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For the next few weeks we’ll be bringing to you posts on International and Multilingual SEO, finishing the series with a webinar December the 16th 2010.

The topics we’re going to cover are technical SEO aspects, content optimization and web analytics for international SEO, and today we’re going to start it off with former:

Technical SEO: domains, subdomains and directories

I am going to assume you have a basic technical knowledge, so we can focus on one of the most important (and discussed) topics: domains, subdomains and directories. Ooh La La, Si, one of my favoritos!

First of all take the time to weight the reasons before making this–or any–decision. Don’t act based on what you read in a couple of blog posts, not even this one. Be sure to know all the pros and cons of every option and, please, don’t imitate what big international sites are doing out there. You never know the real reasons behind their decisions or they might not fit your situation.

Countries and languages

One country, several languages or one language, several countries. These are the two most common situations you are going to face.

  • Main domain and subdirectories per language?
  • Main domain and subdirectories per country + directories per language?
  • Main domain and directories per language?
  • Main domain and directories per language – country?
  • Domains by country – language?

Continental / regional Top Level Domains

“Country” is the level of granularity where international SEO plays its role, not continents nor provinces so domains like .eu or .asia are not a good option.

Rule out this idea, they are not related to specific countries, although you may want to buy them for protective reasons.

Domains by country

This is usually the recommended option, if enough resources available to handle it. This tends to be the most expensive, complicated to manage and coordinate, and yet the most effective solution. India Germany Argentina Saudi Arabia USA (or .us for USA and let the .con act as a hub for all of them)

There is strong consensus on this strategy among the SEO experts but not made for every company’s budget.

Question here: one CMS for all or one per domain? You want to have a flexible CMS to adapt the web to the particular local market, cultural and language particularities. Some languages are written right to left for example.

Do you want any technical change to be propagated along your whole network of international web sites? Cool right? Not so, if you screw it up, it goes global wide and your organic traffic will disappear even in Mars.

Subdomains by country

Examples India Germany Argentina Saudi Arabia

This is quite popular option, but it does not mean to be the right one. Here is why.

  • Search Engines consider subdomains almost a completely different entity than their domain
  • Subdomains don’t inherit most of the domain’s relevancy
  • Subdomains contribute poorly to increases in the domain’s relevancy
  • Subdomains take a considerable amount of time to gain traction within the SERP’s compared to domains

But wait! have subdomains by country, why shouldn’t I? I’ll answer with more questions. Maybe because someone made the wrong decision a long time ago and the nightmare of changing it is not one of their top priorities? Maybe because they are so relevant that it makes no difference? Maybe because it is a simple way to balance traffic on different servers?

I know, I know, when googlers are talking about they include this option. They don’t recommend anything, they just list them in no particular order.

One more question from SEO to SEO: Have you tried to move from subdomains to directories and check what performs better? 99.99% of times answer is “no”, how you know it?

Well, the few times I’ve convinced a client to do this change it made a noticeable improvement, adding more relevancy to the main domain and increasing organic traffic as consequence.

Directories by country – language

For medium, small companies this is the most reliable and efficient solution.

  • Cost effective: less technical resources required
  • More simple to manage and coordinate
  • Directories contribute to increase the general relevancy of domain and inherit its relevancy

Examples: India
mycompany. com/de/ Germany Saudi Arabia Spain

More than one language in one country? No problem, add language to directories right away Spain generic Spain, Basc Spain, Galician Spain, Catalan

Problem solved consistently in minutes.

Further advice on International SEO

ISO country and language codes

Use the standard codes with hyphen in between if required ISO 3166-1-alpha-2 country codes and ISO 639-1 language codes.
Example for Spain, Catalan language: wrong right

Local IP by country

If you have tons of money, patience and time to waste try to host locally. But that’s not as relevant as it was years ago, especially since Google introduced Webmastertools. Country TLD’s are now automatically associated with their related countries, as well as country folders.

Keep language consistency

Search engines do a good job detecting languages, no need to add extra meta-descriptions like. If want to use something, do it right

Pretty obvious this one but keep language consistent across its entire section avoiding mixing them.

Make it easy for users

Avoid language or country selection home pages or modal windows. Save these clicks!

With a bit of code you can find the user’s browser language and the country where the visit comes from, so send users transparently to the right localized content in their language. You will be right most of the time. If not, let them change preferences and store them in cookies, ready for the next visit.

If done properly this will cause no harm to your organic traffic, as IP content delivery is not cloaking Google dixit.

More than enough for today, next week Multilingual Content Optimization.


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