Telling Google what pages to serve up for specific markets and languages is an area that has really come on in recent years. There are also a few “gotchas” which I have come across while working with Lionbridge and reviewing the international presence of clients.
The first approach is to use ccTLDs, this means using a .co.uk for targeting the UK, .fr for targeting France etc. This is a useful approach but when trying to market globally there is one major thing to be aware of – that approach is market specific. If you want to target German speakers in Austria or Switzerland then using a .de domain is not the best approach.
The second approach is using subdomains and this is discussed in other articles, but I am going to ignore it as I can’t think of a good reason for this approach.
The third approach is using subdirectories such as www.domainname.com/en-gb/. This is my favourite approach as it is easy to manage, great from a licencing perspective but does require specific steps.
First you need to decide whether to target users via language or market / language combination. You need to decide what languages you want to target and what your fall-back situation is when a user speaks one of the languages you have available, but is not in one of your target markets, and also when a user falls outside of the languages you specify.
Next step is to replicate the structure of your site in Google Search Console. By this I mean setting up an account at “root” level as well as at each level you are targeting by setting up an account for each main directory e.g. www.domainname.com/en-gb/. Once you have setup the account at root level and verified it, you will not have to verify for each region. For each of these market level accounts you go into Google Search Console, go to Search Traffic / International Targeting, click on the Country tab and select the country you are targeting with this directory.
I usually combine this approach with the use of hreflang to ensure Google is clear what language market combination I am targeting. This is particularly useful when you have numerous versions of a page in the same language but for different markets.
The subdirectory approach is clean, easy to manage and relatively cheap, but in order for it to work properly, you need to ensure the site is properly structured and Google SC reflects that structure.
There are other ways of emphasising to Google that a page is for a specific market, market specific links for a market specific page, the correct language and the right keywords for that market, contact details, currency, html tag but if you are doing it all under a single domain, using subdirectories then you need to ensure the site structure is appropriate and this structure is reflected in the Google SC setup.
For info, I am using this article to test another way….. embedding the codes into the language change tool. Just using the above ul to see if GSC will show the codes.