Expanding your web presence and marketing globally is one of the greatest promises of the Internet.

Many companies however, try to do too much too fast launching multilingual websites without a fundamental understanding of the crucial Search Engine Optimization (SEO) issues involved in going global. The result can be reducing or even losing your current English speaking rankings and traffic without understanding the important success factors designing a multilingual site.


Clouds SunsetQuestions To Ask Before Going Global

* What is your main site’s current link strength and PageRank?
* Do you want to target French speakers, for example – or people in France?
* Is there a one to one match between a specific language and a specific country?
* What is your commitment to keyword research in different languages?
* What is your commitment to hosting your sites overseas in the countries you want rankings?
* What is your commitment to link building in different languages?


Clouds SunsetBiggest SEO Mistakes to Avoid Designing Multilingual Sites

Google advises against automated translations of pages. Be certain your keyword research is done by someone who truly speaks the language.

Don’t mix languages on the same domain without a very clear organization defining what language any specific page of the site is about. Keep all elements of a page the same language in the body text, menus, ect.

Don’t mix languages with side by side translations on the same page. Keep them on different pages and provide links between the pages with the same content in different languages.

Duplicate Content is a huge issue on Google. Although the same content in different languages is not considered duplicate content, be certain you know how your content management system is working on search engines as it’s very easy to inadvertently create duplicate content with multilingual sites.

Don’t use splash pages that ask visitors to select their language before entering the main site. Splash pages – single page landing pages visitors encounter before the root homepage – are disasters for search engine rankings because they rarely contain enough keywords for spiders to give them meaningful rankings.

Be sure to check that your multilingual versions are being crawled and indexed on search engines in that language. Check how pages are actually displaying in search results, and click your cached link to see exactly how search engines are seeing it by selecting the “Text only version” link in the upper right corner of Google’s cache.

Clouds SunsetThree Approaches to Multilingual Site Design and SEO

1) Top Level Domains (TLDs) have the country designation after the domain name and look like this; yourdomain.fr for France, yourdomain.de for Germany, or yourdomain.it for Italy.

2) Subdomains or domain prefixes come before the main domain; fr.yourdomain.com, de.yourdomain.com or it.yourdomain.com.

3) Directories come after the /slash following the domain name. This is the simplest and most common way many companies expand their existing websites on their existing host as yourdomain.com/fr, yourdomain.com/it or yourdomain.com/de.

Each of these three approaches has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of set up and managing. They also have long term SEO performance implications in terms of their ability to compete as the web continues to evolve into increasingly local search results.


Clouds SunsetTop Level Domain (TLD’s) – yourdomain.fr

The whole trend in search is towards more and more local results.

The advantage of Top Level Domain or TLD’s is that it sends search engines the clearest signal a website is relevant to a specific country or region.

You can get top rankings with fewer links in a particular country if you have that country’s Top Level Domain as your URL. This is the best choice if there is a direct, one to one relationship between a language and a country like France or Germany.

Many countries require that the IP address / host physically reside in the country with the Top Level Domain. So a major disadvantage of this approach is hosting sites / IP addresses in different countries, which may be more complicated and expensive than many companies want to undertake.

You must build links to the Top Level Domain as a new domain. New domains go through the Google Sandbox for immature sites that have not yet built trust rank that can last three months to a year depending upon how competitive your search is during which time you won’t get rankings for competitive searches. You will still get ranking during this time for less competitive searches like your name – but the point is as with any new domain, age strength takes time to build.


Clouds SunsetSubdomains – fr.yourdomain.com

A big advantage of subdomains are that they are easy to set up. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to geo target your subdomain sending a clear signal this site is entirely dedicated to a specified language or region. Subdomains allows for an easy separation of sites allowing for different server locations with IP addresses in different countries.

However, a disadvantage of subdomains that is crucial to understand is that they receive no Google Link Juice from the main domain, so links must be built to the subdomain to build link strength and PageRank as though it were a new domain. To Google for ranking purposes, the subdomain is a separate site from the main domain.

On a human usability level, people may not recognize the language or location by reading the subdomain alone.


Clouds SunsetDirectories – yourdomain.com/fr

Because you can use your same current host server, directories are the easiest to set up. You can derive Google Link Juice from the main domain homepage because it is a directory of the main domain. This makes directories the easiest way most companies expand multilingual with their website.

With the whole trend in search going to more local results getting top rankings – and because the first things spiders do is access the IP address that geo targets the location – the disadvantage of directories for achieving top ranking in other countries is that it is less likely to show as well in that country’s Google search results.

The trend to increasingly local results in search engine rankings limits the SEO in searches on the other side of the world as it is not as local a search. This trend will only continue to increase in the future. From an SEO standpoint, the separation of sites with directories is not as clear so the domain does not send as clear a language signal. So while directories are the easiest to set up and don’t need to go through the sandbox, they may not be the best long term solution.

Clouds SunsetWhich Approach To Multilingual Web Design And SEO Is Best For You?

For most companies wanting to expand globally with a multilingual website, directories are the easiest way to begin because they can be done as an extension of their current website on the same server – and get Google PageRank and link strength from the established site. It provides the platform to work out the details of translations and making sure the multilingual versions are actually being properly crawled and indexed in the search engines of that country.

Remember there are three ways people get to a website by following a link, entering the URL in the browser window and with search engines. Search engine traffic is only one of the ways multilingual websites build a company’s traffic.

There’s usually more to this in both time and effort than people realize getting the SEO to perform on a high level. Its essential to test your assumptions at each step on search engines for the keywords you are targeting to know how the site is actually performing.

Age strength is an important part of PageRank development for any new Top Level Domain or subdomain that should not be overlooked. Simple steps taken now can create good choices later. The clock on the Google Sandbox starts from the time Google begins indexing the new site Top Level Domain or subdomain.

Put up a simple one page “Under Construction” site on any Top Level Domain or subdomain you may anticipate expanding to in the future. This gives you good options that will perform much better later if / when the time comes for top SEO if you start the clock on a new domain or subdomain sooner rather than later to start building age strength on Google.