but multiple country versions on the same page.
And you can have several different levels. So you can say this is the page for English in Singapore, English in the US, English in the UK, and for example you have another page for English in Australia.
You can have a page with multiple country / regional destinations. So if you have a hreflang in the HTML and one in the sitemap we would try to combine these and add them up.
That said, if you have several different country versions for these different things, we would just combine these into one setup. "
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There is one exception to this rule, and that is when the signals are not synchronized with each other.
This means that a country version of a hreflang directive appears on the page, but the same directive is assigned to another page in the sitemap.
This is how Müller puts it:
“The only place where it would get confusing or where we would consider it contradicting is when you have a country language version on the page and you are using the same country language version for another page in the sitemap file. This is a situation where our systems would likely have to guess. "
Regarding which instructions are more important between hreflang in HTML and hreflang in a sitemap, Müller adds that Google doesn't prioritize each other.
When conflicting signals are discovered in the manner described by Müller in the quote above, Google drops the signals instead of adopting them on top of each other.
“As far as I know, there is no prioritization where sitemaps are better than HTML or better than the headers. But we would rather see this not work and we would likely drop this pair [conflicting signals]. "
Hear the full question and answer in the video below: