How do you set up a well-structured multilingual website? This is question pops up frequently, but it’s difficult to answer. The truth is that there really is no right or wrong. That said, I have nevertheless seen a lot of businesses make the wrong choices. An important decision is which URL structure and domain name to choose. I will investigate this subject further in this blog.
SEO (search engine optimization) depends on multiple factors. Although these factors change continuously, one of the principle determinants for achieving a high position in the search results is still the URL and path name (everything behind the slash). Exact matches between the URL and the search term will always lead to higher rankings. But how do you use this information for a multilingual website? Do you decide on one domain name with translation pages behind the slash or do you use a separate domain name for every individual country? Below I will describe the aspects to take in account.
Determine your target region
Setting geographic parameters is important. In which countries and in how many languages do you want your website or web shop to be found? Once these have been specified, first thing you need to do is determine what regions you are targeting. In how many countries and what languages do you want your website or web shop to be found? Once you have decided, you can determine how large your website needs to be and assess how you will structure your international website.
Your next important decision concerns the URL structure. Will you use ‘geo-targeting’ and set up a different domain for each country (.de, .nl, .fr etc.), or will you operate from one domain with subdirectories for your languages (nl.domain.com or domain/com/nl etc.)?
The advantage of individual domains is that they lead to better scores for local search terms. In the Netherlands, a .nl domain generally receives a higher appreciation by Google than a .org website. Furthermore, individual domains will be easier to maintain, as long as they do not cover too many domains. As the number of domains increases, so do the drawbacks for this option, because they will become more labor intensive and more expensive. A good example of a company that has implemented the multiple domain option is Philips.
Subdomains for a multilingual website are easier to set up and to maintain. Another advantage is that all traffic will be directed to a single domain, leading to greater authority with Google. Should you select this option, the actual domain name is of paramount importance. The so-called top-level domains are not location-specific and will score better worldwide. An example of a top-level domain is .com, .org, .net etc. An example of a website that works according to this structure is Wikipedia.
The choice of URL structure depends on many factors. Rapidly changing circumstances on the internet mean that there simply isn’t a dependable, abiding truth. At Textcase we have extensive experience with international websites and would be happy to meet with you and consider your best options. For a more detailed discussion of this topic, I would like to refer to an article by Alain Sadon.