A website intended for multiple countries and/or languages can pose significant challenges. It can create a ripple effect in the sense that a mistake in the original site will be replicated in all the duplicate sites. Therefore, it is recommended that the original site is thoroughly tested and so is the infrastructure that will be used to handle those sites. Moreover, multilingual or multiregional sites are completely different and should not be confused with international targeting.
What Is a Multilingual Website?
A website that offers content in more than one language is called a multilingual website. For example, a Canadian website might have both a French version as well as an English version. Both the versions of the website will have the exact same content but in different languages.
What Is a Multiregional Website?
A website that explicitly targets audiences in different regions is called a multiregional website. For example, a website of an insurance company in different states of the United States may offer different content owing to the different laws, but in the same language.
Know What Are You Targeting
It is extremely important to understand the requirements of a target audience. Why? Let us explain this with an example. A simple representation of a date in the format “01/02/03” could be interpreted as three different dates in different regions. Once the region has been decided, the next thing is to understand the languages that are spoken in those regions.
How to Manage Multilingual Versions of Your Site?
The first thing to do is to ensure that in the code of a website’s pages, the language is identified. The next step is to determine the primary language of the site and also ensure that each of the other languages is also easily discoverable.
How to Manage Multiregional Site?
The first thing is to have an understanding of legal or administrative requirements of that region. The next step is to ensure that the site in the targeted region is easy to recognize and find.
What Is Geotargeting?
Geotargeting is a practice of delivering website content to a specific region. It can be accomplished through a setting in Google Webmaster Tools, which can give the website a boost in the local searches of that region.
ccTLD and Webmaster Tools Geotargeting
ccTLD, or country-code top-level domain, names are helpful because they are tagged to specific countries. For example, a country code .de in a URL indicates that it is a German site and a country code .fr indicates that it is a French site. Therefore, a URL that has a ccTLD can explicitly signal that it is intended for that particular country only. Then there are gTLDs, or generic top-level domain, names, which are used to indicate that a site is targeting an entire region. For example, a .eu in the URL will indicate that a website is targeting the European region.
The same can be accomplished through Webmaster Tools, which allows targeting specific regions manually instead of using gTLDs. This can be enabled by going to the country targeting tool in the Search Console to specify which specific country is to be targeted by the website. However, this setting should be used only when only a single country or region is to be targeted.
Duplicate Content and International Sites
Often there are international sites that provide the same content for different regions and in different languages. This can sometimes lead to the creation of identical or similar content but on different URLs. Therefore, it is recommended that in such cases a preferred version is identified and redirected. Additionally, in such scenarios using an Hreflang tag will ensure that a correct regional URL is provided to the searchers.
The following table enlists what we have discussed thus far:
|Country specific||website.fr||Clear geotargeting|| Expensive (can have limited availability)|
| Irrelevant server location|| More infrastructure required
|Easy to separate sites||Strict ccTLD requirements (sometimes)
|Subdomains containing gTLDs
||Easy to set up
||Difficult to recognize geotargeting from the URL alone (e.g., is "de" the language or the country?)
|Geotargeting can be enabled by Search Console
|Different server locations allowed
|Easy to separate sites
|Subdirectories containing gTLDs||website.com/fr/||Easy to set up||Difficult to recognize geotargeting from the URL alone|
|Geotargeting can be enabled by||Single-server location|
|Low maintenance (same host)||Separation of sites difficult|
|URL parameters||website.com?loc=de||Not recommended||URL-based segmentation difficult|
|Difficult to recognize geotargeting from the URL alone|
|Geotargeting in Search Console not possible|
Use of Subdomains or Directories
To avoid any issues due to multiple ccTLDs, it is preferred that subdomains or directories are used. Examples of using subdomains in a URL would be en.website.com, fr.website.com, and de.website.com. Examples of using subdirectory would be website.com/en/, website.com/fr/, and website.com/de/.
Is Your Website Server Location a Factor?
It is a misconception that a server should be located near the users to signal its intended audience. It actually makes no difference and websites can use distributed content delivery networks (CDNs) or host their servers in countries that have a better web server infrastructure.
When to Use an Hreflang tag?
An Hreflang tag should be used when a website has versions with different content in different languages or is intended for users in different countries. It is used to show the search engines the relationship between web pages in alternate languages. For example, the sample code tells a search engine that it is intended for German-speaking regions.
Dealing with multilingual and multiregional websites is a complex task. Most importantly, the multilingual and multiregional SEOs are constantly changing and therefore the SEO experts should ensure that when dealing with such sites, they make strategies only by using the latest materials.