Today, many websites attract visitors from several countries. It is therefore important to link the various languages on a website to the right countries and/or regions. In this article, you will read the options for setting up and the various options that are available.

Difference between a multilingual and multiregional website

In order to understand the possibilities, we must first distinguish between languages and countries. A website in German can specifically target Germany, but also in all German-speaking countries including residents of Austria and Switzerland.

A distinction is therefore made between multilingual websites and multiregional websites.

  • A multilingual website is a website that offers content in more than one language.

A Swiss company that offers the content of its website in German, French, and Italian is an example of a multilingual website.

  • A multi-regional website is aimed at users from multiple countries.

For example, an English-language website can focus on the United States and England. It is also possible that a website is both multiregional and multilingual.

Different types of domain extensions

One of the other factors that play an important role is the choice for the right domain extension (also known as Top Level Domain or TLD). There are two types of domain extensions to be distinguished. The first domain extensions that were introduced were called generic Top Level Domains (gTLD). Most known gTLD is .com. In the meantime, the list of gTLDs has increased considerably.

In addition to generic TLDs, you have the country-specific domain extensions (Country Code Top Level Domain or ccTLD). These domain extensions use the international country codes. For example, the Dutch domain extension .nl. Other examples of country-specific domain extensions are .fr for France and .de for Germany. A country code TLD is more likely to score well in the corresponding version of Google. For example, you will be able to score with a .nl domain in Google .nl and with a .fr domain earlier in the French version of Google (Google.fr).

International targeting | Google Search Console

By choosing a ccTLD, you directly indicate to Google which country the website is intended for. However, there are other ways to indicate to Google which country (s) or region (s) a website is intended for. Google Search Console plays an important role. For example, websites with a gTLD may indicate in Search Console which country the target users are. This can be done by setting international targeting to the target country. Because ccTLDs are already linked to a geographic target region, domains with these extensions will not be able to set a target region.

International targeting can be set in multiple ways. For example, the international targeting of the example.com website may be set to the Netherlands. This indicates to Google that your .com web site is intended for the Dutch market.

Implementations for a multilingual website

For multilingual websites, there are four choices that can be made.

Option 1: Use of a Country Code TLD

First, a separate website can be created for each country or region with its associated ccTLD. For a Dutch website, this would be an example.com.

Examples

  • The Netherlands: example.com
  • Germany: example.de

Benefits

  • The site has clear geotargeting.
  • It does not matter where the server is located.
  • Different countries with different languages can easily be distinguished.

Disadvantages

  • It is expensive to purchase and maintain many extensions.
  • Your domain name may no longer be available for each extension.
  • Some countries have strict requirements for the use of the corresponding ccTLD.

Option 2: Use of subdomains on a gTLD

The second choice that can be made is to create a subdomain on the main domain with a gTLD. The main domain with gTLD .com that uses a subdomain for the Netherlands will look like this: nl.example.com.

Examples

  • The Netherlands: nl.example.com
  • Germany: de.example.com

Benefits

  • It’s easy to set up subdomains and keep the languages separate.
  • There can be the use of international targeting in Search Console.
  • It is possible to use different server locations.

Disadvantages

  • Users may not recognize geotargeting based on the URL.
  • For example, in Belgium, both French and Dutch are spoken.
  • Dutch-speaking Belgians need to go to td.example.com instead of be.example.com.

Option 3: Use of sub directories with a gTLD

The third option is to use subdirectories on the same domain. These are folders that fall under the main domain. In this situation, this leads to the following URL structure: example.com/en

Examples

  • The Netherlands: example.com/en
  • Germany: example.com/de

Benefits

  • It’s easy to set up sub directories.
  • There can be the use of international targeting in Search Console.
  • Due to the use of a single host, little maintenance is needed.

Disadvantages

  • Users may not recognize geotargeting based on the URL.
  • For example, in Belgium, both French and Dutch are spoken.
  • Dutch-speaking Belgians need to go to example.com/en instead of example.com/be.
  • There is only one server location.
  • It is harder to keep the different websites (languages) separate.

Option 4: Use of URL parameters

Finally, it is also possible to use URL parameters. This is strongly advised because it is not possible to set up geo targeting in Search Console. This leads to URLs like example.com?lang=en.

Examples

  • The Netherlands: example.com?lang=en
  • Germany: example.com?lang=de

Benefits

  • No

Disadvantages

  • It’s difficult to segment based on the URLs.
  • It is for users to recognize geotargeting based on the URL.
  • It is not possible to set geotargeting in Google Search Console.

To ensure that localized content is displayed properly in the language in question, Google offers some tips. To determine the language of a page, they only use the visible content of a page. They strongly advise using multiple languages on the same page. It is also not helpful to redirect the visitors of the website based on user language settings to the correct page. This allows users and search engines not to see all versions of the website.

Conclusion

What is the best structure for a multilingual and/or multiregional website?

Each structure has such pros and cons. The ability to use URL parameters to indicate countries/languages is the only one that is actually discouraged by Google. This option has no clear advantages over the other options and notable drawbacks.

Using sub directories under a gTLD does offer a number of benefits.

  • It’s very easy to set it up and it’s possible to use the international targeting in Search Console;
  • You have lost time in maintenance because the website uses one host;
  • Finally, all incoming links will end up in the same domain.

It is therefore not necessary to build separate links for different domains. A disadvantage is that the user may not recognize geotargeting based on the URL. Another drawback is that there is only one server location. Google uses the server location as a signal to determine the geographic location of the website. In addition, it is more difficult to keep the languages separate from the website. This option can definitely provide a solution but is not the best choice.

Most of the benefits of using subdomains correspond to having subdirectories.

  • One big difference is that you have the ability to use multiple server locations;
  • For each subdomain, a server can be selected in the corresponding country;
  • Finally, incoming links are linked to a subdomain and not to the entire domain.

The disadvantages are almost the same as when using subdirectories. A disadvantage that is eliminated by this option is that subdomains are less difficult to keep the different websites (languages) than when using subdirectories. It is, therefore, a good choice when you do not have the budget to buy and maintain multiple websites with a ccTLD.

Using ccTLDs (example.com), so for each country, another website, is a good choice. Geotargeting does not have to be set and Google immediately gets aware of which country the website is intended for. The languages are already separated because the websites are separate.

However, this option also has disadvantages. Where the other options refer to all the links to the same domain, links must be built in this situation for each website. This option is a lot more expensive than the other options because multiple websites need to be maintained. With this solution, only distinctions can be made between countries and not between (language) regions.

Each website is unique and it leads to multiple solutions for implementing multiple languages on your website. After reading this article, do you need more help with your multilingual or multi-regional website?

Let us know in the comments or contact us!

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