What’s Better? Multilingual WordPress Websites or Websites on Subdomains

Imagine you are going to expand your business abroad. You have a well-functioning website in your local language. Now you need to place it to other markets in foreign languages.

What will you do? Creating multilingual websites is not a simple task. But in this extensive article, we are going to guide you through all the important aspects. Make a coffee and start reading.

What’s Better? One Multilingual Website or Websites on Multiple Domains?

There are 2 different ways how to achieve website multi language localization. You can have a separate domain for each country. Or keep all the language versions on the same domain. The first option works as a standalone installation and therefore a standalone website. The second option works as a link between the individual languages. The way you will do it depends on the CMS your website is build on. Learn more how it works in WordPress. Implementation options for localization may also vary.

What's Better?

One Site or Multiple Domains

When creating website, it is advisable to think of the future. Even if you do not need a multilingual website at present, the situation might change in a couple of years. Therefore the chosen CMS and template should support language versions too.

Multiple Domains

It means you have to buy more than 1 TLD domains. Each domain represents each language or country of localization. Let’s say that you are French company. And run website on yourdomain.fr. To create Spanish localization website, you need to buy yourdomain.es. Now you have 2 TLDs domain. To build Spanish version you must to install blank WordPress. Then follow as you would create website in your native language. Choose WordPress theme and upload content. For consistent branding ideally use the same as on your native website. Does not to be multilingual. You don’t need any special plugins for websites on multiple domains, too. You don’t even need to choose a multi language ready WordPress template.

Websites operating on multiple domains usually have their own country specific domain for each language / country / market, e.g.:

  • nameofdomain.es
  • nameofdomain.de
  • nameofdomain.fr
One Domain, One Site

This is the case when you own only 1 TLD domain. Does not matter how many languages do you need. Multi language website is a single website operated on one domain. WordPress developers have implemented language support just recently. The built-in language support is still not at such level as it would be appropriate and no additional add-ons would be required. Thus some additional features are required.

In order to extend your WordPress website with additional languages, you need:

  • Multilingual template
  • Language management plugin
  • Template translations (most of templates contain only the functionality without translated phrases, read below how to save time needed for translations)
  • Translated content

Multilingual Template

Pay attention while choosing multilingual WordPress Theme.

Usually it comes with multilingual functionality only. Besides this you need also phrases translations. These need to be done on your own. Templates authors do not deal with the front-end or back-end captions translation as it takes a lot of effort and money.

Furthermore some language management plugin is required. It will do whole language mutation actually. So you need to install one of the available multi language third-party plugins.

Now at alternatively, choose one of the directly translated WordPress Themes from a developer who uses own plugin that provides multilingual support.

Multilingual Website Implementation Options

Basically you have 2 options. Multi language website and its other language versions can operate on:

  1. Subdomains (alias of your domain): de.nameofdomain.com
  2. Subdirectories (also known as subfolders): nameofdomain.com/de
Multilingual Website on Subdomain

Subdomains are primarily designed to differentiate between products and services that fall under one domain. Good example for this is the notoriously known subdomain maps.google.com. You can clearly see from the domain name that the subdomain maps. represents a completely different focus of this part of the website compared to the root domain google.com that works as a search engine.

As the subdomains are used for differentiation of services and content, having subdomains for different language variant within multi language website is rather rare. As it is not a different type of service that is provided. This solution could make sense in a scenario when you want to provide completely different content for each language version, i.e. different content for English version on root domain, different content for the German subdomain and different content for the French version. This solution is e.g. used by Wikipedia:

Multilingual Website on Subdomain
en.wikipedia.org – subdomain for English version

Multilingual Website on Subdomain
de.wikipedia.org – subdomain for German version

The disadvantage of subdomains is that Google considers each subdomain as a separate domain and evaluates it as if it was a completely different website. Thus takes a little longer for Google to index it and to get an interesting SERP. This is due to the fact that link juice acquired by the root domain up to now is not shared between subdomains.

