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Both search engines and users take URL structure into consideration when making judgments and decisions about a site’s
relevancy and authority. Providing quick context, URLs play an important role in the user experience and can give the user
important information, from where a page falls within the site hierarchy to topical information about the content to key
security information like if the page is protected by HTTPS. For search engines, the URL is unique identifier that is used to
catalog the search engine’s index, and URL structure is one of the most important and basic elements of SEO.

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  1. 1. Structuring for SuccessSTRUCTURING FOR SUCCESS: GOINGGLOBAL WITH YOUR WEB DOMAININFORMATION, APPROACHES AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR STRUCTURINGYOUR URLS FOR SUCCESS WHEN GOING GLOBAL WITH YOUR WEBSITEBoth search engines and users take URL structure into consideration when making judgments and decisions about a site’srelevancy and authority. Providing quick context, URLs play an important role in the user experience and can give the userimportant information, from where a page falls within the site hierarchy to topical information about the content to keysecurity information like if the page is protected by HTTPS. For search engines, the URL is unique identifier that is used tocatalog the search engine’s index, and URL structure is one of the most important and basic elements of SEO.IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO TAKE THE TIME TO CREATE AND MAINTAIN A LOCALIZED VERSION OF YOURWEBSITE, MAKING IT EASY TO RECOGNIZE AND FIND IS A LOGICAL PART OF THAT PROCESS.When considering how to structure your URLs, it is important to remember that each URL should clearly communicate thefollowing: ►The website that published the content ►The purpose of the content and where it fits into the overall site ►The market that the content was primarily intended for ►The language that the content was written inCertainly, URLs are not the only way to communicate this information. Information about the page can and should be ex-pressed in the title and meta tags. We like to think of the URL structure as giving a helping hand to both users and searchengines.CURRENTLY, AROUND 10% OF USERS WILL REFINE THEIR SEARCH BY COUNTRY, AND 10-15% OFUSERS REFINE THEIR SEARCH BY LANGUAGE.Remember, search engines use the content of the page to determine its language, but the URL itself provides human userswith useful clues about the page’s content.
  2. 2. MULTI-MATTERS: MULTI-REGIONAL VS. MULTILINGUAL SITESHow you are going to target your customers, how you are going to present your content, and how you will organize thatcontent is one of the first steps in identifying what type of website you need to provide for your audience: 1. Multi-regional sites target users in different countries who all speak the same language. a. E.g. UK, USA and Australia. 2. Multilingual sites target users in different countries who speak different languages to the users in other targeted countries. a. E.g. UK, Germany and France. 3. Multi-regional and multilingual sites target users in different countries who speak the same language as users in some, but not all, other targeted countries. a. E.g. UK, USA, Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland.Expanding a website to cover multiple regions and/or languages can be challenging. By creating multiple versions of yourwebsite, any issues with the base version will be multiplied; make sure that you have everything working properly beforeyou start. Given that this generally means you’ll suddenly be working with a multiplied number of URLs, don’t forget thatyou’ll need appropriate infrastructure to support the website.It’s also important to research legal or administrative requirements that might come into play first. These requirementsmay determine how you proceed, for instance whether or not you would be eligible to use a country-specific domainname.In many ways the decision of how to structure URLs is purely academic. As long as a logical structure is chosen and usedconsistently, major negative impact on optimization efforts, purely as a result of URL structure, is highly unlikely.When deciding how best to structure your site’s URLs, it is important to consider the goals of your site, your resources andinfrastructure, any market-specific regulations, and weigh the benefits and challenges of each approach.WHAT’S IN A (DOMAIN) NAME?It’s important to understand the anatomy of a URL:All websites start with domain names; when it comes to domain names, search engines differentiate between two types ofdomain names:ccTLDs (country-code top level domain names): These are tied to a specific country (for example .de forGermany, .cn for China). Users and search engines use this as a strong sign that your website is explicitly for acertain country.
