Every minute Google receives more than 6,3 million search queries. By 2021 almost 1,8 billion websites were online, according to Statista , and nearly 8.5 billion daily searches were placed on Google in 2022. How can you be sure that your audience will find your website within this flood of websites and content, and what is also important, will be directed to the correct version of your website localized for their perceived country/language?

URL structures - pros & cons

There exist a variety of guidelines that can help you to optimize SEO for multilingual websites. We recommend relying on Google documentation as the most reliable source. The first thing you should take care of is optimizing the URLs and thinking over the locale-specific URLs. This action covers two things - it shows the users the language of your content and improves the page ranking in the specific region.

**Hands-off URL parameters! Google does not support them! ** Translating words in URLs or using an internationalized domain name is no problem. Just make sure to use UTF-8 encoding in the URL (example.ca/en/mountainbike -> example.ca/fr/vélo-de-montagne).

Choose the located-specific URL structure

You can use three options when creating URLs for multiregional and multilingual websites.

located-specific URL structure

Country-specific domain

One of the common options is creating separate domains for every language version:
https://website.com
https://website.fr
https://website.ch

The pros of this solution:

  • Top-level domains can be connected to Google's Search Console for geotargeting purposes.
  • The location of the web server is not relevant.
  • All language versions are split; if something happens with one version, the others will be saved.
  • You can increase the presence of your business in the region by using Google My Business for each version.

Cons

  • Buying various domains can be expensive and annoying, especially when dealing with squatters.
  • Cookies cannot be shared across multiple locales, so users have to log in separately to each site. Require more efforts - analytics tracking, website support, etc.

Subdomains with gTLD

Sub-domains are suitable if you're looking for a cheaper option than TLDs. Once a single domain like example.com is bought, sub-domains can be used for locales:
https://de.website.com
https://fr.website.com
https://ch.website.com

Pros:

  • Sub-domains can be used for localization by country or by language.
  • They are easy to set up and can be connected to Google's Search Console.
  • Hosting can be localized by pointing DNS to a web server located close to your user.
  • Sharing cookies across all locales is possible. Thus a smoother user experience is created!


Cons:

  • The domain name itself cannot be localized.
  • Sub-domains** may not be identified as locales** by users at first glance.

Subdirectories with gTLD

Last but not least, sub-directories complete the list of URL structures. Adding sub-directories to a single domain allows you to use multiple alternate URLs.
https://website.com/de
https://website.com/fr
https://website.com/ch

This option is similar to sub-domains, and so are the pros & cons. The only difference is that there's only one DNS entry. Consequently, using a different location for website hosting in multiple countries for other locales is restricted.

Hreflang attribute for multilingual and multiregional websites

The next step is to let Google know which locales serve which target users. Google uses the rel= "alternate" hreflang=" x" attributes to list the appropriate location for search results.

Language annotations

Imagine you're offering content on your website in English (website.com) and German (de.website.com). Google now offers three ways to indicate that de.website.com is the German equivalent of the English page:

  • Inserting an HTML link element in the header of website.com points out that de.example.com is the German version.
<link rel="alternate" hreflang="lang_code" href="url_of_page" />
  • When publishing non-HTML files, an HTTP header can be used. Link:
<url1>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="language_code_1", 
<url2>; rel="alternate"; hreflang="languafe_code_2", 
  • Information about different language versions can also be submitted as a sitemap. When multiple language versions of an URL are used, every language page must identify all language versions, including itself.

When several URLs target users speaking the same language but living in different countries, it's good to provide a generic one for geographically unspecified users. Assume that separate URLs for users in Ireland, Canada, and Australia are used. In that case, all other English speakers should see the generic English page. A sitemap or HTML link tags like the following ones can be used to annotate this information.

<url>
    <loc>https://www.website.com/english/page.html</loc>
    <xhtml:link
               rel="alternate"
               hreflang="de"
               href="https://www.website.de/deutsch/page.html"/>
    <xhtml:link
               rel="alternate"
               hreflang="de-ch"
               href="https://www.example.de/schweiz-deutsch/page.html"/>

More about hreflang read in our article.

Language Values

The value of the hreflang attribute provides information about the language and region on an alternate URL, as the following examples show:

  • de: German content, no region defined
  • en-IE: English content for users in Ireland
  • nl-BE: Dutch content for Belgium users
  • fr-BE: French content for Belgium users ISO 639-1 format is required for languages, and ISO 3166-1 Alpha 2 format for regions.
seo-for-multilingual-websites

Optimizing SEO for multilingual websites - dos & don'ts

Besides guidelines for URLs, there are other important ones too. Considering the following dos & don'ts will help you to be displayed on top of Google's result page!

  • Help Google correctly determine your website's language by using a single language for content and navigation on each page.
  • Use the regional address and phone numbers.
  • Take care about interlinking inside your website version. All the links should go to the pages with the appropriate language.
  • Use the regional-specific keywords - do not translate all the texts absolutely precisely.
  • Don't use lang attributes. Google exclusively uses visible content to detect the language of your website. No code-level language information is used.
  • Avoid side-by-side translation to help search engines determine your website's language.
  • Translate all the content on the regional versionб do not leave the untranslated pages on the website.
  • Be careful on pages featuring user-generated content, as content in various languages may be generated! Make sure the website language is obvious!
  • Use robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages. Automated translations need to be clarified and can affect your website's reputation.
  • Don't use cookies to display translated versions of your website. Keeping the content for each language you support on a separate URL is the key to good SEO for multilingual websites.
  • Cross-linking (navigation for languages) the different language versions of your websites helps users to navigate the website in their preferred language, just in case they have been misdirected.
  • Avoid automatic redirection based on your user's perceived language. It can prevent users and search engines from viewing all the versions of your awesome website.
  • Use ccTLD or Search Console's geotargeting tool to set up geotargeting, so you don't need to worry about the server location. Always make sure your website is hosted in a way that will give your users fast access.

Sum up

Good SEO is the key to guiding users to a website within a flood of the content generated every minute. Stand-out resources won't get the traffic it deserves when ranked at the bottom of Google's result pages. For example, the first website in Google SERP gets 8.17% CTR , while the tenth is much less - 0.44% CTR . SEO for multilingual websites takes it further and provides users with localized content. When defining an SEO strategy, being up to date-is crucial.

Hope this article provided a general overview of how multilingual SEO works. If you want to try to scale your business to a new region - Lingohub offers comprehensive tools for this task. Translate and manage your multilingual websites without additional hassles and with maximum flexibility and automation.

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