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Different/Sub domain vs Sub Directory for regional version of site

     
4:18 pm on Mar 11, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have developed a well established site for a client of mine that now wants to target certain specific regions - initial brief was that we will have stand alone sites on new domains which would essentially be a cut down version of the main site, but with a unique product range and in some cases regional specific language content (i.e. text translated to local language)

Now their idea is to run under domain.com/fr for example for a French version of the site. I offered the idea of fr.domain.com as an alternative. I had built the cut down localised store (not live yet) as a stand alone site, albeit sharing back end database with the main site - rolling out new versions would be logo / css colour changes and some translation work.

The customer experience is supposed to be localised and with the sub directory idea I can see them straying into the main english language site - plus basket / product range etc is all supposed to be segregated at this point at least, which is easier if on it's own domain / sub domain. I would think easier to market separately as well?

However are there other advantages (SEO?) to the sub directory route and we should investigate merging the sites? There will be 4 or 5 foreign language sites eventually.

Any other thoughts / ideas / pitfalls / advantages I need to point out before we make a decision?

Thanks.
10:11 pm on Mar 14, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The customer experience is supposed to be localised and with the sub directory idea I can see them straying into the main english language site

Not necessarily - it all depends on how the site internally links language pages.

If a visitor lands on a page in French that is in /fr/ folder, then if the site is completely translated and (apart from the language change internal links) every other internal link on a page within the /fr/ folder goes to another page in /fr/ folder, then there are no issues on visitors "straying to main english language site".

You also have to make sure that the link under logo takes you to language relevant home page, and ideally, provide somewhere a link to the domain root (presumably english home page in your setup).

However are there other advantages (SEO?) to the sub directory route

Opinions vary. Having it all within the same domain may have the advantage of inheriting some link power from other languages because of how juice circulates within one domain.

If a site in each language is very strong (lots of relevant content, reasonable amount of external links pointing to relevant language pages) then perhaps self-standing sites (language subdomains or ccTLD domains) may make more sense. If one language is much stronger than others, I would personally keep other languages in subfolders - unless you worry that other languages will dampen the ranking of a mayor strong language.

We had a several discussions on this subject, so perhaps it is worthwhile reading up some of our old threads:

One Domain Different language - Optimization Challenge [webmasterworld.com]
Setting up multiple international tlds? [webmasterworld.com]
Website Multilingual SEO: Multi Language on Single Domain [webmasterworld.com]

And Google's advice:
Multi-regional and multilingual sites [support.google.com]
 

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