So, for those new to this, here’s a quick introduction to hreflang: it’s basically an HTML meta element that’s used in the code of a document (web page, in this case).
According to Wikipedia, it ‘specifies the language and optional geographic restrictions for a document.’
So, basically, you use hreflang if you have multiple versions of a web page (each version being in a different language).
But, What If You Want to Use One Version (Language) for Multiple Countries?
This is where one has to be careful, because, as Search Engine Journal found, in 2020, 63% of observed sites that had hreflang had some sort of error, and that figure was 75% in 2017.
So, it appears that hreflang is an HTML code that’s often incorrectly used.
And that’s probably why it was the subject of inquiry.
At around the 32-minute, 14-second mark of the English Google SEO Office-Hours From November 12, 2021, which is one of a number of Q&A sessions that Google frequently conducts, someone submitted a question about hreflang.
The situation and question (which you can hear at the video below, which has been queued to the appropriate spot), was:
“We consolidated our Latin markets--Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and so on--into one market. We also target Spain with a different folder.
“For hreflang, we have selected ES for Spain and reference the LatAm URLs for every Spanish speaking market, so the same URL for es-mx, et cetera.
“Google uses ES-419 to target the LatAm market, but this no longer seems to be supported.
“Is it OK the way that we did it, referencing one URL for multiple countries?”
To this, John Mueller’s response was:
“It's perfectly fine the way that you have set it up. In fact, it's the way that we recommend doing it.
“So it's fine having one version for one country and another version for lots of other countries.”
One Thing to Keep In Mind
While researching this topic, I discovered that a lot of the content out there talks about multilingual sites, but I didn’t quite as easily see any that talked about hreflang applied to multiple countries that share a language (as was the case above).
So, if this is your situation, I’d recommend paying attention to detail. As you can observe in the Wikipedia example here, you can designate one language for different countries.
If you click the link above, be sure to look at how, under Language and Region Example, one language (English, en) is used for Canada and the US (CA, US). This is coded into the one page that’s designated for Canada and the US.
And, from what I gathered from the case of the LatAm site, they designated one URL/page for all their Spanish-speaking countries.
They didn’t designate one separate URL/page for Mexico, then a separate one for Argentina, and a separate one for Columbia.
Since they’re all Spanish-speaking countries (and because this site, presumably, is not necessarily targeting specific nations), they were correct in using hreflang to specify a dedicated page for nations that share a common language.
What About English and American English?
By that, I mean British English and American English.
You probably know that there are some spelling variations between the two.
My opinion is that, if you want to have two versions of a web page--one for English, the other for American English, you then code them as such: one using the appropriate hreflang for en-GB, the other version for en-US. (Please don’t forget about other English-speaking countries, like my Canada!)