International Ranking Factors: URL Best Practices Part 2

By Nathan Janitz, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions
Originally Appeared on Intellect Interactive

I have a saying that I find holds true a great deal of time: “What ‘should’ happen and ‘does’ happen are usually two different things.” A while ago I posted about International URL best practices, and since then several people have come to me asking for other options because well…..what should and does happen are two different things. You know what you are “suppose” to do, but business reason, recourses, politics, etc. dictate that you cannot follow the “best” practices. So, what is one to do? Don’t worry….here is plan B & C.

International SEO Options without CC TLD’s: Plan B

Country Code Top Level Domain (CC TLD) is the best way to ensure that your company’s content is ranked within the countries’ preferred search engines. However, business needs may not always accommodate this strategy. Whether it is due to company structure, global CMS systems, or simply just cost savings, it is ok if you cannot implement the CC LTD’s. There are two other ways to properly search engine optimize (SEO) your URLs for international search results.

Basics are Still the Basics

Just because a company cannot purchase and manage a plethora of CC TLD’s does not mean that the best practices of language settings and Directory Taxonomy are not still valid. In fact, the following two methods of URL optimization require that a company follows those two rules even closer. The CC TLD’s are considered an automatic default for certain content (i.e. if you send mail to a Chicago address, then you would assume that the mail is going to the USA). Given that the presence of the CC TLD is not there, a company has to make sure that it is sending the proper singles to the search engines through proper use of the directory taxonomy and language settings. (See Blog Post: International URL Best Practices for rules on language settings and directory taxonomy.)

Country as a Sub-Domain/ Language as Sub-Directory

The first method is to setup each country as a sub-domain.

Brazil’s Primary URL:

Engines tend to rank the level of importance of content based on how far from the domain directory. As a best practice, it is recommended that content should not reside more than 3 levels (example: level-2/ level-3/). This method allows you to have used one less sub-directory, thus showing a higher level of importance for company’s content.

The downside to this method is that it tends to be a little harder to explain to international counterparts. It also tends to be more taxing on CMS systems and IT resources (as compared to the last of the two methods).

Country & Language as a Sub-Directory

The second method is to place each country and language in its own sub-directories. See example below.

Brazil’s Primary URL:

This method is simple to understand, explain and implement. The first directory is always the country and the second URL is always the language. Each directory thus signals to the engine the content is specific that country and language. The added bonus is that most engines will consolidate link popularity to the sub-domain. So, if all directories are on one domain, then it is possible that the PR and advertising that a company does in each country can actually help it rank better in another country.

The downside of this method is that you place one more directory in front of the most important content. Again, best practice state that you should not have content more than three levels from the domain (example: /level-1/ level-2/ level-3/). This method already forces the most important content to the 3rd level.

Region Settings within Webmaster Tools

Google specifically recommends setting region-specific URLs within a standard .com top level domain (TLD) within Google Webmaster Tools. This provides the engines with another signal of international origin and relevance.

Regional Non-Country Specific: Plan C

Business reasons may dictate that a certain country or region has to be lumped into one area. This presents a problem when it comes to giving the proper signals to the search engines as to the nature of the content. For instance, a company is starting to enter the Latin American markets and has deemed a small set of countries as top priorities. However, the company does not want to ignore the other countries because it still has the ability to service those customers. In this case, the company has dedicated its efforts to those high priority countries and needs a stop gap for the rest of the region.

Region Structure & Taxonomy

All rules apply as laid out in previous options (see above Plan B above & “Best Practices” on the other post); however, the directories or sub-domains will be broken out into region instead of country. Since the engines do not recognize regions, it is important to spell out the region by universally accepted names and in the main region’s language (if possible). For instance, the main language of Latin America is Spanish. See example below.

In the cases where a specific language cannot be specified, such as in the EU, it is critical to include as many of the languages as business resources dictate. Like Latin America, the EU is comprised of several countries and thus will not have a TLD recognized by search engines. Each major language should be created in different directories.

EU English: /en/
EU Spanish: /es/
EU French: /fr/
EU German: /de/

Make sure to include the language html setting mentioned above. The importance of these two steps is critical in making sure that the engines understand that this content is specific to that region and language, making the content seam relevant to the consumer’s query.


Alex B said...

This is an awesome post. It's shocking to see how much implementing SEO friendly URLs can do for SEO.

We have helped a bunch of people out tremendously by fixing this issue.

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