On a Reddit thread, John Mueller (Google) shared his recommendations for simplifying the structure of a multilingual site without affecting its natural referencing. Indeed, some changes can have a greater impact than you imagine! Back to the main advice given by John Mueller.
The 4 points to remember
- Moving language subdirectories to region subdirectories is not recommended (eg /fr and /de which become /eu/fr and /eu/de).
- It is better to add an hreflang attribute on all pages.
- Setting the root homepage as x-default makes it easier for search engines to understand.
- Use geo-redirection only on the homepage.
The question asked about Reddit was the following: “Hreflang for language subdirectories already nested in a region subdirectory: bad idea?”. The Internet user wondered what the impact would be on his e-commerce site if he moved his /fr and /de subdirectories to direct all European traffic to the /eu subdirectory, while keeping the translations with hreflang attributes.
The latter saw his dream come true when John Mueller himself answered his question! He took the opportunity to ask him other questions about geographical redirects, even if it meant having it on hand…
As it turns out, Google’s Search Analyst continued his advice, much to our delight. We recap it all for you!
John Mueller advised him not to move everything to the /eu subdirectory, and therefore to keep its /fr and /de subdirectories. “You won’t get any SEO benefits from it, and trips like this are a lot of work.”
Instead, he offered to move its main site (EN-US) to a /us subdirectory, so that it has a US part, a FR part, a DE part, etc. According to John Mueller, this would make it easier for search engines to understand, whereas a /eu/fr subdirectory would only make it more difficult.
He also recommends adding a hreflang attribute on all pages, or at least on pages that receive traffic from visitors from the wrong countries (Germans instead of French, for example). According to him, it’s definitely the homepage, so even if you only put an hreflang on the homepage, it should help a lot.
The home page in x-default
In addition to his answer, John Mueller recalled the importance of x-default, especially during geographic redirects. His advice: make sure that the root homepage redirects to the correct version, and that it is specified as x-default for all home pages. Thus, Google will consider it as the default page to which to direct Internet users.
“If you do all of this and automatically redirect “/” (the root homepage) to the correct version, you need to make sure it’s specified as x-default. Without it, Google may feel that this homepage is a separate page from the others.”
Given the complexity of the process, he recommends not do it only for the homepage and for no other page of the site. It assumes that the home page gets the most traffic. Note: there can only be one homepage in x-default, and it must be the root homepage.
“You will have “/” = x-default, “/us” for the United States, “/fr” for France, “/eu” for a bunch of countries, and a redirect from “/” to the best version”.
Geographic redirects on the home page
For the sake of simplicity, John Mueller advises notuse geographic redirects only on the home page of the site, and not on other pages. Users who enter the domain name will find the closest match to their geographic location, and can click on a different country to jump to the correct version.
It discusses alternative options to geo-redirects:
- the dynamic change of the language of the homepage, but this solution can add too much complexity to the website;
- the country selector on the home page, but this can hurt the user experience, especially if there are many countries to choose from.
Tips that should be useful if you edit multilingual sites. These can quickly become complex, so do not hesitate to implement John Mueller’s recommendations and favor your home pages.
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