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Last updated on 9/2/20

Adopt an Appropriate Website Architecture

In this final part of the course, we'll talk about optimizing a multilingual website for SEO purposes.

There are always variables consider such as budget, resources needed to develop a feature, the ease of updating a site, etc.

In this chapter, we will examine the advantages and disadvantages of several site architecture solutions. You will need to choose what works best for your project and organization.

Once you have decided on your site's language, it's important to decide on the website's architecture before thinking about its translation.

It is essential that Google understands that there are several languages ​​on your site and that these languages ​​are distinguished clearly!

Remember, the easier you make it for Google, the better the results. :)

The main elements to consider are:

  • The strength of the geographic signal you send Google, i.e., the target country and language of your site.

  • The technical difficulties involved in setting up and maintaining the site.

  • The resources required (human and monetary costs) for maintenance and SEO.

Here are the three multilingual site architectures that we will be discussing:

  • One domain name per language.

  • One sub-domain per language.

  • A directory (or subfolder) per language.

Let's look at each a bit more.

Domain Name per Language

Creating a website for each language, i.e., a domain name, has several advantages:

  • It helps Google to geographically target your website: domain names send a strong geographic signal to Google. For example, *.fr often offers content in French for French- speaking audiences.

  • It allows you to use location targeting in the Search Console.

  • The content is properly divided at the server level.

  • It allows you to adapt your site to the legal requirements in GDPR countries.

  • If you want to be indexed by Chinese search engines, it is better to have a *.cn domain.

However, this approach has several major disadvantages:

  • On the one hand, maintaining multiple sites is very expensive in terms of time, resources, and budget. For example, if you change something on your site, you will have to make the same changes for the other languages.

  • On the other hand, some domain names have strict legal requirements. For example,  .fr domains require that your company be based in the European Union or Switzerland.

Subdomain per Language

Here are the benefits to setting up a subdomain per language:

  • It's easier to set up than a separate domain name per site.

  • It allows you to use location targeting in the Search Console.

  • It enables you to have different server locations.

  • Language separation is also easy to do at the server level.

But, there is one major drawback: subdomains won’t benefit from the full link strength of your main domain since they are considered different. The signal Google receives is much weaker than for separate domain names.

Directory per Language

This is often the best option. The idea is to have one subfolder per language. Here are the advantages:

  • It's very easy to set up.

  • It makes geo-targeting tools available to webmasters.

  • It requires little maintenance.

There are some disadvantages as well:

  • It has a weak geo-targeting signal for Google, which may complicate local SEO efforts.

  • It's more difficult to have clear-cut separation between languages ​​across the site.

Pick the Architecture That Fits Your Website

Generally, it's better for SEO to use directory separation. You don’t need to start over for each language, and it's easy to implement. It's also the fastest way for your translated pages to get ranked. However, if you require very effective local SEO by country, or if the content of your site is designed to be different depending on visitor language (different products, cultural norms), it's better to use different websites and domain names.

Why not set language as a URL parameter, or without even changing the URL?

It's possible to manage the different translations of your site with a URL parameter or simply with a cookie, but don’t do it if you value your SEO. These solutions are not covered in this chapter because, from an SEO point of view, they are terrible practices!

What should I do if I use a CMS?

There are effective translation plugins for every CMS. For an undertaking of this size, it's better to buy a plugin you know has good support.

You should also make sure the plugin is compatible with your chosen website architecture.

Let's Recap!

  • The architecture of your multilingual site can have a huge impact on SEO.

  • It's possible to use segments: by domain, sub-domain or directory.

  • In terms of SEO, it's best to use a directory per language.

Now let’s see how you can optimize content across different languages!

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