WPML can put all languages in the same domain, in sub-domains or in completely different domains. What’s the best alternative from SEO point of view?
When search engines go through a multilingual site, they need to understand which parts are in what language. This way, visitors get search results matching their own language.
Google wants to return pages written in the user’s language. When a German reader is looking for something in English, often, Google would prefer to return German pages that talk about the same thing.
For this to happen, search engines need to know how your site’s languages are organized. Google looks at the big picture. It doesn’t care only about individual pages in the site, but how they are organized and the ‘big picture’ of what your site is all about. This includes its languages.
Language Negotiation Options in WPML
WPML allows organizing contents in different languages in several ways:
- By adding a language parameter to URLs (example.com/?lang=es)
- By putting different languages in directories (example.com/es/)
- By putting each language in a different domain or sub-domain (es.example.com or ejemplo.es)
You can control this from WPML->Languages menu.
From an SEO point of view, the first two alternatives are very similar. All languages will remain on the same domain, separated by either a language argument or language directory. The third option allows to place different languages on different domains. You can use that as either sub-domains (like www.example.com, es.example.com) or as completely different top-level domains.
Some say that Google local search loves localized top-level domains. Others say it doesn’t matter much and Google is intelligent enough not to care.
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I’ll be the first to go. On both WPML.org and ICanLocalize.com, we use language directories. E.g., the same domain for all languages. My bet is that the 50,000 Ph.D’s working for Google are smart enough and I cannot manipulate search results with a simple technical change. Hey, I can be wrong!