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I'm planning a site with two languages, German and English. I'm wondering whether it's necessary to insert the language code in the URL:

  • example.com/de/
  • example.com/en/

or

  • de.example.com
  • en.example.com

Is it OK to omit language codes as long as I always deliver English and German content within separate URLs?

  • English content: example.com/news
  • German content: example.com/nachrichten

I have already read Google's post but I still don't know if

  1. this has negative effects on SEO, and if
  2. languages are still separated in Google's Search Console?
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    I recommend using the language codes somewhere in the URL. See: How should I structure my URLs for both SEO and localization? The subdomains would allow you to host your German content in Germany and your English content in the UK or US if you chose to do so at some later date. However, that question doesn't address the possibility of using keyword based URLs in the native language. – Stephen Ostermiller Mar 26 '18 at 13:24
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I run a website that has multiple languages without subdomains or language directories, and the site ranks well on Google for many countries. My urls are structured as such: example.com/uno-dos (for Spanish), example.com/one-two (for English).

Google will be able to read the page and determine what language it is in. But it is far better if you can add href lang tags in your header as they help Google understand the language of your page.

Wikipedia uses language.wikipedia.org for separating languages. And this is arguably a far stronger method. For instance, it has en.wikipedia.org and es.wikipedia.org.

One of the clear benefits of using subdomains for your languages is geotargeting in search console. You can set your subdomains to target a specific country with Google, but you cannot set directories of a url for geotargeting. There is conflicting opinions as to how effective search console geotargeting is and whether Google puts much emphasis on it, but the tool is there for a reason.

There are many different styles to structuring language on websites. The 3 that you have mentioned seem to be the primary ways. I would rank the order of most effective as follows:

  1. Subdomains: language.example.com
  2. Directories: example.com/language/
  3. Neither: example.com/page-title
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There could be two kinds of multilanguage sites:

  1. same quantity of content in both languages
  2. most content inone language, some content in second language.

If your site is the type 1, than drive an approach you described (both languages into own subfolder - www.example.com/de/, www.example.com/en/).

If your site is from type 2, than place your most content into the root, and the language version with some content into own subfolder. I.e. if your most content is in german, put it into www.example.com/nachrichten. If you have just a few content in english - place it into www.example.com/en/news/.

On this way you achieve, that the crawler and visitors get your most content on the shortest possible way.

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