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We are a moderately large commercial site with thousands of pages under a widgets.com domain. Soon, we will be rolling out foreign language versions of the website on multiple domains, such as widgets.fr and widgets.it. Each country-targeted domain will have a page hierarchy very similar to the English widgets.com domain, and within any one domain the pages will be heavily interlinked. In addition, and this is purely for the user's experience, pages on a given domain will have links pointing to equivalent pages on the other domains. Example: a page on "articles about blue widgets" in French, on widgets.fr, might have a "click here for blue widget articles in Italian" that points to the equivalent page on widgets.it.
This rollout will pretty much happen at once and there will be few if any external sites initially linking into the new domains. However, all the interlinking between the domains may count as a lot of sudden new links, and the link structure might look spammy (topologically tight; high ratio of internal to inbound/outbound links).
We want to be totally white hat about this and (in our opinion) we're structuring this to benefit the user, not the SEs. We don't want to trip any filters at Google and we certainly don't want our new domains relegated to any "sandbox".
Any suggestions on what we should do/avoid, BEFORE we commence with the rollout?
How about a more general situation -- rolling out several domains at the same time, with strong interlinking among the new domains and back to an existing, well-established domain. Any comments on how to avoid tripping filters? Will all the sudden interlinks practically doom this to the so-called "sandbox"?
You certainly won't be banned or punished for such interlinking, it is completely normal and natural. Google will realize that the sites are related through the interlinking and act accordingly, probably both to your benefit and detriment. That might even help you out of the sandbox, who knows?
That's my take, but no one knows exactly how these things work.
This is suspect...why would a visitor who reads/speaks French need a reference (link) to an article in Italian?
Decaff: The reason is simple. We may not have many articles for the topic "blue widgets" in French, but we may have several in Italian. We want to give the French user an easy link to those Italian articles ... who knows, he may be fluent in Italian or he may be willing to work his way through the Italian article.