  3. 3. gTLDs (generic top level domain names): These are not tied to a specific country. Examples of gTLds are .com,.net, .org, .museum. Google sees regional top level domain names such as .eu and .asia as gTLDs, since theycannot be tied to a specific country. We also treat some vanity ccTLDs (such as .tv, .me, etc.) as gTLDs as we’vefound that users and webmasters frequently see these as being more generic than country-targeted (we don’thave a complete list of such vanity ccTLDs that we treat as gTLDs as it may change over time). You can set geo-targeting for websites with gTLDs using the Webmaster Tools Geographic Target setting.IDNS AND REGIONAL TLDSAn IDN stands for Internationalized Domain Name and is a new structure that allows you have language-specific script, likethe Arabic, Chinese, Russian alphabets. Regional TLDs are those such as “.eu” that covers an entire region.There is a lot of debate on how useful they are and if companies can gain some sort of benefit. In the long run, they shouldwork out as well as ccTLDs. But for now, if you can reserve yours, you should. As far as regionalized TLDs go, they are justabout as good as a subdirectory and were not nearly as adopted as many people thought.INTERNATIONALIZED CCTLDSInternationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLD) are an application of the internationalized domain name(IDN) system to top-level Internet domains assigned to countries, or independent geographic regions. They are a top-leveldomain with a specially encoded domain name that is displayed in a language-native script or alphabet, such as the Arabicalphabet, or a non-alphabetic writing system, such as Chinese characters. To avoid homograph attacks, ICANN requires allpotential international TLDs to use at least one letter that does not resemble a Latin letter, or have at least three letters.The rules for registering an IDN will vary from country to country, and the roll out of IDNs is currently in progress.STRUCTURING FOR SUCCESSThere are four parts of the URL you can work with: sub-domain, domain, top-level domain (TLD), and path. The domainsystem is designed so that the TLD categorizes the website by market. The U.S. has a host of TLDs (.edu, .org, .com, .gov,.biz, etc.) to assign a website to a market. Internationally, everyone gets country level domains (.uk, .de, .se, etc.), to definemarket, however the convention is breaking down some since businesses have discovered that you can use some countryTLDs to make shortened URLs like, which has nothing at all to do with Lybia. Nevertheless, you should make a pointof owning your domain in all the TLDs for the countries you do business in. Otherwise, someone else will pick them up,and you do not want that to happen.LIONBRIDGE RECOMMENDS REGISTERING TOP-LEVEL COUNTRY CODE DOMAINS (CCTLDS) FOR THE COUN-TRIES IN WHICH YOU DO BUSINESSAn important thing to remember when top-level domains is that “domain authority” does not aggregate across TLDs. Thismeans Google doesn’t give your .com site more credit because your .fr site is excellent. However, the cost of this is offsetby the geo-targeting boost that your .fr site will receive from being in-market.
  4. 4. An important thing to remember when top-level domains is that “domain authority” does not aggregate across TLDs. Thismeans Google doesn’t give your .com site more credit because your .fr site is excellent. However, the cost of this is offsetby the geo-targeting boost that your .fr site will receive from being in-market.Whether a site is multilingual or multi-region, you have to choose one method for separating the different versions of awebsite. While there are techniques for implementing a multilingual site, the three most common ways to organize a URLby language so that visitors can find content written in the language they understand are: 1. Country-specific Top Level Domain name (ccTLD) 2. Language-specific subdomains 3. Directory structure (subdirectory) according to the languages and countriesA fourth approach consists of using QueryString to determine the language and the country however, because this is con-sidered to be a poor approach for any organization, we do not recommend it.The following sections describe in detail each of the three recommended approaches, with pros, cons, and considerationsfor each.COUNTRY CODE TOP LEVEL DOMAINNAME (CCTLD)eg:, example.frThe use of ccTLDs is strongly recommended as the preferred method for optimizing global websites. It is a great optionfor websites that have a strong attachment to country of origin and are vastly different from their foreign counterparts.This structure allows not only for the use of different languages and currencies, but also provides greater flexibility in thecontent structure.ccTLDs are best for companies that have the resources to find and purchase all of their top level domains from othercountries and can manage them. If you’re just starting out, you may want to buy all of the ccTLDs you can and over timeimplement them for each individual country.PROS ►Branding It is easy to tailor each site for local content differences, e.g. currency, product availability, legal terms and conditions ►Sends a strong geolocation signal to search engines and users regarding your target market ►As each domain is a separate site that can have specific local IP for each country, they are easy to track separately in Bing & Google Webmaster Tools and in various Web Analytics packages ►Provides the ability for each domain to be hosted on a country specific IP address, which can help search ranking in country specific search engines ►Very obvious and intuitive to the user; users trust that a site bearing their country domain will display information that is relevant ►Simple structure that doesn’t generate an additional level of complexity in the URL structure for each version