If you use subdomains, your multilingual website usually looks like this:

nameofdomain.com – root domain, main page with the default language

de.nameofdomain.com – subdomain for German version

fr.nameofdomain.com – subdomain for French version

Multilingual Website via Subdirectory

Subdirectory as such is used to divide content of the website. This is visible as a separate section within hyperlink after the root domain name e.g. codepen.io/projects. Such separation is natural for the user as the user automatically knows that this is a different part of the website and therefore it improves the orientation on the site.

The use of subdirectories for other languages is a good choice for multi language websites especially when the content is identical or very similar to the one on the root domain. Translations are processed easier in this case and all the content is managed within one website what has many benefits. One of such benefits is that Google does not consider subdirectory to be a new website (unlike the multilingual websites operating on separate subdomains), link juice is shared between the language versions and therefore other subpages with languages do not have worse rating than the entire website (root domain).

The multilingual website when using subdirectories usually looks like this:

nameofdomain.com – root domain, main page with local language (most frequently English)

nameofdomain.com/de – subdirectory for German version

nameofdomain.com/fr – subdirectory for French version

Why to choose Multilingual Website and NOT Websites on Multiple Domains

What are the reasons for choosing one multilingual website (with subdirectories) instead of multiple websites on multiple domains? Let’s have a look at the benefits from the perspective of administrator, user, SEO, as well as marketing.

Advantages Multilingual Website on 1 Domain

Administrator Perspective

1. One domain, one database… and one payment for hosting services

Having the whole multi language website on a single domain is more practical than looking after multiple domains. All data is stored within one database which means more comfortable backing up, import and export of data to various third-party systems like services facilitating sending of bulk newsletters (MailChimp, Mad Mimi etc.). One domain at the same time means that you will be paying only for one hosting. Cost saving will be achieved also thanks to the fact that you will only need to buy some additional plugins once – if you have multiple websites on different domains, you need a separate plugin for each of them and plugins are mostly licensed to use on a single domain only.

2. Practical content management and design changes

It is comfortable because you have to log into one back-end. Content management is performed the same way as on the standard website, via wp-admin. Within the admin interface you can easily switch between all the languages. Therefore you don’t need to log into every language version of the website separately.

Practical content management and design changes

With regard to uploading products or items to a portfolio, you enter the product to Media Library only once, and then you can add it to other languages faster via Insert Image -> Media Library where you can pick the required image from.

“No more uploading of the same images over and over.”

In addition, the multilingual website facilitates simpler management of comments or orders in WordPress solutions that are use WooCommerce.

And what about the design?

Any design change in the website is visible immediately also on all language mutations. Having the entire website on a single domain is something that you will benefit from in the future too. When performing the overall redesign of your website, as it is just one website.

3. Convenient translations

Adding translations for the multiple languages within multilingual website is possible in several ways, either by making translation within .po files, or directly in wp-admin. Such comfortable translation adding can be achieved by implementing one of the third-party multilingual plugins or by plugin activation that is directly provided by the developer of your multilingual WordPress Theme.

Some multilingual plugins allow you to duplicate Pages for translations (e.g. AIT Languages plugin), user friendly String Translations (WPML plugin and others), or alternatively the possibility of ordering translations from external translators directly through the administration interface.

The great advantage is that you add, edit and manage all translations from one admin interface – quickly and conveniently from one “central” location. You don’t have to edit each language on a separate website on multiple domains what saves time (changes can be made quickly), money (you need just one multilingual plugin) and prevents errors, as you’re administering one website instead of two, three, four…

User/Website Visitor Perspective

1. Website localization

When visitors come to a multilingual website with the domain name ending .com/de, they are aware that this is just one of the available language versions of the website. And that the main communication language is different – in most cases it is English, on the root domain .com. Many visitors therefore correctly assume that the website/business background is directly related to the language of the root domain; possibly that it is an internationally operating company.

