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Old 09-26-2005   #1
Kate
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SEO For Multilingual, International & Dynamic Web Site

Hi,
I’m new to the forum but based on past postings I’d like to bounce a few ideas around about non-English search, local domains, local hosting and tracking tags. Quite a big chunk, I admit.

I’m working on a large multi-lingual dynamic website that currently has no URL distinction between languages (ie the French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, English, etc. sites all point at an identical .com URL www.company.com). Visitors’ locations are detected automatically when they arrive based on IP and they are directed by default to their local site, with a cookie to keep them on that site unless they manually change countries. The effect is that most of the site isn’t crawled at all and the parts that are crawled are picking up only US-English, I assume because the spiders’ IPs are in the US.

This architecture was set up with no regard for SEO and I’ve now been assigned to recommend changes to make the whole site crawlable. One thing to bear in mind is that our business is almost exclusively with people who do not speak English. Also, we have a large amount of traffic coming through partner/affiliate sites and we are using both subdomains and parameters on the query string/in sessions to track that traffic.

Based on all my reading and research, I’d like to see what you think about a few topics. You can’t do my job for me of course, but maybe you can keep me from making glaring errors.

I think we must use local domains for each country, or at least all the major ones we target, to give us the unique URLs we’re looking for and also the ‘local’ weight with search engines. Local hosting is prohibitively complex for us to consider except in some Asian countries where speed is greatly improved, unless it’s going to really help us out with local results. Is a local domain enough?
1. Won’t splitting the site into 30 or so local domains also divide our popularity (PR) since for now all links go to the .com when in the future they will have to go to .fr, .de, .co.jp, etc.?
2. If the automatic location detection on the .com URL is ‘bad’ (which I think you will say it is), here are the alternatives I can think of. A) Send everyone to a country selection page by default. B) Send spiders to the country selection page and send people to their respective countries. C) Continue auto-detection so spiders go to the US site then can follow links to country selection page. Any difference between these 3 for SEO?

I think partners/affiliates need to be on the main domain instead of subdomains. If they are using subdomains, they split popularity between them and possibly pose the ‘duplicate content’ issue, right? (www.partner1.company.fr and www.partner2.company.fr and www.company.fr are identical.) So what is the right way to do this? Stay as we are, use query string parameters on the link that then go into the session, use virtual directory structures to indicate partners, or something else?

Finally, for tracking, we use query string tags on links to track clicks both inside and outside the site. Is this bad practice because search engines see all the different links coming into the same page as unique (because of the tracking tag) but then the page content is identical? (http://www.company.com/home/master.a...32&otag=TH5664 is identical to http://www.company.com/home/master.a...42&otag=YH3164) What’s the alternative for tracking without tags?

Sorry that was so long. I’d appreciate any comments/tips you have on these areas.

Thanks,
Kate
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Old 09-28-2005   #2
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Hi Kate,

We have had the chance to develop similar sites since we are specialized in seo friendly multilanguage dynamic websites.
Right from the beginning (around beginning 1999) we started targeting this market we decided to adopt a technique that will benefit the user and be spider friendly at the same time.

For any multilanguage dynamic website that we develop we use the 404 trap with a single domain with unlimited languages.
Here are some of the practices that we set in our design procedures.

we use the first parameter from the URl as the language parameter
like this

http:*//www.avismauritius.com/en/locations/
language parameter----------^

the other succeeding parameters are used for content fetching and/or programming stuffs

So if you have a url like this

http:*//www.avismauritius.com/en/locations/

you know that "en" is the language code and that this page is the english version (all data being fetched from back end db)

You can have unlimited language version of the same page for eg.
the french version is here

http:*//www.avismauritius.com/fr/locations/

If a user tries to reach a version that is not enabled, the english version is delivered by default

Growing the site to unlimited no of languages becomes quite easy for the website owner.

They have to get the new language equivalent of the contents recorded in the database and activate the desired language (again in the database).

One nice example is this site http:*//www.whitesandtours.com/ which was initially developed in english and french and to which the web owner added the italian and deutsch version on their own.

If you need further ideas please do not hesitate to pm me

hope this help.

Riley

Last edited by strategicrankings : 09-28-2005 at 01:58 AM.
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Old 09-28-2005   #3
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using directories for languages

Hi Riley,
Thanks for the info. A few things that have made me hesitate about using a directory structure for language:

1. This pushes the whole directory structure down by 1 level. I've read that there is some weight given to pages that are closer to the root rather than far down inside a directory tree.
2. It may be easier for us to build local links to www.companyname.fr than www.companyname.com/fr
3. All things seem to point towards search results going more 'local'. Having a local domain may give us weight in local search engines, like google.fr, which is where our searchers are located.

