In SEO conversations, the debate over subdomains versus subdirectories has persisted for quite some time. The question remains: which one is better for SEO?
There’s curiosity about whether transitioning a blog or eCommerce store from a subdomain to a subdirectory is a wise move. Could it potentially increase your ranking on Google and other search engines?
Moreover, what stance does Google take on this matter, and how does it assess and prioritize the content within a subdirectory compared to a subdomain, or vice versa?
To help clear up those questions and make things easier to understand, let’s dive into the difference between a subdomain and a subfolder. We’ll explain what they are, how they function, and provide some real-life examples to illustrate the SEO advantages they offer.
What is the Difference between a Subdomain vs. Subdirectory?
Think of a subdirectory like a file cabinet full of folders. Each folder holds different stuff, but they all stay in the same cabinet. That’s why we call them “subfolders” too.
In a subdirectory setup, the subdirectory comes after the main website address. Let’s take GREAT Guest Posts as an example. Their website is greatguestposts.com. If you’re signing up, you’ll find the form at greatguestposts.com/signup. And if you’re keen on becoming an SEO reseller, head over to greatguestposts.com/signup/pickrole.
You can keep creating subdirectories indefinitely until you’ve nested all of your desired material. (Not that you should, but you could. (More on why you shouldn’t dig too deep later.)
When considering a subdomain structure, it’s like having separate websites in each folder. Each subdomain operates independently, with its own content management and statistics. Unlike folders, subdomains don’t nest within each other but sit alongside.
Subdomains come before the root domain in the URL, not after. Although The Hoth doesn’t use subdomains, if it did, they might look like this:
Did you notice the change? Instead of all folders stemming from the main domain URL, each now has its own domain and sits on an equal footing.
They don’t have subdirectories (or very few if they do), focusing solely on one aspect of the overall whole. Think of it like each folder having its own filing cabinet, rather than all being crammed into one.
Subdomains serve various purposes, common across different organizations, companies, or businesses, such as:
- Blog sites. (One of the more controversial topics of the discussion.)
- Mobile sites. Mobile content is structured far differently than desktop content.
- Intra and international websites
- eCommerce sites
- Forms of different type
A subdirectory is just another page on a website, while a subdomain is like a separate website altogether.
Subdirectories always come after the main domain URL, like greatguestposts.com/blog, while subdomains come before the main domain URL, such as blog.greatguestposts.com.
Be Wary of Using Too Many Subdirectories
As mentioned earlier, you have the freedom to organize your website using subdirectories or subfolders. However, having an excessive number of subfolders isn’t advisable. This serves two main purposes: enhancing user experience and facilitating search engine crawlers.
Firstly, let’s consider user experience. The best websites prioritize seamless navigation for visitors, ensuring easy access to new content and information. Yet, when you create too many subdirectories, you risk complicating the user experience. Each additional click required for online searchers makes navigation progressively more challenging.
When you use many subfolders, your URL can become very long. This might confuse visitors, making them more likely to leave your site. It’s game over.
Next up are the search engine crawlers. When you keep adding subdirectories, it gets harder for crawlers to find new content because they have to go deeper. (Do web crawlers ever get tired?)
To avoid harming your SEO and risking the loss of visitors, clients, and sales, it’s best not to delve too deeply into subfolders. While it’s okay to use them occasionally, overdoing it can be detrimental.
By keeping your URL string short and limiting the number of subdirectories, you make it easier to market specific web pages.
Maintaining a concise URL structure ensures that the page authority you establish remains closely linked to the root URL domain, which is essential for achieving high rankings on search engines like Google.
Why and When Should you Use a Subdomain rather than a Subdirectory (Subfolder)?
When it comes to comparing subdomains vs subdirectories, a common point of contention arises: if subdirectories are superior for SEO, user experience, and search engine web crawlers, why even consider subdomains?
The reason is that there are instances where having a subdomain is actually advantageous, and in some cases, necessary. Take, for example, a scenario where your company boasts a substantial amount of online content, making it impractical to host everything on a single website.
In such a scenario, utilizing multiple subdomains helps distribute the content, enabling searchers to find what they’re looking for more efficiently.
Disney serves as an excellent example. With its vast content, consolidating everything onto one domain would likely create the world’s largest website. Consequently, Disney has segmented its content into subdomains, aiding its numerous consumers, clients, subscribers, and searchers in finding what they need.
Hence, Disney features subdomains for its videos, parks, and diverse properties such as Marvel, Pixar, and Fox. Notably, Google perceives each subdomain as a distinct entity or website. Disney manages to interlink them all, facilitating connections from one to another.
Let’s delve deeper into the various reasons for using subdomains, as mentioned briefly earlier. We’ll explore them in detail below:
Blogs often stir up debate when it comes to the subdirectory versus subdomain dilemma. While many argue for the effectiveness of placing blogs in a subdirectory, supported by statistics, others opt for a subdomain approach, especially when managing multiple content campaigns.
Interestingly, there’s a way to combine both strategies by serving a subdomain as a subfolder, offering the advantages of both. Subdomains also play a crucial role in building authority within niche specialties.
Many businesses that offer a variety of services and products often choose to set up their eCommerce website on a subdomain. This makes it simpler for customers to navigate and purchase items.
Sometimes, it’s necessary because the eCommerce site uses code that doesn’t work well with their main domain.
Depending on the products or services you offer, having a support website as a subdomain might be a better choice. This decision is usually based on differences in site layout but could also stem from a need to separate the support section from the main site.
Multiple Geographic Regions
Lots of companies split their operations into different national and international locations using subdomains. This often happens because of language differences in various regions. Sometimes, it’s also because of geographical and cultural distinctions.
For example, let’s say a company has offices on the east coast, west coast, and midwest. They might opt for subdomains to keep things organized. Similarly, if a company operates in the United States, Germany, and Hong Kong, they might do the same thing.
This last category usually involves big companies like Microsoft. Since they have lots of events and venues, it’s better for them to have their events page as a subdomain rather than a subdirectory.
A Website Can have Both Subdomains and Subdirectories
Before we move forward, it’s important to understand that a website can have both subdirectories and subdomains. However, a subdomain typically has fewer subfolders compared to a subdirectory. This is because the content depth and breadth are usually smaller.
What Effect do Subdirectories and Subdomains have on SEO?
We saved the crux of the debate between subfolders and subdomains for last.
The toughest choice lies in figuring out which one gives the best SEO outcomes. Why is it tough? Because Google says both are on par, yet data indicates that subfolders tend to get more traffic from Google, leading to superior SEO outcomes and higher rankings.
Many SEO experts argue that Google’s web crawlers often mistake subdomains for entirely distinct websites, which poses SEO challenges regarding page authority, links, and more. Most importantly, they assert that this classification as a separate site significantly affects their Google page rank.
According to Google, they say their crawlers treat subdomains just like subfolders, except for a small delay. In a well-known video, Google’s search advocate, John Mueller, states that “Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories.”
SEO professionals have highlighted a different perspective in recent years. Many cases show that blogs previously on subdomains saw a significant increase in organic traffic upon migrating to subdirectories.
While subdomains may suit certain situations, subdirectories seem more favorable for smaller businesses. They’re ideal for those with limited content, lower budgets, and fewer verticals to manage.
In most cases, using a subdirectory structure is better for organizations and businesses compared to relying solely on subdomains. Subdirectories can provide user experience, increase rankings, and improve SEO outcomes.
However, subdomains still play an important role, especially for hosting things like forms, service centers, or niche-specific blogs aimed at targeting different audiences.
If you still have questions about the difference between subdomains and subdirectories, don’t hesitate to reach out.