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I'm creating my first multilingual website and I have been looking at examples from other websites. So far I've noticed that many popular websites have a .com version and a kr.example.com or example.co.kr version. I know for a fact that people in that country (in my example it's Korea) still use the regular .com version.

What's the point of having a language-specific URL if the website automatically determines the language and allows a language selection if they determine incorrectly?

  • Are you suggesting that the "language-specific URL" is never used? (Although how would you know that?) – MrWhite May 24 '19 at 15:38
  • Note that the .kr TLD designates the country, not the language. This is important when considering that some languages are spoken in multiple countries and that residents of a country do not necessarily speak its main language. – Tony Aug 20 at 6:57
  • @MrWhite Language-specific URLs are fine, but kr.example.com or example.com/kr/ would be much better than example.co.kr. example.co.kr could exist, but it would better refer to a company that only operates in Korea, or to the Korean branch of an international company, without any assumption on the language. Once you get the distinction between geographic and linguistic concepts right, you can combine them. For example, an English-speaking client living in Korea may order a product on the example.co.kr/en/ website. – Tony Aug 20 at 7:35
  • @Tony Not sure why your comment was addressed to me? I was simply seeking clarification for a point the OP stated in their question, which seemed to imply that the website(s) in question allowed the user to change the language (or the language was auto-selected) without any change in the URL (ie. staying on the example.com host and no language subdirectory for all languages). (I assume this must have been the case, since otherwise there wouldn't be a need for the question. This would suggest a "fault" in the website(s) since language selection should result in a change in the URL.) – MrWhite Aug 21 at 17:01
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Automatic language detection doesn't work well. It is usually based on either the geographic region associated with the IP address or based on the Accept-Language parameter.

  • Geo IP databases are inaccurate for a small (but significant) percentage of users. Probably around 5-10%.
  • Geo IP doesn't work for users that are travelling abroad in a country where they don't speak the language.
  • Geo IP doesn't work for areas where multiple languages are spoken (like areas of Canada where they speak both English and French).
  • Accept-Language often defaults to English as that is the default language in which browsers can be downloaded. Users that speak other languages may not know how to change it, even if they know enough English to use the browser.
  • Accept-Language is often set incorrectly on borrowed devices and in Internet Cafes.

Even if you automatically detect the language, you need to give users a way to force it something else. Having separate URLs for different languages is a good way to do that.

I prefer to use language detection to tell users that another URL might be more appropriate for them. A prominent notification near the top of the page like:

You are currently on our French site, but your browser says you prefer English.

               [ Switch to the English site ]

In addition, search engines don't support a single URL with multiple languages well. Search Engine crawlers typically don't send an Accept-Language header and only see the default language.

Google announced that they are now trying to crawl sites with different languages on the same URL. However, I don't know of any large sites that get good SEO traffic from multiple languages without having a set of URLs for each language.

Even if you have language detection on the .com, having multiple language URL choices is required to ranking in multiple languages on search engines.

For more information see How should I structure my URLs for both SEO and localization?

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To answer your question, language-specific domain is one way to tell google certain pages are relevant for visitors with particular language or country. Thus for SEO purpose, google will only rank those specified pages to your targeted market visitors. In your case, your Korean users will only see its Korean version webpages; it helps improves customer conversion rate.

Beyond,you can use hreflang tag to tell google your multi-lingual site structure. It helps avoid penalty of having redundant content from multiple versions of webpages, and make google only display and rank specified webpages to different targeted countries. For example:

<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/" hreflang="x-default" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/gb/" hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/gb/" hreflang="en-gb" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/au/" hreflang="en-au" />

You can further conduct geo redirect to auto direct your visitors to correct Urls. Without visitors' efforts, it immediately brings local to visitors, and increases conversion.

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