  5. 5. CONS ►Name likely already taken: In this world of domains, you will be pretty lucky if someone hasn’t already swiped brand name with a ccTLD. ►Purchasing ccTLDs can be expensive and availability can be hit or miss. In some situations, you will find ccTLDs more expensive. In others, the domain may already be taken, or there may be physical presence or other requirements ►Each domain could require specific technical support and hosting costs, placing more demands on infrastructure ►Link building may be harder as each country or language has a totally separate site, with less overall domain authority ►Authority/popularity signals are specific to each domain, so other sites will not share the benefitsOTHER CONSIDERATIONS ►Some ccTLDs have strict conditions imposed on their use and are not available to all businesses. (This may be a benefit to businesses that can use the ccTLD as it reinforces trust.) For example, to be eligible to the registration of a .FR domain name, applicant must meet one of the following criteria:- be a company registered under French Law; or- be a French resident aged of at least 18 years; or- hold a registered Trademark covering the French territory ; or- be a French citizen living abroad. In addition to one of the above, the applicant must appoint an administrative contact located and reachable in France. ►For English content, generally speaking, .com domains are thought to outrank domains ►If multiple languages used in country, you may still have to manage using subdomains or folders, e.g. for Canada (French, English), Switzerland (French, German, Italian), etc.SUBDOMAINS WITH GTLDSeg:,, etc.Here, the sub-domain represents the language. A subdomain is part of a larger domain and is most commonly used by or-ganizations that wish to assign a unique name to a particular country or language. This is a great option for websites wherestrong international push is expected from within the company. Visitors get the impression that they are on a site that isdeveloped just for them. The search engine sees this as a unique site that is targeted to a single language. You may losesome domain authority but you do gain some ground back in targeting. Subdomains are best for those either targetingvia language or country, which is why we recommend using this option.PROS ►No registration issues ►Each subdomain can be hosted in the local target market, sending a strong geolocation signal
  6. 6. ►As each subdomain is a separate site, they are easy to track separately in Bing & Google Webmaster Tools and in various Web Analytics packages ►Effective way to establish sites as separate identities while still retaining the overall corporate branding ►When used in conjunction with subdirectories, provides the ability to target different languages in one country, e.g. and ►Maintains some of the metrics (domain trust, domain popularity) of the root domain. ►Great flexibility with regard to naming conventions ►Inexpensive, as you can still use your “.com” or other TLDCONS ►Trust can be diminished, especially if your domain isn’t a recognized brand in that country ►Like Google’s Matt Cutts wrote in his blog “Subdomains-and-Subdirectories”, it can be difficult for a novice to set up. ►For some users, subdomains can be confusing towards users and difficult to market. ►Subdomains generally provide a weaker URL signal for users scanning search results when compared to top level domains ►Hosting each subdomain in the local market can add an additional level of complexity, and each subdomain could require specific technical support and/or hosting costs ►While you maintain some of the value of the root domain metrics, you do lose a significant amount. For example, authority signals are specific for each subdomain ►Can result in inbound link dilution (albeit more relevant links)OTHER CONSIDERATIONS ►Market needs, e.g. currency, product availability, etc. may still require multiple subdomains for some languages SUBDIRECTORIES WITH GTLDSeg:,, etc.Creating subdirectories for each market is most common method and are the simplest way of organizing content, as allsubdirectories are usually stored in on the same web hosting platform. This is a great option for an already well-establishedwebsite that is looking to expand into new international markets. You just create a different top level branch of the contenttree for each language. You can also handle markets this way with paths that start like “/en-us.” The downside of this is thatthe search engines see all of this localized content as one big site with no “root” node (visitors are redirected to the appro-priate branch once the site knows the language preference). This is sub-optimal if you are trying to drive traffic to a specificlocalized site.
