Expanding a website to cover multiple countries and/or languages can be challenging. Because you have multiple versions of your site, any issues will be multiplied. As we all know, major search engines usually serve different results for the same keywords in different countries and we will have to choose the best domain name so as to be listed locally. A popular SEO debate is if one should use multiple domains, sub-domains or folders when we deal with a multilanguage website. The objective is to use an URL structure that makes it easy to geotarget parts of the site to different regions or countries.
Several factors are influencing the positioning of a website in a given country, such as the language of the page, the IP of the server, the country code (.gr, .fr, .de) of the domain (ccTLD), the language of the websites that link to our domain, the settings in the Google Webmaster Console and more.
It’s extremely important to carefully plan the website’s information architecture to maximize its benefits for SEO, and we will have to structure your URL accordingly. So when it comes to structuring your URLs for internationalized content, we have 3 options available, ranging from most ideal to least ideal.
Choosing the Url structure and the domain name : 3 possible strategies
Some of the most important decisions in SEO are the ones that affect the structure of the website. For instance, when you decide to host content on separate country domain names, what about all the authority and domain trust that you have built up on your main site? Won’t you have to start from scratch and building new domain authority when entering a new market?
If you don’t want to use separate country domain names then there are other valid options, based on the use of sub-folders or sub-domains. But how do you know when to choose between these 3 strategies? The key is to make sure that you align your international SEO strategy with your businesses strengths and the overall strategy of your company. Broadly speaking, there are 3 different strategies for a multilingual SEO:
Strategy A: Multidomain – ccTLDs (country top level domain names)
One domain name per language, the multi domain approach (www.yoursite.es ; www.yoursite.com ; www.yoursite.de)
Multiple domains are used when we want to be very geo targeted and when we have enough content and resources to support all these websites. If your website content is primarily or only relevant to people in one country, then you will usually be best off using this country’s TLD (.co.uk, .be, .fr etc.). Using your country’s TLD immediately tells your visitors that you are a local business. If you need to have a stronger local presence, then this strategy will most likely work best for you. It revolves around these core principles:
1. Create separate sites on regionally targeted domain names for each of your target markets (e.g. www.domain.co.uk, www.domain.es). This allows your local teams to work more autonomously and allows them to be agile and flexible to react on their market. You still can maintain this decentralized structure from one central point.
2. Create unique content for each site. This approach allows you to create the best content possible for each region. You can focus on particular strengths or weaknesses of local markets.
The concept behind this strategy is to create the most effective targeting for each country you’re optimizing for. You do lose the benefit of the trust and authority built up by your main site, but this is outweighed by the potential advantage you can gain from having a local focus with your different sites. Remember that if you are competing against a business in your niche then your competitive advantage might be local. Rely on your local team if you have one to create and reach out relationships with sites and bloggers in the local market, and encourage your team to perform linkbuilding and optimization of their own.
Tips for the multi-domain strategy:
• You can make links between your sites, but don’t over-optimize your internal linking.
• The benefits of this strategy outweight the mere international SEO – different markets have different buying behavior, and we can then adapt more easily to local tastes should it be required.
Drawbacks of the multi-domain approach :
– each domain must be indexed separately, which generates more work.
– local domain names do not benefit from the traffic of other sites for your business
– price: Indexing all the domain names separately is more work and is more costly
– When you use subdomains and especially when you have different domains, it is highly recommended to launch separate link building campaigns for each of them. You will need to ensure that those domains receive enough links from external domains in order to speedup indexing and increase authority, trust and PageRank.
Strategy B: one sub-folder per language, with only one domain name (www.yoursite.com/en/) ; www.yoursite.com/fr/))
You should use folders when you have a relatively small website and when you want to maintain the authority of the domain in the main categories. If your main site has a lot of trust and authority and especially if you don’t have a business with local offices then you should think about using this strategy. The strategy revolves around a few simple principles:
1. Host all your content on one generic domain (typically www.domain.com, or .net). This best conserves the authority and trust that was built up for your main site.
2. Use separate sub-folders (e.g. www.domain.com/fr/) for each language/region that you’re targeting. This ensures that all content in a specific language is in its own sub-folder, and that avoids content duplication.
The concept behind this strategy is that while your targeting isn’t the most effective (you don’t have a domain name (CC tld) or ip per country, these factors are out-weighed by the power of the site. This aligns with your business strategy since without local business locations you’ll find it difficult to maintain a separate website per country, perform link building individually for that site and give it the attention it deserves. This way, your central office can worry about the overall SEO for all the different languages and any link building strategy benefits the domain as a whole.
Tips of the sub-folder strategy:
• Use Google Webmaster Tools to register your sub-folders as individual accounts and use the geotargeting tool to set the geographic location for each one to the correct location.
• Don’t forget to purchase the relevant country domain names where possible, but redirect them to the correct folder rather than hosting content on them
Note that following this strategy doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a large business. On the contrary, many companies could use this strategy as they do not have any local address or resources. This approach is well adapted to niche players.
Drawbacks of the sub-folder strategy:
– does not allow a 100% geolocation of the site per language. This can be a drawback to get a good ranking in queries for the particular country you are targeting. Separations of sites is harder.
Strategy C: one subdomain per language (www.en.yoursite.com; www.fr.yoursite.com; www.es.youresite.com…)
While this route is, by far, the least SEO friendly, it’s also the cheapest to maintain, and might make a lot more sense for smaller e-commerce portals that don’t have the resources to invest in managing different sites and inventories of products and services.
Tips of the subdomain strategy:
– allows geolocation by IP for each subdomain . Easy separation of sites.
– easy to setup.
– it preserves the identity of the site.
– makes possible the backlinks between the different subdomains.
Drawbacks of a subdomain approach:
– each subdomain must be indexed separately, which generates more work and is more expansive.
– users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (is “de” the language or country?)
And of course:
URL structure do’s and don’ts:
- Keep URLs reasonably short.
- Create a clear structure for your URLs.
- Avoid using session ID’s and parameters.
- Don’t use capital letters.
- Include your keywords and localize your urls…
At Openvalley, we provide you with all the tools for improving the searcheability of your multilingual website, and we will make sure each language version is easily discoverable. Contact us now for the solution most fitted to your needs.