If you are ready to make your brand internationally known, it is time you start thinking about how to best structure your website so that you can maximize its presence amongst this new audience base.

In the past, we have shared with you which translation plugin best suits most website owners for translating website content, some of the top WordPress themes that have a built-in international feature set for maximizing content translation, and have even provided a quick and unique guide on SEO and multilingualism in WordPress.

However, how you structure your international website in terms of domain architecture is just as important as presenting content in multiple languages for your site visitors.

Today we are going to look at the different ways you can create an international site structure to target multiple languages or countries, discuss when to use each method, and examine how using the WPML translation plugin can help your efforts to expand your brand overseas.

Multi-Regional vs. Multilingual Websites

Before jumping into the different ways you can structure your website to reach an international audience, let’s first discuss the how Google defines both a multi-regional and multilingual website:

  • Multi-regional Website. Also called geotargeting, this type of website targets users in different countries or regions.
  • Multilingual Website. On the other hand, this type of website is one that offers content in a variety of languages. For example, an English business website may provide translation of their content into French using a WordPress translation plugin such as WPML.

Though the two types of websites often overlap, it is important that you ask yourself two questions before venturing into international branding and site structuring.

First, what regions are you targeting? 

Next, which languages are you going to make your website available to in those regions?

Options for International Domain Architecture

When starting out, most businesses set up their websites using a Top-Level Domain (TLD). A classic example of this would be www.companyname.com. However, this does very little in terms of international SEO, meaning those in regions not native to the website’s domain will have trouble finding that website in search results and will have difficulty reading the content if it lacks a translation option.

That said, Google offers four distinct ways you can structure your international site to improve your website’s SEO.

ccTLDs  

Country-coded TLDs use a two-letter code to indicate to both site visitors and search engines which country or region the website is registered to. For instance, a website may use a ccTLD of www.companyname.uk to target users in the UK.

Here are some of the best reasons to structure your international site using ccTLDs:

  • They work well for large, well-branded websites that already have an international presence
  • Search engines recognize them better than any other structure and index them most efficiently
  • Local rankings are highest when using a ccTLD

Although using a ccTLD site structure is going to cost you the most money upfront, for business owners looking to target specific regions, this is your best option.

However, it is important to keep in mind that if your website also targets different languages, you will need an alternative option for content translation since ccTLDs do not always rank well for multilingual websites.

Sub-directories

Creating a separate folder on your existing root domain to store international content is another way to target international site visitors. Built on top of your TLD, a sub-directory may take the form of www.companyname.com/uk.

Check out the benefits of setting up sub-directories to store content targeting global users:

  • Easy to set up and maintain
  • Low maintenance and inexpensive
  • Consolidates domain authority preventing the need for multiple websites
  • Integrates with Google’s Search Console geotargeting

Using sub-directories, however, does not come without their share of issues. For example, users may not recognize the geotargeting URL, the signal sent to search engines is weaker thus affecting your SEO efforts, and users tend to prefer to browse locally using ccTLDs.

Subdomains

Rather than placing international content in specific sub-directories, here your content is placed in a third-level domain. For a better understanding, look at the basic structure of a domain name:

  • Top-level Domain. The .com, .net, .org, portion of your website’s domain name. Example – www.companyname.com
  • Domain Name. The second level of a domain’s hierarchy that you purchase. Example – companyname.com
  • Root Domain. The combination of your website’s domain name and TLD to form a complete website address. Example – www.companyname.com
  • Subdomain. The third level of a domain’s hierarchy that is added to the front of your website’s root domain. Example – www.companyname.com

As a result, creating a subdomain for your international content may look something like this: uk.companyname.com.

Here is why you might want to implement this site structure method:

  • Easy to set up
  • Can geotarget using Google Webmaster Tools
  • Allows for easier separation of sites while keeping the root domain (often the brand name) in the URL

However, using a subdomain to separate international content may result in weaker domain authority across all of your website’s content. Plus, it requires specialized IT support to maintain and may cause confusion for site visitors not familiar with country codes.

URL Parameters

This last option involves a general TLD that targets speakers of specific languages by adding a URL parameter. If you implement this strategy, your web address might look something like this: www.companyname.com?lang=uk.

Again, users not familiar with country codes may not understand where your URL is pointing them, segmenting content based on region is more difficult, and geotargeting using Google Webmaster Tools is not possible using this approach. This is why this method is not generally recommended.

How Using WPML Helps Your International Site Structure

Now that you have a basic understanding of the many international site structuring options available, let’s look at how the WPML translation plugin can help you structure your site, translate your content, and maintain best SEO practices.

To start, see what WPML offers website owners:

  • Present site content in multiple languages with language switchers
  • Translate pages, posts, custom post types, taxonomies, menus, and theme text
  • Manage translated content using the intuitive interface
  • Translate and publish content using WPML’s translation editor
  • Send out translation jobs for professional translation
  • Use any of the available 40 built-in languages or add your own variants

Now, in terms of international site structure, WPML helps with three of the four available options Google offers as a way to structure your website to reach a global audience:

  • Store different languages in separate directories (domain.com/uk)
  • Use a different domain for each language (uk.domain.com)
  • Add a URL parameter for each language name (domain.com?lang=uk)

As you can see, WPML offers many options for reaching a global audience.

SEO Benefits of Using WPML

Using WPML for your multilingual website, whether you wish to target specific regions or not, comes with plenty of built-in SEO optimization. For instance, WPML automatically keeps different languages in different pages on your website. This way when Google crawls your website looking in an attempt to index it, the language(s) your site is translated into are easily detected.

In addition, WPML stores links to translations of each page so that Google has the maximum amount of information possible when indexing your website.

WPML generates hreflang links to help improve your website’s XML sitemaps. Of course, having an XML sitemap is part of SEO best practices. However, having hreflang attributes attached to your translated content tells Google which language you are using on each page of your website, which links are regular links, and which are translated links. From there, search engines can serve translated content to those searching in that particular language.

If you wish to tell Google that your translated content is meant for a specific country, rather than relying on Google’s automatic interpretation of your site’s pages and links, WPML has a manual approach available. Simply edit the languages by changing the hreflang attributes to target the international audience you want finding your content.

In the end, how your website is translated, linked, and connected is important to your multilingual SEO efforts. With WPML, Google never has to wonder what is going on with your international content. Plus, users from all across the globe will be able to access your website’s content easily in search engine results.

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Final Thoughts

If you are thinking about taking the next step and branding your online business internationally, consider structuring your website accordingly. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to structure your site correctly, regardless of your individual site and budget needs.

One of the best ways to structure your site for an international audience, while also being able to translate your site’s content into multiple languages, is to use WPML.

Not only can you manage translated content from one convenient location and reap the benefits of multilingual SEO using WPML, you can structure your website as you see fit and build a bigger, better, and more successful brand.

What are your experiences with international site structuring? Have you ever used WPML to get the job done? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

About Lindsay Liedke

Lindsay is a freelance writer who loves all things WordPress. When she is not writing she can be found spending family time with her son and two silly nephews.