User and Search Friendly URL Design for Multi-Language Websites in 4 Easy Steps
What an overwhelming headline! User and search friendly URL design for multi-language websites?
What are you talking about? Let me explain. Then I’ll introduce to you the 4 easy steps you need to follow.
One of the basic best practices of SEO are user and search friendly URLs.
What on Earth ore URLs? URLs are simply Internet addresses like
Every time you visit a website the address is needed. A proper address can ensure the optimal user experience and search inclusion.
Step 1: Make URLs User and Search Friendly
My example is already both user and search friendly. It’s readable and understandable (you sometimes even call them speaking URLs).
Now you already know that we talk about “something”, “more” of it and some “details”. A better example would be
Here we quickly notice that the page deals with a Ford car by the name of Focus.
The actual Ford site is almost as good, but that would be the ideal URL structure. It’s also perfect for Google and other search engines as it already includes both keywords.
Additionally there is a site structure with cars being a folder or rather directory and ford-focus a specific page out of similar ones in this directory.
Now consider an international site. Ford is a good example here as the Ford Focus gets sold in Europe too.
In Europe people speak a few dozens of different languages. Just covering the more important ones like
is not an easy task. It starts with the URLs. Let’s assume Ford.com would be a multi-language site, that is a site that covers all those languages.
In contrast there are plenty of companies that prefer separate top level or country domains for each country like for example
etc. Maintaining so many sites is quite an effort though. Many small businesses won’t create an extra site for each country.
To make nobody else takes your name though you should reserve a domain for each important country at least even if you plan just to use one.
Let’s assume though that Ford.com would develop a multi-language website including all those languages.
We would encounter several problems as each of these languages has special characters others don’t have and Google has some difficulties with. I don’t want to focus (what a pun! ;-) on those.
Let’s also assume that we don’t deal (yet) with the special characters. Let’s talk about the standard procedure for user and SEO friendly URL design for multi-language websites.
Step 2: Separate URLs
What’s most important: You need separate URLs for each language! No joke. There are sites that have several languages on the same page and address (using the same URL).
Depending on you browser language, IP or according to your choice the content language changes but the address or URL stays the same.
This way you would view ford.com/cars/ford-focus from Spain and see the page in Spanish, from France in French and so on while in the US it still would be displayed in English.
The same URL for the different languages is the worst case scenario from the SEO perspective.
Google will only index the English version or whatever is your standard language. Your site won’t get found on localized Google search at all.
Plus the automatic setting of languages doesn’t work as desired in many cases. American expats in Spain get the Spanish version in spite of not speaking Spanish for instance.
A simple and SEO wise good solution would be adding a directory (or virtual one) for each specific language.
Thus we would end up having:
Step 3: Translate URLs
That’s almost fine but there is one problem: You use the English word or keyword “cars” for the Spanish and French version. In France people even can get angry at you for doing that.
As I’m doing SEO in Germany I’ll use the German examples from now on. The next step is translating the URLs as well:
You see that the product name remains the same but the keyword describing it “cars” changes to the German “autos”.
We would be happy here as users and website optimizers but in most cases the programmers behind the content management system will cry out and tell you that it does not work that way.
Step 4: Add URL numbers
You can’t create different pages for each language without risking chaos.
So we need a small change in the URL structure and we will tell them that so called URL rewriting (in most cases using the so called mod_Rewrite module for Apache) will suffice.
The simplest way to deal with this issue is adding a unique number to each page. This number stays the same across the languages to allow handling the same pages across multiple pages with much hassle.
So we end having something like this:
take note that “1234” is a random number here, it could apply to the data set number or page number or whatever you choose to count.
It has to be assigned just once for a single URL and stay permanent. It’s not a session ID or something like that.
Also take note that I added the number at the end. This is to prevent Google from assigning too much authority to the number as directory “name”.
Make sure that a numbered URL can always get identified just by the number.
should still lead to the same page at
This also works with WordPress blogs. Having numbers in the URL allows you to change the keywords in it or mistype it without breaking it.
We’re done. Now we can optimize a little if we like to.
Step 5: Optimize URLs
This step is already optional. Some of you might argue that an URL like the above still has some issues:
For instance it mentions the brand aka “ford” twice which is a little too much if you ask me.
It looks like SEO out of 1999. Thus you could cut the second “ford” in “ford-focus”. This results in:
Also if you change cars to autos earlier on you don’t need the “de”. You could use
instead as “autos” applies to the German part of the site only. The English site says
Now we’re really done. At this point we’ll probably face the special characters issues with so called umlauts (äöü) for instance but that’s another post.
After all you see that the basic user and search friendly URL design for multi-language websites is no voodoo at all. 4 easy steps are enough.
* (CC BY 2.0) Creative Commons image by Chase Elliot Clark
Excellent tips as always. If it seems just like a rookie tip for most I would say that people doing this kind of mistakes handling international websites is very common.
This is a must read.
Nice timing, working out a URL structure for a car listing type website today. lol
Seperate domains for each country is something i prefer when searching, it lets me know instantly if i am going to the right place, but thats just me.
This was a good read. Thanks!
Can’t wait for the next post on the umlauts. I have those characters in my language (Estonian) also. I even use them in urls right now without encoding. Seems to work in popular browsers and couple of mobile ones I’ve tested. And using ö instead of o or oe looks a lot better. Besides we have two o based letters (ö,õ). Replacing them both with oe would create some funky words :D
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Great! I have use this in every project, so this makes my life a lot easier! Thanks
What you have outlined makes it a much easier format for those with little or no knowledge to understand the process. One error I can see is that you say 4 easy steps but infact gave us 5! No criticism however the 5 steps finish off the description of what to do and what not to do very well.
Perhaps you will inspire some current web owners to revamp their web pages to be more user and SEO focused as there are a lot that seem to have been simply created with little or no forethought. A lot of useful information lets hope the right people see it!
Spot on! Things would be much easier for both the human and it does SEO a power of good :-)
The structure is so important for your website, as you have outlined here. In my opinion re-written URL have little advantage from an SEO perspective, but from a user point of view they are vital.
Great article, enjoyed very much. Thanks
I wanna thank you for you detailed step by step article, that is quite clear understandable for everyone. Include myself, and i am not english mothertongue.
Had to sort out a site structure at work today, found the very usful – thanks.
I tried the Wikipedia style urls:
What do you think about urlencoded url-s. As i see google likes it.
i think subdomains would be better :) like :
Eslam, that’s popular belief but tests have shown that it’s not the best solution both SEO and usability-wise.
I can only say how happy I am that I found this post before launching into other language development on our new website.