Over at the Google Webmaster Central Blog, Google has come up with an interesting post about the factors that should be taken into consideration while creating a multilingual website.
Firstly, you need to buy a country specific top-level domains (TLD) for all the countries you plan to serve. It means that your domain name can be something like ilovebackpacking.co.uk, ichlieberucksackreisen.de, and irdemochilero.es.es. According to Google, "This option is beneficial if you want to target the countries that each TLD is associated with, a method known as geo targeting."
However, acquiring a country specific domain can be an expensive endeavor and it furthermore becomes a hassle to update and maintain multiple domains. Hence, you can always acquire a non-country specific domain and through it, you can host the different versions of your website. If you opt for this method, them you have two options:
- Put the content of every language in a different subdomain. For our example, you would have en.example.com, de.example.com, and es.example.com.
- Put the content of every language in a different subdirectory. This is easier to handle when updating and maintaining your site. For our example, you would have example.com/en/, example.com/de/, and example.com/es/.
Geographic targeting vs. Language targeting:
According to Google, "As mentioned above, if your content is especially targeted towards a particular region in the world, you can use the Set Geographic Target tool in Webmaster Tools. It allows you to set different geographic targets for different subdirectories or subdomains (e.g., /de/ for Germany)"
However, you should use language targeting if your wish to target users in a specific language group. Geographic targeting won't be the optimal choice in this case, as there can people living in a certain location, that might speak different languages.
for those of you, who might be concerned about the issue of 'duplicate content' in multilingual sites, Google suggests that content in different languages in not considered as 'duplicate content'. According to the blog, "If you follow one of the site structure recommendations mentioned above, this should be pretty straightforward. Avoid mixing languages on each page, as this may confuse Googlebot as well as your users. Keep navigation and content in the same language on each page."
As per the Google Blog, "If you want to check how many of your pages are recognized in a certain language, you can perform a language-specific site search. For example, if you go to google.de and do a site search on google.com, choose the option below the search box to only display German results."