  7. 7. Subdirectories are fine for paid search landing pages or even if you decide to target via language instead of country. Theymay work fine for you in organic SEO too, especially if you have a great brand or recognizable names. If you were to create aSpanish version of your site and you have no intention of marketing to Spain or Latin America directly but want to offer yourvisitors a Spanish language alternative, then a subdirectory will be just fine. PROS ►This is really the last choice beyond utilizing some auto-translate tool on your website, so it is generally better than nothing ►By far, it’s the least expensive option, since it only involves creating a folder. ►No registration issues & easy to set up ►As files are usually on a single host, there is very low maintenance ►Link aggregation-all backlinks go to the same domain (but are from discordant sources in terms of language, geography) ►Low technical and maintenance costs, as only one domain would need technical support and hosting services ►Authority / Popularity signals will be consolidated on one domain and inherited by all country versionsCONS ►There is little or no trust benefit at all, unless you have a known brand in that country ►As proper linking will be an issue and you’re showing no signs of being local, organic ranking is going to be more challenging. ►A single server location is a missed geotargeting opportunity ►Difficult to separate sites, as all targeted information is part of a single website ►Multiple languages are mixed in same site, potentially sending an ambiguous message to search engines. ►Directories will most certainly be a weaker URL signal for users scanning search results ►It may be difficult to track folders as separate sites in Web Analytics tools and in Bing Webmaster Tools ►Adds an additional level of complexity with country directories for each version.OTHER CONSIDERATIONS ►Still need multiple directories for some languages ►Branding Subdirectories are not as complex towards users as subdomains but not as friendly as ccTLDs
  8. 8. QUERYSTRING = BADeg:, ?country=france, etc.In this approach, the user sets a language/market preference and the dynamic display logic determines what localizedversion to display. The URLs are identical across markets and languages. This is the least favorite option. The problem withthis option is that the search engines are not even going to see your localized content. They won’t accept cookies or estab-lish meaningful web sessions to tell your display logic to show alternative languages. If you do this, you have wasted yourmoney on translation – at least from a SEO perspective.CONS ►segmentation based on the URL is difficult ►users might not recognize geotargeting from the URL alone ►geotargeting in Webmaster Tools is not possibleBEST PRACTICESGenerally speaking, best practices for URL structure as the same for local, regional, multi-language and global websites.Here are a few guiding pricincipals when deciding which structure is best for you. ►Design and develop around a country first and not a language. Issues with languages who keep alternatingthe spelling or in the case with Chinese and Japanese Kanji where the words are the same but can mean entirelydifferent things.►Target your site content to a specific country. There are many options on how to do this; however you will findthat there is one way that works best for your website targeting goals. You can use country code top level domainnames (for example .fr for France), in order to earn a quality domain for the user and search engines such as Goo-gle. There is also the idea of a ghost IP. The server will send a signal that will ensure that the user is directed to thewebsite for their location. Check out Google Webmaster Tools to compare your options.►Maintain value to your content and ensure that the language is specifically targeted for the regions you arereaching out to.►Keep it short and use the shortest possible language tag values. The golden rule when creating language tagsis to keep the tag as short as possible. Avoid region, script or other subtags except where they add useful distin-guishing information. For instance, use ja for Japanese and not ja-JP, unless there is a particular reason that youneed to say that this is Japanese as spoken in Japan, rather than elsewhere.►Be consistent. Once you settle on a URL structure, do not divert from it. If something prompts you make achange, such as a tip in this article, you should globally convert all of your existing URLs to the new structure.Ultimately, a URL is a file structure and uniformity is key. Having an inconsistency will simply create confusion andheadaches for users and web developers alike.
