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Preface

We have a number of sites that use the same redirect mechanism across the board. We recently transitioned one site from non-localised to localised and detected that the Google+ integration doesn't show up on the search results any more AND the PageRank is gone from 2 to 0.

How the redirect works

  1. If the UA sends a cookie (e.g. lang=en), redirect the user to /language (e.g. /en)
  2. If the UA is a bot (.*bot.*), redirect to /en
  3. If the Accept-Language header contains a usable, non-English language, redirect to /language (English is the default on many browsers in non-English regions)
  4. If there is a valid GeoIP lookup and the detected region is linked to a supported language, redirect to /language
  5. Redirect to /en

We do of course on all pages have the proper markup to indicate the alternate language:

<link hreflang="de" href="/de" rel="alternate" />

As far as we can tell, we follow all publicly available guidelines from Google, so we are a bit at odds if this is a bug in Google or we have done something wrong.

Question

Does not having content on the root URL of a domain adversely affect search engine rankings and if yes, how does one implement a proper language redirection?

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    If you always "#2 redirect [bots] to /en", how does Google index your other language content? – MrWhite Jun 3 '14 at 12:17
  • There are cross links to the other language as well as the "alternate" markup in the head. If you take a look at this video, we are exactly following their rule to serve content to Google we would for US users. – Janos Pasztor Jun 3 '14 at 13:42
  • Do the "cross links" allow Googlebot to crawl the other language versions (without being redirected)? A bit puzzling... that video seems to contradict the GWT guidelines for multilingual sites that states, "Avoid automatic redirection based on the user’s perceived language. These redirections could prevent users (and search engines) from viewing all the versions of your site." - for the simple reason that if Googlebot is only served the US content, then it's only going to index the US content. – MrWhite Jun 3 '14 at 22:24
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First, your PageRank went to 0 because you changed URLs and Google needs to assign PageRank to the new URL. Actually, they have already done this internally, but it won't show up in PageRank checkers and the Google Toolbar until they next refresh the publicly visible data. The last time they did so was in December 2013. All URLs created after that will appear to have zero PageRank.

Redirecting from the root of your domain to a subdirectory is absolutely fine. It sounds like you have thought through the redirect cases carefully. The only one that is worrying to me for SEO is the special case for bots. You might want to remove that particular rule and treat bots just like any other user agent. Google considers any special rule for bots to be "cloaking" and may penalize your site for it. If bots do send appropriate language headers, I don't see why you wouldn't want to redirect them to the most relevant language anyway.

The most important thing about language redirects is that you should never redirect from one language to another. Consider the case of a French user that lands on a German page (/de). You should not automatically redirect to /fr because maybe they:

  • are bilingual and are happy with either
  • have the an inappropriate browser setting (users often install an English browser especially)
  • only speak German but are visiting an internet cafe in France

Preventing users from being able to get the content they want is a big no-no. Instead you can put a notice at the top of the page in a large prominent box that says (in French):

A French version of this page is available. Click here to use it instead.

| improve this answer | |
  • In the long run, your suggestion was correct. The redirect, in fact, did work as expected, the Google index just needed some time to catch up. – Janos Pasztor Jul 21 '14 at 9:24

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