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I am in the process of translating a set of websites to multiple languages. Would there be any negative implications if I were to serve each different language from identical URLs?

I fully intend to fully implement translated URLs, hreflang meta tags, etc. But before I do that (and start risking making a mistake where Google might start seeing duplicate content) I'd like to be able to implement the translations to make sure everything "works" OK.

But will Google see that as "cloaking" or something else "black hat" because I'm serving different content from the same URL?

Just to be clear, the language would be selected by a POST form, set a session variable for the user, and then use that session variable for the rest of the session.

Edit I'm aware of the best practices for multilingual sites. I just don't want to implement them all at this time. It's a large project, so I'll be doing it in phases. I mostly want to know if I could be penalized by Google in any way.

Also, the websites sniff the users Browser language, and if we have that translation will serve it to them seamlessly. If we don't have that language, they'll get the English default.

share|improve this question
It's possible to have different languages served from different files using server-side code, based on the browser's language headers, and this might be the best approach to use for SEO purposes. – Blazemonger Apr 16 '13 at 18:44
Also, this is recent: googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2013/04/… – Blazemonger Apr 17 '13 at 14:38
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here's Google's own tips for multilingual sites. In summary:

  • Make sure the page language is obvious by sticking to one language per page.

  • Keep the content for different languages on separate URLs. Don’t use cookies to show translated versions of the page. Consider cross-linking each language version of a page.

  • Tell Google if your site is targeting a particular geographic region.

  • Use robots.txt to block search engines from crawling automatically translated pages on your site.

share|improve this answer
Thanks, I'm aware of the best practices in this regard. I just don't care :) The real reason I'm asking is because I'd like to do this translation project in "phases", and I'm concerned about losing position for high ranking English URLs in the process, mostly. I've tried to clarify my question in an edit. – nathangiesbrecht Apr 16 '13 at 19:10
If you ignore Google's guidelines, you risk being penalized. I can't tell you when or if you will be penalized. – Blazemonger Apr 16 '13 at 19:57
@nathangiesbrecht I think the information to answer you question is here. If you implement things Google considers and documents as non-optimal, whether you care or not, you should nevertheless do so knowing there's a possibility of harming your rankings. If your site has value you wish to preserve or enhance, test on a development site, not a public one. – GDav Apr 16 '13 at 20:57

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