The debate between subdomains and subdirectories is one of the most heated in SEO.
Which is preferable for SEO? Does it really make a difference? Should you migrate a blog hosted on a subdomain to a subdirectory? What is Google’s position on this once and for all and all for one?
We have toiled with this question for many years and reached the same conclusion each and every time. It very much depends on what you want to achieve, both now and in the future. But before we get into any real detail let’s look at the distinction between a subdomain and a subdirectory so we are all crystal clear.
But, what exactly is the distinction between a subdomain and a subdirectory?
Well, a subdomain, exists outside of the main domain, within its own domain partition like (https://merch.HostRooster.com). This domain is being used to host a shop in this case.
When looking at a URL, a subdomain will always come before the root domain, whereas a subdirectory will always come after like so (https://HostRooster.com/subdirectory).
Take note that the /blog/ subdirectory (also known as a subfolder) example is within the main domain. It is a page on the main yourdomain.com website, just like any other page. This is, for all intents and purposes, just another page on this website.
“We considered having this shop hosted at (https://HostRooster.com/merch) and then thought about the user experience. Most people who arrive at (https://HostRooster.com) will be looking for cloud computing services. That could be a server, DNS hosting, SSL Certificate or even Web Development within the context of the cloud. If they somehow stumbled across the shop at (https://HostRooster.com/merch) This might throw them off a little as they didn’t come looking to buy merch. But if they want they are can the relevant link to the shop from the about us menu or even at the bottom of the main homepage.”
But why is there such a big difference between subdomains and subdirectories in the SEO world? And is one better than the other in terms of SERPS ranking etc…?
Let’s get one thing straight?
The structure of your website has a significant impact on its organic search performance, period.
The decision of whether to use a subdomain or a subdirectory for specific areas of your site can either help or hinder your ability to drive growth..This is a hard fact of life. Similarly, there are times when hosting a portion of your site on a subdomain makes a whole lot of sense.
This is a classic ‘it depends on the situation….I’m afraid. It is critical that you understand the various use case scenarios and how they can affect the organic performance of your site from the get go. Ok, lets go.
So, where does the ambiguity come from?
This debate is sparked by Google’s both good and bad treatment of subdomains as separate entities from your main domain, owing to the fact that some websites place different content on subdomains that should not be associated with the main site. Or, in some cases, different people control the subdomains of the main domain.
So, a swift return to our previous example:
Google’s algorithm considers yourdomain.com/blog/ to be a subdomain of yourdomain.com.
blog.yourdomain.com is treated as a separate entity rather than as a subdomain of yourdomain.com.
Use case. WordPress.com offers subdomains to users who sign up for a new blog. Each new blog is treated differently by Google. And if you owned a blog at yourblog.wordpress.com you would not want Google to hamstring you for the another customer bad behaviour on another subsite. So you see why Google now considers each sub site a new website on its own merits. For ranking purposes, it’s almost as if the content hosted on the subdomain is hosted on an entirely different domain, and thinking about it in this way can help it become clearer.
This means that Google’s algorithm does not consider the content (and its valuable assets, such as backlinks) hosted on a subdomain when ranking the main domain.
So what is the primary benefit of creating subfolders?
Subfolders are the simplest site structure to set up and understand because they are set up in the same way as any other folder on a website. A subfolder allows you to create content categories, but they are configured differently on servers.
Like HostRooster.com/folder1, HostRooster.com/folder 2,HostRooster.com/folder 3, HostRooster.com/folder3 and so on.
One school of thought is that if each subfolder has relevant content that compliments the main domain’s information, continue to use subfolders as this will help increase SEO search engine ranking. (Example: HostRooster.com/subfolder1. HostRooster.com/subfolder2) That’s because the content in subfolders is considered part of the main apex domain. On the other hand, subdirectories can be useful for smaller websites with a limited amount of content.
So what is the primary benefit of creating subdomains?
If you have a lot of different but essential content to share, subdomains can help you organize and structure your site. One key thing to remember is that each subdomain is considered an entirely new site by search engines like Google. Which basically means that it will need to rank on its own merits. It’s like starting a fresh new website from scratch and building up content to attract visitors. You’ll need to have a whole new SEO and marketing strategy. However, if your main domain has a very high search ranking, then by default the subdomain will benefit from you placing a link on the main apex domain.
What Is Google’s Opinion on Subdomains vs. Subdirectories?
It is not true to say that subdirectories are good for SEO and subdomains are a sin. That is not the case here….
However, we must first understand where the various recommendations come from and how they compare to Google’s recommendations as a whole.
Google’s John Mueller delves into the subdomain vs. subfolder debate. This advice has remained unchanged since being posted.
John states that:
Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories.
— John Mueller, Google
And also that:
We do have to learn how to crawl [subdomains] separately, but for the most part, that’s just a formality for the first few days.
— John Mueller, Google
Just because Google says it’s fine to use subdomains or subdirectories doesn’t mean there aren’t advantages to using one over the other.
Another way to put it:
Will you be penalized if you host your site’s blog on a subdomain? No. But, if that content (and any links) sat there, could it help your main domain rank higher and earn more traffic? Yes!
When content and links are split between a subdomain and the main domain, the overall ‘authority’ of those two entities is lower than if everything was on the main domain (using subdirectories).
That is why, when relevant subdomains are migrated into subfolders on the main domain, it is common to see an increase in overall organic visibility and traffic (when compared to the two viewed separately).
You should also consider future plans for the website?
The best advice on this is to really consider where you intend to take the website in the future. What development plans do you have? You’ll then be able to reference this information, which might be the early stages of a roadmap when making these kinds of decisions. It is far better to get it right from the very beginning than to be faced with having to move content from a subfolder to a subdomain in the future.
Consider the CMS you are using?
If you using WordPress on the main domain and intend to have lots of subfolders. Even if this is a future plan, then consider using WordPress multisite. I’ve learned that it is better to set this up from the beginning rather than trying to convert an older WordPress site later on.
And by the way, converting a WordPress site to multisite is far better than installing individual sub-sites. Consider the maintenance issues later. One benefit of WordPress mu is that all the sites use the same group of plugins across the board. This uses fewer resources on the server. Maintenance is better because when you update themes and plugins, this updates for all the subsites as well.
When you install a WordPress subsite in the subfolder you can immediately create additional security risks for your website. Because if a hacker gains access to the subsite, he will already have access to the main site. In this case, less is more i.e. using WordPress mu.
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