Suppose you’re a physician in practice in a major city. You want to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking patients. So, naturally, you have two Web sites built, one for English and one for Spanish. Or do you? What’s the right way to structure your Web presence if you want to present a multi-lingual face to the people you serve?
Note that here we’re talking only about the problem of multiple languages in a single location. If you’re a multinational organization, and want to serve people in different countries who speak different languages, then you will most likely want to have distinct Web sites, each tailored to its own country, not just by language but by content and by incoming and outgoing links.
There are three alternatives to consider:
- Two distinct sites, one for each language, with the same or very similar structure, each with its own domain name. So your URLs will look like example-en.com and example-es.com.
- A single domain name, with different subdomain names. You’ll have two sites, but the same domain name will work for both. Your URLs will have the form en.example.com and es.example.com.
- A single domain name and a single site, with separate subfolders for each language. Your URLs will have the form example.com/en/ and example.com/es/
Two Sites, Two Domain Names
For search engine position, this is the poorest approach. First, Google awards more authority to sites with more content–and this divides your content between two sites. In addition, your incoming links will be split between the two sites. Finally, from a visitor experience perspective, could this give a visitor the impression that you are less than completely open about how you serve people who use different languages, since the same business is using two different domain names? For all these reasons, this is not an attractive alternative.
One Domain Name, Two Subdomains
When you have two subdomains you have two different sites. Each subdomain will be indexed separately by Google, so you still have the SEO disadvantages of the first approach. You will have two separate sites to maintain and promote, so there’s extra work compared with a single site.
One Domain Name, Separate Subfolders
This is the most attractive approach from an SEO perspective, because all of the credit for incoming links in any language will all accrue to the single site, as will all authority for the content you put on the site. And all the of the new content in any language will benefit the overall site for all languages. You can provide flags on each page that link to the content in that language–in this case, for example, a U.S. flag and a Spanish flag. A visitor can easily toggle back and forth between the two languages, so that an English speaker can find content for a Spanish speaker and then just click to show the Spanish-language version to the Spanish speaker. With this approach, the bilingual nature of the site is featured rather than hidden.
The Bottom Line
For a site that serves multiple languages but for a business that operates in a single location, use a single domain with subfolders for each language.