Before making changes to your website structure, you must consider the impact it could have on search rankings and user experience.
Google Search Advocate John Mueller recently shared valuable advice on this subject in a Reddit thread.
With his recommendations, you can learn how to simplify your website structure without affecting its SEO.
Read on to learn more about Mueller’s advice and how it can help you achieve your website simplification goals.
Removing Subdirectories – Good Or Bad Idea?
A Reddit user asked about streamlining their site structure by retiring /fr and /de subdirectories.
Instead, they would direct all European traffic to the /eu subdirectory.
They ask if that’s a good or bad idea and seek information about its impact on SEO and rankings.
Mueller advises not to retire the subdirectories and shift everything to /eu, saying it’s a lot of work with nothing to gain.
Instead, he suggests moving “/” (en-us) into a “/us” folder, which allows for more precise separation of the parts. This way, “/” is all US, “/fr/*” is all French, and so on.
Additionally, he recommends adding hreflang on all pages, not just sections, to pages that get confused the most by wrong country visitors.
“My recommendation would be not to shift /de & /fr into /eu/de or /eu/fr. There’s no SEO advantage you’d get from that, and site-moves like this are a lot of work. If anything, I might consider moving “/” (en-us) into a “/us” folder. That way you have clearer separation of the parts (”/us/” is all US, “/fr/*” is all French, etc). It would make tracking a bit easier, and make it easier for search engines to understand the sections (vs moving /fr into /eu/fr, which would make it even harder to understand sections).
Also, hreflang is on a per-page basis, so you would do it on all pages. You mentioned it as being sections, and perhaps you’re already doing it properly, so this is just for completeness. If you’re not doing it on all pages, I’d consider checking your stats for pages that get confused the most (wrong country visitors), and at least add it there. Chances are this is mostly your homepage, so if you’re only doing it there, you’re probably getting a lot of the value of hreflang already.”
The Importance of X-Default
Mueller highlights the importance of x-default, especially when doing geo-IP redirects.
His advice is to make sure that the root homepage redirects to the appropriate version and that it’s specified as the x-default for the set of homepages.
Without doing this, to Google, it can look like the root homepage is a separate page from the others.
Setting the root homepage as the x-default will avoid this issue and allow Google to see it as the default for specific countries.
“And … if you do any of this and automatically redirect “/” (just the root homepage) to the appropriate version, you must make sure that it’s specified as the x-default for the set of homepages. Without doing that, to Google it can look like “/” is a separate page from the others.
(edit to elaborate only on that last part… – this is specifically if you have /us for US, and do geo-IP redirects, which I generally don’t recommend)
If for US users, “/” (just that page) redirects to “/us”, AND you have hreflang across /us, /fr with x-default assigned to /us, what can happen is that Google sees “/” as being an English page, also recognizes /us, /fr as separate pages, and then shows both “/” and “/(one of the others” in the search results. You can avoid this by setting “/” as the x-default (even if it redirects). Then Google will see “/” as the default “/us” for US, “/fr” for France.
This also means that you can’t have “/eu” as x-default (there can only be one #highlander #xdefault), but you can still use that by specifying it as hreflang for a bunch of your common countries (you can specify multiple countries per URL). So in the end you’d have “/” = x-default, “/us” for US, “/fr” for France, “/eu” for a bunch of countries, and redirect from “/” to the best version.
All of this is only for the homepage, I wouldn’t do it for any of the other pages of the site because it’s so complex & hard to manage, and because the homepage is probably the page that gets the most search impressions.”
More On Geo-Redirects
Regarding geo-redirects, Mueller advises using them only on the main homepage of the website and not on any of the other pages.
This helps to simplify the process for users typing in the domain name to find the closest match to their location and allows them to easily click on a different country to access that version of the website.
There are alternative options to geo-redirects, such as dynamically changing the language of the homepage, but this approach can add more complexity to the website.
Another option is to use a country-picker on the homepage, but this can negatively affect usability, particularly if there are many countries to choose from.
If you want to simplify your website structure, it’s best not to do it by shifting subdirectories around.
In this case, a website owner wanted to shift /de and /fr into /eu/de or /eu/fr.
Instead, Mueller said they should consider moving “/*” (en-us) into a “/us” folder, adding hreflang on all pages, and specifying the root homepage as the x-default for the set of homepages.
This will help avoid confusion among search engines and make it easier for them to understand the website’s different sections.
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