Should you use non-English alphabet characters in your URLs?

We recently published a webinar special, looking into the challenges with International SEO and how that impacts areas such as website structure, content and brand strategy.

Today we’re zeroing in on one of the topics discussed as part of the webinar: Should you use non-English alphabet characters in your URLs?

Jump straight this question in the webinar video below:


DAVID BAIN: Okay. I think that’s great, and it’s really useful for the viewers to actually list a couple of companies that you think are doing a good job. Then they can obvious go away and check out these websites. So if anything else, any other website comes to mind as good examples for the next few moments, feel free to think about it and mention that as well. I think that would be good resources as well. One other thing I wanted to discuss was the actual characters within a domain name, because it can perhaps be problematic to have non-English – I think they’re called ASCII characters – within a domain name or a USL structure as well. I saw you nodding away there, Lukasz. What are your thoughts on that one?

LUKASZ ZELEZNY: So, when asked who is responsible for .PL domain with the ability to use Polish characters. We have a couple of Polish characters which define special sounds for use in the Polish language. Then the trend becomes that people really wanted to have both versions. So you had the version with only the standard alphabet, plus the version with the special characters.

Some words in Polish don’t have the special words, like in Germany you’ve got umlaut, and so on and so on. So that’s easier, but when you could protect both, let’s say the word…let me think about the word. The word ‘Future in Polish. There are two letters; esh and ch, which are S with a little dash, and C with a little dash.

So the perfect situation would be to protect both, Polish pronunciation, and simplify English letters, pronunciation, or nothing, letters or pronunciation. I never, in my career, saw a website which is using only domain with the country code correctors, because the majority of users will still be using this version without phonetic correctors, the national correctors. So protect both or protect the alpha, the standard correctors version domain. That’s my answer.

DAVID BAIN: Okay. Michael F, can you it changing in the future, so that all the international characters that are out there actually are commonly used within domain names and URLs? Or do you think it’s unlikely to be the case?

MICHAEL FLEISCHNER: Personally for me, I think it’s unlikely. If it does happen, I think it will take some time. I think the other dynamic that’s happening as well, which we all have to be aware of, is within countries today, multiple languages are spoken, there are different dialects. So it can be a pretty complex thing to try to simplify through a localised URL-type structure. So it may change, I don’t want to say that it won’t, but I definitely agree with Lukasz.

Just adding on to what he’s saying, I think protecting not only your domain names in alpha characters, but if there is some sort of local option available… I’m not saying you need to go out and build a separate website, but I’m a big fan of protecting especially your brand name. So I definitely recommend that for listeners, to make sure that if there is something that you do need to localise, you’re essentially acquiring the mark for that, or you’re purchasing the top-level domain, or whatever the case may be.

DAVID BAIN: Michael B, if you’re selecting URLs and letters within those URLs, is it fine just to actually use the English language to base those letters from for countries all over the world? Or would you go for local lettering yourself?

MICHAEL BONFILS: I agree with both Lukasz and Michael, and I agree whole-heartedly. The only thing I’d really have to add is, in China you’ve got what’s called Pinion. Actually there’s two things I want to add. Number one is, China has Pinion. So Pinion is using Latin words, and Latin words, the browsers are in China, and actually most browsers will take Pinion and convert it to the characters. So it automatically does it. So Pinion by far works great in China, it’s highly recommended.

Number two is, if you’re a small, local company and you never plan on expanding out of Poland, I guess it would be okay to have your characters in there. Maybe it matches your business, you’ve got a special character that’s not in the English language. I’m a small company, I’m never going to go anywhere else, people know me as this, and it probably is fine. It’s not a best practice, because most people don’t search that way. Maybe they’re using a keyboard that’s not Polish, and they’re using an English keyboard. They don’t want to go through the trouble of finding the symbol, but it is possible.

Remember to watch the full international SEO webinar recording here.

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