International SEO definitions.

International SEO Glossary

Marketers tasked with overseeing SEO strategy for a multinational company or organization know how confusing thinking through international targeting for search engines can be. For example, what is hreflang? What is x-default and when should it be used? And, which region and language code should be used?

Understanding the purpose and correct application of hreflang attributes is essential for developing a scalable and effective international SEO strategy for your websites. The following list of definitions can help you get up-to-speed on the various terms and techniques that are used within the field of international SEO and we’ll be referencing them ahead of our upcoming webinar on “International SEO Simplified: Experts Discuss the Role of Hreflang in Global SEO Success.”

Glossary of Hreflang & International SEO Terms

Alternate URLs

Alternate URLs are different URLs specified for a language and/or region when there is more than one version of a page to display to users. These alternate URLs are linked together using hreflang annotations.

Aspirational Hreflang Settings

Aspirational hreflang settings is the correct implementation of hreflang attributes across a website’s specified pages before the content of those pages has been localized for the specified region or language.

(reference: Bill Hunt’s definition at Hreflang Builder)


Bidirectional refers to hreflang annotations that link pages between languages or regions, indicating a two-way connection. Hreflang will not work correctly without a bidirectional hreflang attribute specified on two or more pages.

(reference: Bill Hunt’s guide to fixing No Return tags errors)


Cannibalization refers to when multiple pages on a website compete for the same keywords, which can be affected by hreflang.


A canonical tag is used in HTML to specify the preferred version of a webpage, which can be important for hreflang implementation.

ISO Language and Country Codes

ISO Language and Country Codes are codes that specify languages and countries, often used in hreflang tags to indicate the target audience.

(reference: W3 list of  ISO Language Codes, W3 list of ISO Country Codes)

Fallback Page

A fallback page is a default page displayed when there’s no specific language or region match in hreflang annotations.


Hreflang refers to HTML tag attributes that inform search engines about the localized versions of the same content existing on multiple regions. Both language and geographical location can be specified, but Google doesn’t use hreflang to determine the language.

(reference: Google on how they find localized versions of a page)


Multinational websites pertain to websites that operate in multiple countries or regions, requiring closer review of international SEO strategies.


Redirects (most commonly 301s and 302s) are techniques used to forward users from one URL to another, which should be handled carefully in hreflang setups to achieve your desired results. For example, IP detection based on region may use a certain type of redirect that can impact the display of your site’s listing in search results.

(reference: Hreflang Builder on how to use x-default correctly)

Regions and Markets

Regions and markets refer to the different geographical areas and target audiences that are considered when search engines display pages. Examples of regions include Spain, Great Britain, Argentina, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Malaysia, United States, South Africa, etc. Examples of languages include Spanish, French, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, German, etc.


Self-referencing refers to when a page includes hreflang attributes for duplicate pages as well as a pointing to itself, which is required for correct implementation of hreflang. (reference: definition from seoClarity)

SERP (Search Engine Results Page)

A Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is the place where search engine users find listings of web pages that match their query, including pages with hreflang annotations.


Localization is the process of adapting content to suit the specific country or region.  Localized content should be adapted to the specific language and cultural preferences.

Valid URLs

Valid URLs are properly formatted URLs that have a valid URI reference, no query component and don’t contain any special/non-ASCII  characters. Valid URLs are required for hreflang to function properly.

(reference: on HTML5 URL terminology)


X-Default is an hreflang attribute value that specifies a default language or region when a page doesn’t target any specific language or locale and is the default page when no other page is better suited.

(reference: Google’s introduction of x-default in 2013)

^Back to Top