  9. 9. af Afrikaansar-ae Arabic (U.A.E.)ar-bh Arabic (Kingdom of Bahrain)ar-dz Arabic (Algeria)ar-eg Arabic (Egypt)ar-iq Arabic (Iraq)ar-jo Arabic (Jordan)ar-kw Arabic (Kuwait)ar-lb Arabic (Lebanon)ar-ly Arabic (Libya)ar-ma Arabic (Morocco)ar-om Arabic (Oman)ar-qa Arabic (Qatar)ar-sa Arabic (Saudi Arabia)ar-sy Arabic (Syria)ar-tn Arabic (Tunisia)ar-ye Arabic (Yemen)ar Arabicas Assameseaz Azeribe Belarusianbg Bulgarianbn Bengalica Catalancs Czechda Danishde-at German (Austria)de-ch German (Switzerland)de-li German (Liechtenstein)de-lu German (Luxembourg)de German (Germany)div Divehiel Greeken-au English (Australia)en-bz English (Belize)COUNTRY AND LANGUAGE CODESgd Gaelicgl Galiciangu Gujaratihe Hebrewhi Hindihr Croatianhu Hungarianhy Armenianid Indonesianis Icelandicit-ch Italian (Switzerland)it Italian (Italy)ja Japaneseka Georgiankk Kazakhkn Kannadako Koreankok Konkanikz Kyrgyzlt Lithuanianlv Latvianmk Macedonian (FYROM)ml Malayalammn Mongolian (Cyrillic)mr Marathims Malaymt Maltesenb-no Norwegian (Bokmal)ne Nepali (India)nl-be Dutch (Belgium)nl Dutch (Netherlands)nn-no Norwegian (Nynorsk)no Norwegian (Bokmal)or Oriyapa PunjabiString StringDescription Description
  10. 10. en-ca English (Canada)en-gb English (United Kingdom)en-ie English (Ireland)en-jm English (Jamaica)en-nz English (New Zealand)en-ph English (Philippines)en-tt English (Trinidad)en-us English (United States)en-za English (South Africa)en-zw English (Zimbabwe)en Englishes-ar Spanish (Argentina)es-bo Spanish (Bolivia)es-cl Spanish (Chile)es-co Spanish (Colombia)es-cr Spanish (Costa Rica)es-do Spanish (Dominican Republic)es-ec Spanish (Ecuador)es-gt Spanish (Guatemala)es-hn Spanish (Honduras)es-mx Spanish (Mexico)es-ni Spanish (Nicaragua)es-pa Spanish (Panama)es-pe Spanish (Peru)es-pr Spanish (Puerto Rico)es-py Spanish (Paraguay)es-sv Spanish (El Salvador)es-us Spanish (United States)es-uy Spanish (Uruguay)es-ve Spanish (Venezuela)es Spanishet Estonianeu Basquefa Persianfi Finnishpl Polishpt-br Portuguese (Brazil)pt Portuguese (Portugal)rm Rhaeto-Romanicro-md Romanian (Moldova)ro Romanianru-md Russian (Moldova)ru Russiansa Sanskritsb Sorbiansk Slovaksl Sloveniansq Albaniansr Serbiansv-fi Swedish (Finland)sv Swedishsw Swahilisx Sutusyr Syriacta Tamilte Teluguth Thaitn Tswanatr Turkishts Tsongatt Tataruk Ukrainianur Urduuz Uzbekvi Vietnamesexh Xhosayi Yiddishzh-cn Chinese (China)zh-hk Chinese (Hong Kong SAR)zh-mo Chinese (Macao SAR)String StringDescription DescriptionCOUNTRY AND LANGUAGE CODES
  11. 11. fo Faeroesefr-be French (Belgium)fr-ca French (Canada)fr-ch French (Switzerland)fr-lu French (Luxembourg)fr-mc French (Monaco)fr French (France)zh-sg Chinese (Singapore)zh-tw Chinese (Taiwan)zh Chinesezu ZuluString StringDescription DescriptionCOUNTRY AND LANGUAGE CODESGET STARTEDTo learn more about our Web Globalization solutions, please contact us HakensonGlobal Marketing ConsultantAaron.Hakenson@lionbridge.comglobalmarketingops.comFollowLionbridge