How x-default can help you

Monday, May 8, 2023

A few recent issues made us realize that the hreflang x-default value is potentially underused by sites that already use hreflang to help search users find the right version of their pages. We want to remind you that it can be a powerful tool and can do more than you (probably) think.

The hreflang x-default value is used to specify the language and region neutral URL for a piece of content when the site doesn't support the user's language and region. It is used along with other hreflang values, which specify the version of a URL for a piece of content targeted to a specific language and region.

For example, if a page has hreflang annotations for English and Spanish versions of a page along with an x-default value pointing to the English version, French speaking users are sent to the English version of the page due to the x-default annotation. The x-default page can be a language and country selector page, the page where you redirect users when you have no content for their region, or just the version of the content that you consider, well, default. Naturally, you might not have localized versions of all your pages, and that's ok: it is absolutely fine to have hreflang annotations on just parts of your site.

So how does x-default help you, the site owner? You already know how it helps us rank the right page for the right users, but there's more!

1. URL discovery

While we don't talk much about it, the URLs you specify in hreflang annotations, including x-default, may be used for URL discovery. This can be helpful for large sites with complex structures for example, where it's hard to make sure every localized URL on the site is well linked.

In practice this means that the href attributes in the following example is extracted and may be scheduled for crawling:

<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="en-us" />
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="x-default" />

2. Conversions

Your goal is very likely to convert in some way the users that land on your pages. Ryte explains conversion as "the result of the occurrence of a desired action that has been defined in advance by the company as a goal". For instance, when a user lands on your page with an essay about Wuthering Heights, you might count a conversion as having the user read through the majority of your essay. Of course there are many forms of conversions; you define what your goal is after all.

However if you only published the essay in German, it's unlikely that non-german speakers would convert on that page, so you might want to send them somewhere else where they might actually convert in some other way. You can express this with hreflang="x-default" as:

<link rel="alternate" href="ürmische-höhen" hreflang="de" />
<link rel="alternate" href="" hreflang="x-default" />

If you want to learn more about hreflang, check out our documentation, which also goes into more detail about x-default. And if you want to just chat with us about hreflang, you can find us in the Google Search Central forums and on Twitter.