What SEO strategy is best for multilingual websites?
Pieter Versloot

Pieter Versloot

What SEO strategy is best for multilingual websites?

Preceding the choice of multisite is often the strategic discussion of whether, as an organization, you want to go for a loose domain or multi-domain. An important aspect is to what extent a specific choice affects the findability in search engines like Google negatively or positively. With more than 100 multisite implementations we've done at Plate, we've put our knowledge and expertise on this topic in an accessible way. In these implementations, we have done multisites on both separate and multiple domains.

Up front, it's good to know that multisite is both an advantage when working with single and multiple domains. Multisite is about the technology that lets you centrally manage and publish a website, content and integrations (to one or more domains). A concrete example is our own site. We can choose between two forms:

Single domain:

  • English content: www.getplate.com
  • Dutch content: www.getplate.com/nl

Multi-domain:

  • English content: www.getplate.com
  • Dutch content: www.getplate.nl

Both variants have advantages and disadvantages. This article discusses the impact for SEO (search engine optimization) when faced with the choice between multi- or loose domain. This article lists the pros and cons and provides recommendations for choosing between multi- or loose domain approach (including ccTLDs) and single domains (using sub-paths) in relation to their impact on search engine performance and content management.

Already a spoiler alert, this article is not going to give you "one-size-fits-all" advice. In certain situations, a loose domain is better than multi-domain. This article will outline to you generic best practices, pros and cons so you can conclude for yourself what is the best choice in your case.

Before we get to the benefits, we'll list some terminology so that even "non-nerds" can get everything out of this article.

What is a ccTLD?

ccTLDs stands for "country code top-level domains." These are the specific top-level domain extensions assigned to individual countries or dependent territories. Each ccTLD consists of two letters corresponding to the ISO 3166-1 country code of the country or territory for which the domain extension is assigned. Some examples of ccTLDs are .nl for the Netherlands, .be for Belgium, .uk for the United Kingdom and .fr for France.

Subpaths / Subdomains

These are separate components behind or in front of a separate domain. For example www.getplate.com/nl/over-ons (the subpath here is Dutch) or nl.getplate.com (the subdomain is Dutch).

Pros and cons of multi domain strategy

In this section you will see the advantages of a multi-domain strategy (i.e., a separate domain for each country).

Pros:

  • Better local targeting: ccTLDs are often seen by search engines often in conjunction with a specific geographic region, making them perform better in local search results.
  • Clear language and region delineation: The use of ccTLDs makes it easier for both users and search engines to target the website's intended audience. For example, users see a local domain in their own language in the browser.
  • Independent domain authority: Each domain builds its own domain authority, which can result in better SEO performance for strong individual domains. If one domain is hit for an update or some other reason, it does not impact the others.

Cons:

  • More complex management: Managing individual domains can be more complex and time-consuming, especially if there are different technical or content requirements for each region. This is where you need a powerful and flexible multisite solution.
  • Scattered link value: Inbound links are spread across multiple domains, which can lead to lower overall domain authority.
  • Higher costs: Registering and maintaining multiple domains can be more expensive than using single domains. Especially if you want the domain name to be the same for all countries. Chances are that a particular domain is already registered in a particular language.

Advantages and disadvantages of choosing a loose domain

Pros:

  • Concentration of domain authority: By publishing all content on one domain, the accumulated domain authority is concentrated, which can lead to better SEO performance of the overall domain and thus for the individual countries.
  • Setup and management: You don't necessarily need to think about multisite technology to set up a website structure. This can have advantages because the countries are then free to choose CMS and website partner but there are also disadvantages.
  • Lower costs: Registering and maintaining one domain is generally cheaper than managing multiple domains.

Cons:

  • More limited local targeting: It can be more difficult to target specific geographic regions with one separate domain, which can lead to lower visibility in local search results.
  • Should you not opt for advanced multisite technology in this choice, chances are quite high that you will have to perform development redundancy. Integrations with, for example, a marketing automation tool or CRM must be set up and maintained separately for several sites. With a multisite solution, you overcome this disadvantage at both the integration level and the design system level.
  • More difficult language and region delineation: With one separate domain it can be more difficult for users and search engines to identify the intended target group of the website, especially if visitors have to deal with e.g. a VPN or do not accept the cookies in the browser so that you cannot intercept the region.

Factors influencing the choice between multisite and loose domain

  • Local targeting: If it is important to target specific geographic regions and build a strong local presence, multi-domain strategy with ccTLDs may be preferred. If regional targeting is less critical, single domains with subpaths or subdomains may suffice.
  • Domain authority and link building: When the goal is to concentrate domain authority and take advantage of inbound links, a loose domain with subpaths may be more advantageous. With a multi-domain strategy, the accumulated domain authority is distributed across multiple domains.
  • Cost and management: If keeping costs down and easy website management are important, using a loose domain with subpaths or subdomains may be preferable. Multisite technology is an investment you can make that saves money and labor hours on maintenance of technology and content.
  • Technical and content requirements: If there are significant differences in the technical requirements or content between different language or region versions of the Web site, a multi-domain strategy may be preferable because of the ability to manage each domain separately. If the differences are minimal, a loose domain with subpaths or subdomains may be more appropriate.
  • Brand and compliance rules: In some cases, business or compliance rules may require the use of specific ccTLDs or domain structures, which may influence the choice between multisite and single-domain approaches. Also, certain domains may be as registered. For example, if we own the domain plate.com then the domain plate.co.uk should also be available. In terms of branding, you would like the domains to be consistent and not plate.com (for the UK and US market) and platecms.nl (for Dutch).
  • Monitoring and analytics: If it is important to be able to monitor performance and analytics separately for each language or region version, multisite engineering with separate domains can make it more manageable. With single domains it is possible to achieve this, but it may require more effort to segment and compare the data.

When considering these factors, companies must weigh their specific goals and needs to determine which approach best suits their multilingual project. Unfortunately, in the 100 implementations we have performed at Plate, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the optimal choice depends on the unique circumstances of each project.

Conclusion

For companies and webmasters considering setting up a multilingual Web site project, it is important to make an informed choice between the flexibility of a multisite solution and the choice to go for a loose or rather a multi-domain solution.

This choice affects SEO performance, cost, management and ease of use. By carefully weighing the factors discussed in this article, you can choose a strategy that best suits your specific goals and resources.

As we wrote in the introduction, it is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and the optimal choice depends on the unique circumstances of each project.

Do you have further questions about search engine optimization in general or in conjunction with multisite such as the differences between Wordpress Multisite and Plate? You may always send me a message at pieter@ getplate.com

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