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.
John Mueller Hangout Transcript
John (Submitted Question) 33:33
Let’s see, Google documentation shows that using parameters for locale-specific URLs is suboptimal. But none of the cons look like real deal-killers to me. The three cons listed are that segmentation is difficult.
Users might not recognize geo targeting from the URL and Search Console geo targeting is not possible. But there’s nothing listed there that indicates that parameter locale-specific URLs would cause problems in crawling, indexing, or ranking.
So my question is, do URLs like this present any real issue for Googlebot?
John (Answer) 34:09
So I think there are a few things that fall into that, which are kind of in that graph and in the document as well. On the first hand, from a crawling point of view, these kinds of URLs are perfectly fine.
For the most part, if we can tell that the parameters that you’re specifying here, like you have locale=JA-JP, if we can recognize that these parameters are useful parameters, then we will try to crawl and index all of those pages individually.
On the other hand, if these locale parameters that you’re providing are a lot of different locales, and then when you load the page, it says, Oh, we don’t know that language, here’s the English version, then our systems might learn that actually, this locale parameter is not so useful, and we start to ignore it. So that’s kind of the one thing to watch out for there. The other thing that is mentioned in the cons is geo targeting. And in Search Console, you can do geo targeting by subdomain, by the main domain itself, and by subdirectory.
And 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, really want to make sure that Google understands that these pages are actually uniquely targeted for this specific country, then I would really recommend making sure that you have some setup that uses at least subdirectories.
So that you can verify those separately, and set the geo targeting individually for those pages. When it comes to Geo targeting, it isn’t something that you need for all kinds of content. In particular, if it’s something where you have content that changes subtly based on different locations, or if you have content that is essentially just in different languages, then probably you don’t need geo targeting for that.
On the other hand, if it’s something where it’s really unique to that location, and you can tell when users search for something that matches your site, that they’re looking for something local, then geo targeting definitely makes sense.
So for example, if you’re searching for washing machine repair, then probably geo targeting makes sense, because you want someone local. If you’re searching for a washing machine repair manual, then geo targeting doesn’t make any sense at all. Because that manual isn’t specific to that country. It’s something that’s available everywhere.
And that’s kind of the one thing to look at there. Whether or not you actually need geo targeting, or if it’s essentially more the language targeting that you’re trying to do. And for language targeting, having that just in the URL parameter is perfectly fine. Let’s see. I mean, international sites are always tricky.
So it’s also something where I would try to get some help from someone who’s worked on other big international sites, just to make sure that you’re not doing anything. Otherwise, kind of problematic that you might need to watch out for.
The hard part, I think, with language and international sites, in general, is it’s very easy to go down the route of saying, Well, I have all of these countries, all of these languages, I will just create a million versions of my pages.
And then you’re stuck in that situation, again, where you have all of these different versions of pages, and Google has to figure out which ones of these are actually useful. And finding that balance between having fewer pages and having enough to kind of cover the need for your users, that’s sometimes tricky.