One SEO professional, during the Question and Answer segment in a recent hangout, asked John about locale-specific URLs.
Their main question was: Google documentation shows that using parameters for locale-specific URLs is suboptimal. The reason behind this is because users might not recognize geo-targeting from the URL. They were curious if Search Console-based geo-targeting is possible.
However, there is also nothing listed that would indicate parameter, locale-specific URLs would cause issues with crawling, indexing, or ranking.
Their question was: do URLs such as this present any real issue for Googlebot?
John explained that there are several things that fall into these considerations – both in the graph and the document also.
On the one hand – from a crawling perspective, these kinds of URLs are perfectly fine. For the most part, if Google can tell that the parameters that you’re specifying – for example, one like locale=JA-JP – are useful parameters, then Google will try to crawl and index all of these pages individually.
On the other hand, if these locale parameters that are being specific are a lot of different locales, and then when you load the page it says “Oh, we don’t know this language – here’s the English version, then our systems may learn that actually – this locale parameter is not so useful, and Google will begin to ignore it.
So this is one of those things that John recommends watching out for.
The other thing to watch out for are the cons of geo-targeting.
In Search Console, you can do geo-targeting by subdomain, by the main domain itself, and by subdirectory. But you can’t do geo-targeting based on URL parameters.
So if there’s something where you need to have geo-targeting, if you really want to make sure that Google understands the targeting of these pages – you want to make sure that you have some setup that uses at least subdirectories as the local URL structure. That way, you can verify those separately, and set the geo-targeting individually for these pages.
This happens at approximately the 33:33 mark in the video.