What do you think about those things?

thanks,
Kate
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Old 09-28-2005   #4
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How about parking all the country specific domains on the main site? That should alllow the SE's to treat each URL as regional, allow local links to be targeted at the appropriate url and avoid the subdirectory pushing content deeper into the site. I believe, if the domains are parked -not redirected-then you get the best of all worlds.
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Old 10-04-2005   #5
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I run a number of language market specific sites worldwide and would have to say that from my experience I observed markedly improved traffic by switching from a sub-folder structure to local CCTLD sites.

Maintenance wise, on the back end it makes no difference how many languages/domains you have. If you've got a decent hosting plan you can run multiple domains on the same server and use your database or CMS to control everything from behind the scenes.

Don't bother with all of the automatic country selection by IP. It's a waste of time for the most part. If you have properly localized your sites then the Japanese speaking people will find the Japanese site in their SERPs (in Japanese) and end up on the right page anyway. The same goes for the other languages. Just remember that simple translation is not always sufficient. Sometimes it pays to have your material copy-written locally (after translation) to meet the local market needs.
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Old 10-04-2005   #6
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Bill,
thanks for the input. I'm sure that people coming through serps will find the right pages in their local languages, like you say. How do you handle incoming traffic to the .com though (through links, bookmarks, direct URL entry, etc.), if not automatically detecting country? You send to English language site by default? Or you send to a country selection page? I'm trying to figure out what best practice is. Is there something wrong with automatically detecting country from a search engine perspective?

One other question for you:
Do you find that local hosting makes any difference for rankings? We do host locally for some Asian markets already for speed reasons. Makes a big difference in China. Not sure if that's postivie for SEO too though. What's your experience? Do you find local CCTLD are better than local hosting for SEO?

Kate
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Old 10-05-2005   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
How do you handle incoming traffic to the .com though (through links, bookmarks, direct URL entry, etc.), if not automatically detecting country?
Just put a prominent link to alternate language/regional versions on the home page. Work it into your design so that these options are visible. That one extra click by your visitor won't thwart them at all.

On the other hand, there's nothing worse than someone's IP detection scheme deciding for me that because my IP is in country X that they're going to redirect me. How do you know what language I speak because of my IP address? I had a heck of a time with this using Google in Japan until they finally seem to have got it right. The silent majority you appease with your IP redirection will come with a vocal minority who will complain about your system, if not to you, in online foura, which can be worse.

A nice compromise might be to use IP detection to more prominently place a language/regional site option on your .com site. If I come to your .com site from Japan then list a link to your Japanese site at the very top of the page.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
Is there something wrong with automatically detecting country from a search engine perspective?
Not necessarily. Just make sure your redirection doesn't send the spiders off to another site.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
Do you find that local hosting makes any difference for rankings? ... Do you find local CCTLD are better than local hosting for SEO?
You won't see a difference with the main SEs in terms of ranking. According to Google reps you need to have either local hosting or a CCTLD in order for them to determine whether your site is focused on a local market. Having both is not a requirement. As long as you have one of those then you're set SE-wise. If you find that local hosting is quicker for your customers then by all means use it. (I've hosted my Chinese sites outside China for years with no complaints about speed, and I do fine in the SERPs.)

On the other hand, local CCTLD is not necessary if you have the local hosting in place for many markets. Some Chinese sites do just fine with a .com domain. It really depends on the market. There are some markets where you'd want both local hosting and CCTLD.

Now just to play devil's advocate here...I can show you plenty of examples that break all these rules. I have Chinese sites hosted in the US with .com domains and they do just fine in the SERPs. The only leg up you're getting with local hosting and CCTLD is to help the SEs do their jobs. Don't expect any dramatic boost in ranking.
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Old 10-05-2005   #8
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If you are plaing links to the various language version I would try and avoid having the text links as merely the language in the language... English, Francais etc.
You are much better doing it as the translation of your major keyword into the various languages... give people credit they will notice and then you have a strong text link.
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Old 10-05-2005   #9
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You are much better doing it as the translation of your major keyword into the various languages... give people credit they will notice and then you have a strong text link.
I think this is a good idea for users. I'm not sure, though, that it behaves on international versions of Google as a trans-national text link that confers anchor text reputation. Let me explain...

I've been wrestling with the question of dupe content on English language versions of international sites... in particular on US/.com and UK/.co.uk. Putting together the various answers to questions about this that I got at SES, including some from Matt Cutts, I got the sense that Google is smart enough to make this distinction if you segregate your inbound links by country/TLD. (I'm not quoting Matt... only interpreting what I thought he was saying with regard to my own theories)

What segregating your inbounds means is that you get your inbounds for .de from .de domains... for .it from .it domains... for .co.uk from .com.uk domains... and .com from .coms. I don't think there'd be any "penalty" (bad word, but the easiest here) to link cross-countries, but it might be problematic if you depended on these.

