Search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming increasingly important for businesses looking to reach customers globally. With over half of internet users preferring content in their native language, having a multilingual website and SEO strategy is key.
When expanding to new countries and languages, one of the first steps is purchasing a relevant domain name. The domain is the web address that users type in to access your site, and it can impact your visibility and click-through-rates in search engines. For multilingual sites, having targeted country-specific domain names and implementing proper redirects is crucial for an effective SEO strategy.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover best practices for domain names and SEO for multilingual websites, including:
- The importance of multilingual domains
- ccTLD vs gTLD domain extensions
- Subdomains, subfolders, and separate domains
- Implementing redirects
- Localizing sites and content
- Targeting keywords in multiple languages
- Using hreflang tags
- Avoiding duplicate content issues
- Google Search Console setup
- Multilingual SEO tools
By following these best practices, you can maximize your international SEO success and global online presence.
The Importance of Multilingual Domains
Having localized domain names for each target country or language is highly beneficial for multilingual SEO. Domains ending in country-code top level domain (ccTLD) extensions like .de for Germany or .cn for China tell Google the intended audience is in those locations. This signals relevancy to users in those specific markets.
Additionally, native language domain names build trust and credibility with local users as it shows you cater to their language and location. The domain name itself can influence click behavior, with ccTLD domains seeing higher CTRs from local audiences.
Some key benefits of using multilingual domains include:
- Increased relevancy – ccTLD domains signal to Google the intended country target, increasing local SEO value.
- Higher CTRs – Users tend to click on native language/ccTLD domains more than generic domains.
- Localized trust – Native domains build trust and credibility for that target locale.
- Separate targeting – Unique domains allow custom optimization for each language/market.
- Avoid duplicate content – Separate domains minimize duplicate content issues.
- Brand consistency – Creates consistent brand recognition across markets.
As such, utilizing localized domains should be a foundation of any multilingual SEO strategy when expanding into new international markets.
ccTLD vs gTLD Domain Extensions
When choosing a domain for multilingual sites, the top-level domain (TLD) is extremely important. There are two main options – country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) or generic top-level domains (gTLDs).
ccTLDs are two-letter domains associated with specific countries, like .de for Germany or .se for Sweden. Some key benefits of ccTLDs include:
- Increased local SEO value and CTRs for that country
- Signals relevancy for users and Google for that market
- Builds trust and brand recognition locally
gTLDs are generic domains not associated with a specific country, like .com, .net, .org. Benefits of gTLDs include:
- Broader targeting – not limited to one country
- Seen as more authoritative internationally
- Often cheaper to purchase
For multilingual SEO, ccTLDs are generally the best option for the localized domains. The main domain can utilize a gTLD, with ccTLDs used for the country/language specific sites. This provides both targeted local domains and an international domain.
Some best practices for ccTLD vs gTLD include:
- Use ccTLD for each localized domain – i.e. example.de, example.fr
- Main gTLD domain can redirect to local domains
- Be consistent with TLD strategy across markets
- Purchase domains early – popular ccTLDs get scarce
- Prioritize markets by volume/revenue to phase domains
By combining ccTLD and gTLD domains, you can maximize both global reach and local targeting. Just be sure to properly implement redirects across domains to avoid duplicate content.
Subdomains, Subfolders, or Separate Domains
There are a few different ways to structure multilingual websites using domains – subdomains, subfolders, or separate domains. Each has pros and cons to evaluate when deciding the best strategy.
Subdomains utilize different language or country codes as subdomains from the main domain, like es.example.com or fr.example.com.
Pros: Easy to implement, separate targeting in Google
Cons: Doesn’t build local trust as well, still seen as separate from main domain
Subfolders place each language in a subfolder on the main domain, like example.com/es/ or example.com/fr/
Pros: User-friendly structure, easy internal site linking
Cons: Harder to target separately in Google, no local trust signals
Separate domains use entirely unique ccTLD domains for each language, like example.de, example.fr
Pros: Strong local signals, full customization per domain, avoid duplicate content
Cons: More expensive to purchase/maintain domains, complex redirects
In most cases, separate ccTLD domains provide the strongest multilingual SEO advantages and are recommended whenever possible. However subdomains can also be effective if budgets are limited. Avoid subfolders for optimal targeting.
Implementing 301 Redirects
When using separate domains or subdomains for multilingual sites, you need to properly setup 301 redirects to pass link equity and avoid duplicate content.
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect that passes 90-99% of link juice/authority from one URL to another. This consolidation of signals helps Google understand which URL to index and rank for target keywords.
