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Country TLD, Subdomain or Subfolder for Multilingual Content?

For many webmasters, an important localization consideration is whether your website should use a country  TLD, subdomain or sub-folder. This is even more relevant when you are translating your content into a number of different languages and have multilingual content.

If you are reading this article in another language than English, it has been automatically translated by our WordPress Multilingual Plugin.

Before assessing the differences between the three, the site owner must define his / her individual objectives with regards to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and consumer targeting. Obviously, the first step in implementing a multilingual website is to have your content translated and localized in your target languages. When the language has been properly localized, you should consider how this content should be partitioned.

There are a few pros and cons to each option. Many of these considerations, however, are impacted by the type of website that you are interested in localizing.

Country code Top Level Domain

Some websites choose to use a specific country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). Country code TLDs are specific to a particular geographical region. Examples include .ru for Russia, .de for Germany .pl for Poland etc.

The advantages of having your website localized into a number of different sites each with a different TLD are the following:

  • Where the website is hosted is irrelevant to search rankings
  • Visitors to your site will know exactly where it is located. For an e-commerce site, this helps prospective customers for example
  • Search engine algorithms know which country the site is targeting

That been said, Country Code TLDs have a few disadvantages as well

  • You will have to use alternate SEO strategies for each of the different TLDs
  • It is difficult to administer and expensive to implement. One will have to register and host the separate domains
  • There is a greater chance of your preferred domain being taken when obtaining numerous country TLDs

Country Sub-Domains

Another option for multilingual sites is to use sub-domains. These are part of a larger domain name in the DNS hierarchy. Translated versions of the website can then be placed within these domains. For example, fr., de., nl. will be the sub-domains for a French, German and Dutch version of a website. The advantages of this choice are the following:

  • Only one domain name registration is required. Hence, there are no individual geographic restrictions on your chosen URL
  • This is an affordable option as only one domain needs to be purchased and maintained each year
  • The individual sub-domains are easy to manage

It does indeed help websites achieve geo targeting without the added hassle of managing separate country TLDs. However, there are two distinct disadvantages of using sub domains for multilingual content

  • The search engines view the separate sub domains individually for ranking purposes. Therefore, any SEO that you will have instituted in your primary language TLD will be disregarded in the language specific sub domains
  • Users in your target countries wont be able to easily identify the region of the website from the URL as there is no country level TLD

Country Folders in your TLD

A more popular and effective option, however, is to use individual sub folders within your TLD. Each folder will then contain a separate language version of your website. There are numerous advantages to this:

  • The separate language pages will benefit from your search engine rankings of your primary language webpage. This is due to them viewing the sub-folders as being part of one unique website
  • It is a simple option. You will need to maintain only one domain name
  • There are no restrictions to obtaining domain names in another country with geographic TLDs
  • It is a cost effective option as only one domain name has to be registered

As with sub-domains, however, your users will not be able to easily see the region your website is targeting. Using sub-folders may also complicate the categorization of your individual language sites.

Pascal Evertz