So, this raises the question for me of whether a French language link from a .com site to a .fr site will help with anchor text influence on the .fr site. I don't know, but if you follow the above, it makes sense to ask.

Also, what's the situation in obtaining country specific tlds? I thought in some cases you were required to host in those countries to use them?
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Old 10-05-2005   #10
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My understanding is the same as what Bill said earlier: Either local TLD or local hosting will make the site be counted as 'local' by search engines. I've done some testing on competitive keywords in several European markets and it does seem that having local hosting or local domain get sites counted as local. I'm running a test now to try to figure out more precisely if one is weighted over the other with identical pages in all possible configurations of local hosting and local domain vs external hosting and .com domains. I'll let you know the results once all the pages have been crawled.

All that to say, my vote is that a link from a .com hosted in France is counted the same as a link from a .fr hosted anywhere. I'd love to hear anyone else's opinions on this since my theory is driving the internal linking strategy I'm using around the nebula of sites I'm working on. That is to say, each site has 15 to 25 language versions, and I link between them in local language rings (all the .fr sites link to each other, as do all the .com sites and all the .co.jp sites). Sound like the correct strategy?

What countries do you think need local hosting for a local tld? I know only of Japan, which has very strict rules governing .co.jp domains but I'm not sure if that includes local hosting. Bill can certainly tell us. .jp TLDs are much easier to get, but I'm not sure if those count as 'local' for the search engines. No other countries where we operate have any such local hosting rules.

Kate
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Old 10-06-2005   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert_Charlton
So, this raises the question for me of whether a French language link from a .com site to a .fr site will help with anchor text influence on the .fr site. I don't know, but if you follow the above, it makes sense to ask.
That's a very interesting way of looking at it. It would be interesting to hear whether anyone has tested that out. Segregating inbounds for English sites makes a lot of sense, but you may be taking it too far with other languages. I'd argue that there would be value from a Japanese language link on a .com site to one on a .jp site.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
What countries do you think need local hosting for a local tld? I know only of Japan, which has very strict rules governing .co.jp domains but I'm not sure if that includes local hosting.
No local hosting is required in Japan. The .co.jp names require a registered company in Japan, but you don't have to host here. I can't think of any CCTLD that requires local hosting, but I have heard of them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
.jp TLDs are much easier to get, but I'm not sure if those count as 'local' for the search engines.
.jp names certainly are considered local. All other .jp variations like .co.jp are subordinate to that top level, so if they aren't local then none of the rest are either. It's just like .cn and .in names. A lot of Asian countries are opening up their TLD and foregoing a lot of the draconian regulations that stifled their growth for years. Just because they're easier to get doesn't mean they don't count.
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Old 10-06-2005   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
All that to say, my vote is that a link from a .com hosted in France is counted the same as a link from a .fr hosted anywhere.
That could well be. Essentially, I'm thinking, you want to keep your links country-related to your sites. If a .com hosted in France would be considered local by Google France, then a link to your French language site ought to confer credit. What I think is important here... and, understand, this is theory, albeit based on some research... is to keep the inbound links to .co.uk and to .com/US separated by country origin.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kate
I'd love to hear anyone else's opinions on this since my theory is driving the internal linking strategy I'm using around the nebula of sites I'm working on. That is to say, each site has 15 to 25 language versions, and I link between them in local language rings (all the .fr sites link to each other, as do all the .com sites and all the .co.jp sites). Sound like the correct strategy?
I think this sounds like a bad strategy. A "nebula of sites" sounds like what Google might see as an artificial linking network, and is probably easily detected. The word "nebula" suggests that the boundaries are visible if you have a wide enough overview (which Google does). If you have enough inbounds from enough other unrelated sites in addition, the edges of this nebula might get fuzzy enough on a web map that it won't be noticeable... but everything from dns hosting to web hosting to the timing of your link acquisition is detectable, and you've probably already left a trail of connections without knowing it.

For the same reason, you don't want to link to your .co.uk and your .com English language sites from the same little linking network. This is one of the reasons it's much cleaner to keep the inbound sources separated by country.
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Old 10-06-2005   #13
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I didn't mean to imply spam by "nebula". I'm actually working on optimizing a group of sites, each belonging to a single company, but all the companies are within the same legal structure (like a parent company with several child companies). The sites already link to each other, but in a very haphazard manner. I'm planning to link the local tld to each other (like company1.fr links to company2.fr and company3.fr) and leave the .coms links to each other too. Then each .com will link to it's own company's local tld (like company1.com links to company1.fr and company1.co.jp). It seems pretty logical and user friendly to me, and I hope search engines aren't going to punish that.

If that's the wrong way to go, what do you suggest? This strategy segregates internal links by country, like you recommended.