Here are some best practices for implementing 301s:
- Main gTLD domain should redirect to local ccTLD domain
- Redirect based on user location if possible, otherwise by language
- Use 301s from old domains to new domains, not vice versa
- Only subdomain >> subfolder >> domain redirects, not backwards
- Redirect individual pages if switching URL structure
- Test redirects are passing link equity via toolbar check
- Submit new sitemaps and change of address in Google Search Console
Properly executing redirects is vital whenever sites merge, domains change, or pages get restructured. For multilingual sites, put in the technical work to get redirects right and maximize SEO.
Localizing Sites and Content
In addition to domains and redirects, the content of each language version needs optimized localization for users in that market.
Localization goes beyond just translating text word-for-word. It involves adapting messaging, imagery, currencies, contact information, and other elements for cultural relevance.
Some tips for effective localization include:
- Use region-specific images and examples
- Adapt text for language nuances and slang
- Follow local laws, regulations, data policies
- Include addresses, phone numbers, taxes for region
- Adjust ecommerce pricing, shipping, payments as needed
- Mirror site structure and internal linking
Localizing both sites and content shows users you understand the intricacies of their market. This establishes trust and credibility that will increase engagement and conversions.
Keyword Targeting in Multiple Languages
Conducting keyword research is a critical part of any SEO strategy. For a multilingual site, you need to research relevant keyword terms in every target language.
These language-specific keywords should be reflected in your content, metadata, and optimization efforts for each localized domain.
Tips for multilingual keyword targeting:
- Brainstorm keywords in native language for each market
- Use keyword planners like Google Keyword Planner for research
- Look at local competitor sites for ideas
- Optimize pages and content for each language’s keywords
- Add keywords to metadata, titles, descriptions, alt text
- Focus on language nuances – e.g. differences in Spanish across Latin America
Finding high volume, low competition keywords tailored to each local language will drive more qualified organic traffic. Just be wary of keyword cannibalization across domains.
Ongoing keyword research and optimization provides the foundation for multilingual SEO success.
Implementing hreflang Tags
hreflang tags are HTML attributes that specify to Google which language or regional version of a page is the correct match for a user.
These tags help Google understand which URLs across multilingual domains should rank for target keywords in each language and country.
Here are key tips for implementing hreflang tags:
- Add tags pointing to the appropriate local URLs
- tags go in section of HTML
- Indicate language with “x-default” for default language
- Use self-referencing tags on default language pages
- Images and files should only have self-referencing tags
- Follow format guidelines per Google specifications
- Validate tags using Google Tag Assistant or SEO tools
Properly configured hreflang tags are signal to Google which versions should show up in search results and get clicks from users in each region. This prevents issues with pages cannibalizing each other’s rankings across languages.
Avoid Duplicate Content Issues
Having the same or very similar content across multilingual domains can dilute page authority and cause duplicate content penalties.
There are a few best practices to avoid duplicate content problems:
- Use ccTLD domains and hreflang tags to geotarget versions
- Ensure redirects pass signals from old to new URLs
- Make content at least 50% unique across versions
- Adapt content for cultural nuances beyond just translation
- Include local contact info, images, examples, etc to differentiate
- Parameterize URLs with country/language where possible
- Implement proper robots.txt directives on old domains
Duplicate content is often unavoidable across multilingual sites, but following best practices will maximize unique relevancy signals for each market.
Google Search Console Setup
Google Search Console provides essential insights for monitoring and managing multilingual SEO.
Be sure to verify and setup each domain property within Search Console:
- Add verified property for each ccTLD domain
- Submit new sitemaps for every domain
- Change of address from old domains to new
- Request indexing of new domains
- Configure country and language targeting
- Check crawl errors, sitemaps, indexing issues
- Add hreflang annotations
- Monitor clicks, impressions, rankings per domain
Proper Search Console setup for every localized version will help Google crawled, index, and rank your pages correctly.
Multilingual SEO Tools
Specialized tools can streamline managing SEO across multiple languages and locales. Here are some top multilingual SEO tools:
- Ahrefs – international keyword research
- Moz Pro – multilingual rank tracking and optimization
- DeepL – AI-powered translation tool
- WPFastestCache – automatic caching and localization
- Yoast SEO – hreflang tag management
- Polyglot – multilingual image optimization
The right tools help scale your efforts and make running a multilingual site more efficient. Focus on automation wherever possible.
Expanding into new languages and markets provides huge growth opportunities but requires strategic multilingual SEO.
Localizing domains, sites, and content builds trust and relevance in each target country. Proper redirects, tags, and optimization signals maximize rankings across languages.
With these best practices, your multilingual SEO success will know no boundaries as you tap into the global demand. Just be sure to continue optimizing and adapting as you learn more about each new market.