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I've decided to start developing multilingual web site. Now I'm thinking about the structure. The idea is to use a simple algorithm to find out what language is most interesting to the visitor when he makes his first visit to the root page, and then forward him to the corresponding address, for example, http://example.com/en/ for English-speaking audience and http://example.com/ru/ for Russians.

The question is, how search engines react on such redirect? If this approach does not take away site's reputation, which redirects should I choose: 301 or 302?

I would be very grateful for the reasoned response.

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1 Answer

Here's some advice from Google's Webmaster Central Blog:

Basically, what you propose seems like a perfectly fine way to set up a multilingual site. The most important thing is to make sure that each translated version of a page has a unique URL, and that all of the URLs can be found and indexed by search engines.

One thing you can do to help Google and other search engines to better index your site and understand its structure is to include rel=alternate links between the translated versions of each page. Google, at least, say that they'll use such links to direct visitors to the appropriate translated version of the page.

Ps. As for your question about 301 vs. 302 redirects, I'd use a 302 since the redirect target varies. (Don't forget to add the appropriate HTTP Vary header too.) Using a 302 redirect also means that Google will tend to show the root page URL rather than the language-specific URL in search results, which is presumably what you want.

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Google for one explicitly advises against redirecting users on perceived language. Getting language versions indexed is precisely what one usually wants to achieve, not avoid. support.google.com/webmasters/bin/… –  GDav Feb 26 '13 at 14:03
    
@GDav: AFAIK, redirecting users from a language-ambiguous URL (e.g. http://example.com/) to a language-specific URL (like http://example.com/en/ or http://example.com/fr/) should be fine, as long as those pages don't try to redirect the user further (i.e. a user going directly to http://example.com/fr/ should get the French version, no matter how convinced you might be that the user doesn't really understand French). –  Ilmari Karonen Feb 26 '13 at 15:56
    
Redirecting on what basis? If Accept-Language, a search robot will be sent to the default as they don't send that header. If IP, search engines will always be sent to whatever's local to them (usually west coast US). In either case, it's not great news for effective geotargeting in search. In both cases, it provides a poor user experience (e.g., if I'm on holiday in Spain, it doesn't mean I want a site in Spanish). –  GDav Mar 1 '13 at 15:48
    
@GDav: I'd guess Accept-Language should be a fair starting point; some users do set it, and even for those who don't, it's likely to default to the OS language, i.e. something the user likely understands at least a little. But I don't have any personal experience with that, so I can't really say anything very useful about the details. FWIW, Google itself seems be using geolocation; my Accept-Language lists only English, but google.com redirects me to google.fi. –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 1 '13 at 18:09
    
(continued) Anyway, as for search engines, the whole point is that it shouldn't matter all that much which version they see first, as long as you provide rel=alternate links so they can find all of them. Even dumb search engines who don't understand rel=alternate should be able to find all the versions just by following the in-page interlanguage links (which you of course need to include for the users anyway; although perhaps that is not quite so obvious that it need not be mentioned). –  Ilmari Karonen Mar 1 '13 at 18:13
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