Website visitors have certain expectations for sites located on multiple domains that are relevant to a particular locality/country. Therefore, when users visit website nameofdomain.de, they usually assume that this is a German website in the local language, that there is an office located in Germany. They may await there will be a support personnel who speaks German. Who can be reached on the German phone number or the goods can be returned more easily. Also in terms of some additional expenses like the transportation cost is cheaper within Germany.

2. Switching language easily

Regardless of which subpage users arrive on from Google search, they can still change the language on the multilingual website. Simply by clicking on the appropriate flag or on the language abbreviation EN – DE – FR. Also by choosing the language from the select menu. Each WordPress Theme can have a different implementation of the language switcher based on the way how it was designed by its developer.

Switching language easily

Warning: It is strictly not recommended to set the default language based on the IP address of the website visitor, it is considered as an unwanted activity on the web page.

Comparing to multiple domains, it’s a bit more complicated. When users arrive on the German version nameofdomain.de and would like to view website in another language cannot see the language switcher. He/she has to amend the ending in the URL address manually. Guess who there is another language localization? Do not risk they can drive away.

3. Impeccably translated content

Websites on multiple domains have a disadvantage that you need high quality translations as if they were done by a native speaker. As mentioned above, for the pages with domain name ending .de users expect that it is the German website. Therefore the content must be written in perfect German without any mistakes – otherwise it does not look professional.

On the other hand, if the website is multilingual and has the name ending .com/de, users know that it is just “another” version and they are generally more tolerant of errors in grammar and stylistics. Some users even consider it to be a good thing – they take positively that the company is trying to provide info in their mother tongue to make information more accessible to them. And that is very beneficial for the company in terms of any future interaction with the user.

SEO a Marketing Perspective

1. Easier optimization

Same as the link juice cannot be shared between multilingual websites on subdomains, same applies to the websites on the multiple domains. Each language variant is located on a different domain and for Google these are completely unrelated websites. Multilingual website using subdirectories has an advantage in this as the link juice is shared between them and gets better domain/link authority.

Apart from the fact that it is easier to take care of one multilingual website (in comparison to multiple websites built for each language separately), the right optimization of the website on root domain passes down the optimization to the subpages and therefore to the individual language versions (set up of H1, H2, H3 headlines, hyperlinks etc.). When managing content, you can get some help from SEO tools e.g. Yoast that can then be applied for all the languages.

2. Concentration of visitors in one place

When comparing multilingual website with websites on multiple domains, it’s good to have a look at the total traffic. With this criterion, multilingual website is the winner as all visitors are directed to one website/one domain and therefore visitors aren’t unnecessarily divided across multiple websites. On top of the more efficient work with user data (thanks to the centralized sample of visitors from various target groups), it also contributes to a higher conversion rate on the website.

3. Targetting and advertising

The setup and management of advertisements is directly related to the above point. You set ads for just one domain when having a multilingual website. And at the same time you can tailor it for each language separately.

If you have websites on multiple domains, you need to manage ads for several separate domains what requires more effort and time. And that applies to every type of ad: banner, PPC or remarketing.

Whether your ad is targeted correctly and whether your CTA works the way it should can be detected by A/B testing. If you have multi language website, A/B testing can be realized quickly and easily and all your changes will be reflected immediately on all language versions within the subdirectories.

Can you imagine testing 3 websites at once? That’s another reason why work with WordPress website on multiple domains is more complicated even from marketing point of view.

What else need to be considered?

The right solution for your new localized WordPress website is multiple languages. When creating website in more than one local language, it is crucial to decide for such a solution that will:

  • Simplify the every day work with admin and translations
  • Provide the right tools for content management in all languages
  • Allow simple switching between languages for your website visitors (and potential customers)
  • Make the SEO optimization easier for other language mutations
  • Help get better rating not only for the root domain, but also for all the subpages of different language versions
  • Be cost efficient

If you look at the multilingual WordPress website and compare it to websites on multiple domains for each language separately, multilingual website is a winner in all the above mentioned criteria.

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