We have lots of external links already to the .com sites, but since we've just parked the local tlds on the .com for now, we have very few links to those local tld. Building those external links to country-specific sites (from local sites of course) is something we're just starting to work on. Sounds to me like you'd recommend building more of those external links first, before implementing the internal link changes.
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Old 10-06-2005   #14
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You will see the link from your .com to your .fr when doing a site link check - most of the time remembering that Google is a bit picky in this.... go to Yahoo and it will be there and thus the link is "in general linking terms" seen.
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Old 10-07-2005   #15
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I am also working on a very broad european website translated into 17 languages with content for each different market. Currently we are using a main .com website where language selection is done through a splash page. I would like to go with a network of TLD by country with each index page targeting that one market.

As was said in this thread i am a little nervous about cross linking througout this network because of the perceived same class C network linking penalty. Country specific hosting is not an option for us. The main issue is that every language is different and targeting each one should be done seperatly and depending on your content and offerings webmasters should be able to do this withouth fearing retaliation. So far we have started this project slowly by increasing the amount of link to the main page and building links to the existing top level sites.

I guess everyone has a different opinion on this subject and hearing different ideas from people that are actually applying these ideas is very helpfull.
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Old 10-07-2005   #16
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Multilingual Website Optimisation

Hi Karen,
I read with interest your enquiry concerning your multilingual efforts. I face these issues every day and have a few sites that have been successfully ranking top 20 for a number of years, all multilingual. In fact,

I am based in Italy and as you can expect many websites I follow face these issues every day: I’d like to share some information with you and other members facing similar problems, and by doing so paint a broad picture with some hands on experience.

I started working with travel related sites in 1998 – I am thinking of one particular website we rolled out in Italian and English. A few years down the line the need to implement more languages became imperative so keywords were revised in various languages, the website was translated, content was optimised and links were implemented: The website reached the top of the SERPs within days.

As you can see there was no use of sub domains for each country. I would say that in principle you can achieve good long term rankings using one domain, and I would be in favour of a single website, rich in multi lingual content, rather than a number of smaller ones.

Sante J. Achille
Regional Editor Multilingual-Search.com
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Old 10-07-2005   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sjachille
As you can see there was no use of sub domains for each country. I would say that in principle you can achieve good long term rankings using one domain, and I would be in favour of a single website, rich in multi lingual content, rather than a number of smaller ones.
this is true for site that are new and written with optimisation in mind, if you look at my website eurobet .com this site was never meant for anything but users and it's dynamic nature is hell with search engines, and as such for a site like this one it is best according to everything i know to go with multiple TLD that are country specific and keyword targeted. These will support the main site while SEO changes are implemented which will take several months or maybe even years ...
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Old 10-07-2005   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by protheus00
this is true for site that are new and written with optimisation in mind, if you look at my website eurobet .com this site was never meant for anything but users and it's dynamic nature is hell with search engines, and as such for a site like this one it is best according to everything i know to go with multiple TLD that are country specific and keyword targeted. These will support the main site while SEO changes are implemented which will take several months or maybe even years ...
Please allow me to disagree with your comment and your approach. I don’t see a dynamic website any differently from static one in most cases. This is a typical example. In my opinion it is more often than not that dynamic web sites perform very well once the fundamentals have been sorted out – even if the website is multilingual
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Old 10-07-2005   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sjachille
Please allow me to disagree with your comment and your approach. I don’t see a dynamic website any differently from static one in most cases. This is a typical example. In my opinion it is more often than not that dynamic web sites perform very well once the fundamentals have been sorted out – even if the website is multilingual
I can agree with you that fundamentals are very important and they should be sorted out, but let's consider a real world example where you are in a big corporation and the optimisation issues are the least of your employers concerns and where your IT department is not just 2 guys in a backroom. I don't know if you have taken a look at the website i am working with right now but i can assure you that even though i am well versed in the fundamentals it is still very hard to get even a title changed on this site ... And because of this I consider the network approach to be more solid then any other, especially in our industry which is extremely competitive.
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Old 10-11-2005   #20
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Quote:
As you can see there was no use of sub domains for each country. I would say that in principle you can achieve good long term rankings using one domain, and I would be in favour of a single website, rich in multi lingual content, rather than a number of smaller ones.
Sante-
Can you tell me why you favour a single .com over local domains? Is it so you can have higher numbers of incoming links with a single domain? Robert argues for segregation of links from Italian sites to .it and Japanese sites to .jp etc. Do you just mix all incoming links together?

How do you direct incoming traffic to the .com? Which language shows by default for visitors and how do they change country?

One final question for you: How do you distinguish one language from the other on the URL if not with a local TLD? Do you use a directory, a subdomain or a query string parameter, and can you explain why you've chosen the method you have?

thanks,
kate
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