Spanish SEO: Domain per language, subdomains or language folders?
Posted October 9, 2013 4:21 pm by Sebastian Aroca

Many prospective clients (small business owners and Webmasters) ask us this question when they are in the process of developing a Spanish-language website. Should I develop the new site in a new domain, subdomain or language folder? As in many other topics, there’s not one right answer that would apply to every single case, but let me present you with some pointers that will help you gain clarity when facing that dilemma.

Let’s discuss this from the technical perspective first. Then, in order to get a holistic view of the issue, we’ll discuss it from a non-technical perspective as well.

From the technical perspective

Generally, keeping the two language versions in separate folders is the best approach. e.g. put all the Spanish pages in a folder called /es/ or /spanish/ so that their URLs all begin: http://www.yoursite/es/ or http://www.yoursite/spanish

That helps search engines see them for what they are – like a minisite within the bigger domain. Also, it helps if the main domain has authority, trust and domain strength. For this case http://www.drzizmormd.net, for instance, it will help the Spanish pages gain SERPs more rapidly. I know… if anyone is wondering whether helping positioning the Spanish pages will have a negative impact on the English pages (legitimate concern), I could share hundreds of cases in which evidence shows that having a language version actually helps seo wise of the overall domain – however, to cut through the chase, let’s hear directly from Google folks [ watch this video from Google Webmaster tools ] who inform us that having extra subdirectories or subfolder such as /es/ next to the root level is not a major factor in Google search engine rankings. By Google themselves, “it doesn’t matter, it’s got barely any effect.”

The most straightforward and safe solution is to use language folders, because no special code is needed to handle the different parts of the website. The folders are the most common, easy to use and all purpose solution. It is the safest method in terms of SEO and Web Development. You should use folders when you have a relatively small website (the case of http://www.drzizmormd.net with less than 100 pages) and when you want to maintain the authority of the domain in the main category. Less targeted and low PageRank pages that belong to high authority websites appear on the top of the search engine results (for example Wikipedia).

For dynamic multilanguage websites that change content all the time, subdomains are a great solution because they can be easily coded and they can achieve good SEO Results. For instance, one of our clients who is using this approach is Consolidated Credit Counseling Services.

www.consolidatedcredit.org [English-language pages]
http://espanol.consolidatedcredit.org [Spanish-language pages]

Creating multiple subdomains (e.g., es.yoursite.com or espanol.yoursite.com) usually means that you have additional parts of the website that need to be handled separately. Since the sub domains can be hosted on the same or on different servers, they can execute the same code or have a completely different technology to support them. The same happens when you use multiple domains. Of course from one point of view this approach gives you the freedom to handle those parts differently from the main website (good for some cases where the English SEO and Spanish SEO teams are two different companies with different budgets, processes, and goals), but this certainly is going to create additional costs for you since more time and resources are needed to position the sub domains well on the eyes of the search engines. We can discuss more details in a future forum.

Different Domains Subdomains Folders
Geo Targeting High Medium Low
Authority, Trust,
Domain Strength
No authority is inherited A part of authority is inherited The authority is inherited
SERPs Increased number of results Increased number of results in some cases Limited number of results per domain
Sitelinks Support No Yes Yes
Website Control Very Difficult Difficult Easy
Design & Web
Structure Freedom
Very high Medium-High Very low
Link Building &
Link Structure
New Link Building Campaigns
Cross linking domains
New Link Building Campaigns
Cross linking Subdomains
Single Link Building Campaigns
Internal Link Structure

Source: http://www.webseoanalytics.com/blog/multiple-domains-vs-subdomains-vs-folders-in-seo/

From a non-technical perspective

Many experts say that choosing between a domain per language, subdomains or language folder isn’t actually a technical question, but rather depends on what you’re trying to achieve. To answer this, we need to think about your site’s contents and what appears in each language.

Translated contents or unique contents per language. What’s the difference between translated contents and unique contents per language?

Translated contents means different language version of the same page say the same thing (have the same meaning), just in different language. This will be the case for Dr. Zizmor’s website. Interested in translating your site to Spanish? Learn about our English to Spanish website translation services.

Unique contents per language means your site conveys a different message in different languages. This is the case where different languages reflect different service or product offerings. The Spanish pages aren’t just a translation of the English pages. They are different. For instance, Dell has different Spanish contents for Argentina and for Mexico.

For big sites (international-multilanguage situation) they also usually choose “domain per language” or “domain by country” or “country specific top level domains”, for they have resources enough and everybody agrees it is the best strategy, plus this strategy tells both people and search engines that the contents of that site are specific to that country.

For instance:

http://www.ebay.com [For USA]
http://www.ebay.ca [For Canada]
http://www.ebay.fr [For France]
http://www.ebay.com.mx [For Mexico]

Another client of ours:

http://www.acquip.com [For USA – and Rest of the World]
http://www.acquip.com.br [For Brazil]

For Dr. Zizmor’s case, choosing (www.drzizmormd.es) was obviously not an effective strategy for targeting US Hispanics in NYC given the fact that the target audience is in US, not in Spain.

Since this site http://www.drzizmormd.net will have translated contents, not unique contents per language, the best approach for this case was to use either language folders or language sub-domains.

Language Language folders Language sub-domains
English www.drzizmormd.net www.drzizmormd.net
Spanish www.drzizmormd.net/es es.drzizmormd.net

Hope this helps clarify when to use domain per language, subdomains or language folders. Thank you and I welcome any questions and comments regarding this post.