Is a Subdomain or Subdirectory Better for SEO?
To shed light on the ongoing debate of subdomains versus subdirectories for SEO, we’ve gathered insights from ten industry professionals, including CEOs and digital marketing specialists. Their perspectives range from a preference for subdirectories over subdomains to the idea that site needs determine subdomain and subdirectory use. Dive into these diverse viewpoints to make an informed decision about your website’s SEO strategy.
- Preference for Subdirectories Over Subdomains
- Content Determines Subdomain or Subdirectory Use
- Subdirectories Are the Superior SEO Choice
- Balancing Pros and Cons of Subdomains/Subdirectories
- Brand Diversification Benefits of Subdomains
- SEO Goals Influence Subdomain/Subdirectory Choice
- Website Goals Dictate Subdomain/Subdirectory Decision
- Subdomains and Subdirectories Have Different SEO Strategies
- Trade-offs in Subdomain vs Subdirectory Choice
- Site Needs Determine Subdomain/Subdirectory Use
Preference for Subdirectories Over Subdomains
From my experience, a subdomain is almost always the wrong answer; it’s the compromise. A subdomain is a separate website. Compared to a subdirectory, SEO activities will require more effort for subdomains. However, for technical reasons, it might occasionally be easier to separate.
I prefer a subdirectory because the root domain is deeply linked to a directory. The root domain’s SEO “power” will be more helpful to you. And while Google claims to have no preference between the two, I have found greater success with subdirectories than with subdomains. This is also true for most of my networks in the SEO industry.
Content Determines Subdomain or Subdirectory Use
Using subdomains is not the best strategy to improve your root domain’s SEO, but it depends on some factors. Is the subdomain serving the same content as the primary site? If yes, it is better if you host it in a subdirectory. Google treats subdomains as separate domains, and you can lose traffic.
Some years ago, I worked for a client who moved the blog from a subdirectory to a subdomain. The traffic dropped by 30% after two months, even with all the redirects set in place.
Even if your website is new and you opt for a subdomain from the start, you’ll be losing out on a lot of SEO opportunities that a subdirectory offers. For starters, you’ll need to focus on two domains and improve their SEO metrics, not to mention the maintenance of cross-subdomain tracking with conversions.
Subdirectories are better if the subdirectory content is within the same niche/topic as the parent domain. However, if it’s another niche, host it on a subdomain or a separate domain.
Subdirectories: The Superior SEO Choice
Specifically for SEO, subdirectories are the way to go. The major reason you’ll want to avoid subdomains, especially for SEO, is because search engines see subdomains as separate websites. So, all the authority built up for your domain won’t be passed over, whereas subdirectories can benefit from site-wide authority.
Not only will authority pass over to subdirectories, but any links earned through your subdirectories will contribute to your overall site-wide authority. If you start with a subdomain, you’d practically be starting from scratch.
Balancing Pros and Cons of Subdomains/Subdirectories
Google does not favor one option over the other. However, there are some pros and cons to using each method. Google can treat this subdomain as a separate site, so the number of backlinks should be allocated to a separate domain. However, this point is negated if you set up internal linking correctly.
A subdomain is more difficult to manage from a technical point of view. Also, each subdomain requires a separate robots.txt and sitemap.xml.
To determine which is better, analyze the niche in which you work or will work. From our experience, we see that projects, for example, in the iGaming niche, use the subfolder option more often. And in the essay writing niche, they use a subdomain more often.
Therefore, make the final decision from the SEO point of view after analyzing your competitors. If there are two options, choose the solution that will be easier for you and your developers to manage.
Brand Diversification Benefits of Subdomains
Using subdomains allows for brand diversification and a distinct online presence, positively affecting brand visibility. This can indirectly contribute to SEO efforts by expanding reach and increasing exposure. For example, a clothing retailer may create subdomains for different product categories like shoes.example.com or shirts.example.com, enhancing their overall online presence and potentially attracting more targeted organic traffic.
SEO Goals Influence Subdomain/Subdirectory Choice
Whether a subdomain (blog.domain.com) is better than a subdirectory (domain.com/blog/) or vice versa totally depends on what you want to achieve in terms of SEO and website accessibility.
Many SEOs still believe that subfolders (/subdirectories) are better than subdomains for SEO results, as Google may treat your subdomain as a separate domain.
However, the officials of Google, John Muller, and Matt Cutts confirmed multiple times that Google treats both URL paths similarly.
So, the preference of choosing one over another should be based on configuration, CMS compatibility, and ease of management.
Another reason is that you will rarely find an SEO case study where migrating to a subfolder from a subdirectory increases traffic without even adding new content or internal links.
In short, choose a subdirectory if you’re publishing content related to your main domain. And, create a subdomain when you want to host content different from the major theme of your site, such as knowledge.
Website Goals Dictate Subdomain/Subdirectory Decision
The choice between subdomains and subdirectories depends on your specific website goals, structure, and resources. Although subdirectories have distinct advantages over subdomains for SEO, they leverage the main domain’s authority, enhancing trust and credibility.
The link equity and internal linking benefit from being part of the main domain, contributing to better crawlability. In terms of local SEO, subdirectories gain relevance and visibility by leveraging the main domain’s authority.
They also offer easier content organization and provide a consistent branding experience. With mobile responsiveness and future scalability, subdirectories present a compelling option for maximizing SEO benefits.
Subdomains and Subdirectories: Different SEO Strategies
Is a subdomain or subdirectory better for SEO?
Subdomains are treated as separate entities by search engines. For example, a subdomain like “blog.example.com” is considered a different website from “example.com.”
Subdomains can be helpful if your website has different sections that require a separate identity or have distinct purposes, such as a blog, a store, or a community forum.
Subdomains provide the opportunity to target specific keywords or audience segments. They can have their own branding, content, and SEO strategies.
They require different SEO strategies, backlink profiles, and marketing efforts.
Subdirectories are part of the main domain and share its authority and resources. For example, “example.com/blog” is a subdirectory within the main domain.
They don’t require separate hosting, domain configuration, or content management systems.
Subdirectories can benefit from the main domain’s overall domain authority and backlinks.
Trade-offs in Subdomain vs Subdirectory Choice
The choice between a subdomain and a subdirectory for SEO involves trade-offs. Subdomains offer flexibility, allowing for separate branding and targeting different audiences. However, they require individual SEO efforts and may dilute domain authority.
Subdirectories inherit domain authority, contribute to overall SEO performance, and streamline management since they are part of the same website structure. Consider your goals and priorities when deciding.
If creating a distinct brand or targeting different audiences is crucial, choose a subdomain. If maintaining strong domain authority and efficient management are priorities, opt for a subdirectory. Make a decision that aligns with your long-term SEO strategy.
Site Needs Determine Subdomain/Subdirectory Use
Both options have their advantages, and the choice depends on your site’s specific situation and needs.
If your website runs on a single server with limited resources, then subdirectories may be a better option because they allow more content per directory entry. Besides this, if your site is moved or renamed, files and directories will be transferred seamlessly with no downtime.
If you own multiple servers or use a host that allows unlimited storage for a website, subdomains may be the best option. This is because each domain has its own directory, making SEO easier since there is a smaller amount of competition in terms of keywords.
However, be aware that Google penalties apply, so always ensure that your website’s content is up-to-date and Google’s guidelines are followed. By doing this, you can make sure that navigating and finding your site is easy and will cause a higher click-through rate (CTR) as well as improved traffic.
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