How to serve language-specific sites

February 22, 2021

If you’re publishing copies of your sites in multiple languages, you have several options for how to organize the site for your users. But you should probably use folders. For example, https://ercule.co/jp. Here’s why:

  • Having all pages on the same domain usually corresponds to easier maintenance and deployment. And if you have separate domains, you’ll often end up with separate Wordpress installs, for example, to back each one. And that means inconsistency and poor user experience.
  • Keeping everything on your main site means that all backlinks point to the same domain. That means everything on your site benefits from better link equity.
  • Having all your sites on the same domains means that cookies can be shared across sites. For example, a visitor to ercule.co who switches to ercule.co/fr can still be retargeted and can be easily tracked with the same analytics trackers.

There are some alternatives, but we don’t recommend them.

  • A different top-level domain, e.g. site.de. These domains can be hard to acquire in every relevant country, and their authority profiles have to be built up separately in Google.
  • A different subdomain, e.g. de.site.com. While there is some debate, in our experience backlink equity is not transferred as well across subdomains.
  • A URL parameter, e.g. site.com?lang=de. Google explicitly recommends against this.
  • Automatically serving different versions of the site to different users. This is very, very hard to do reliably and is also not recommended by Google.

You can see Google’s advice here, which has a little more detail but is very similar to what we said above. A couple of last notes:

  • Don’t forget to use an appropriate hreflang tag on each page.
  • You can use the International Targeting report in Google Search Console to troubleshoot.

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