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Subdomain vs Subdirectory - What is Better for SEO?

Choosing between subdomains or subdirectories (subfolders) and what is better for SEO can significantly impact your website's structure and visibility. Should you use a subdirectory for your blog content that's different from your main site? Can it be on another subdomain, or should it be? What's the use of a subdomain, anyway?

Understanding the nuances of these architecture choices can be vital.

As we delve into the advantages and drawbacks of each, we'll shed light on a crucial aspect often overlooked – the impact on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), search rankings, and organic traffic.

subdomain vs subdirectory

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Subdomains vs. Subdirectories

In the landscape of website architecture, the terms "subdomains" and "subdirectories" play pivotal roles in determining how content is organized and accessed. Let's break down the essence of these structures to help you make informed decisions about your website's framework.

Using a Subdomain

A subdomain is a hierarchical part of your main domain that operates as a distinct entity, allowing for the creation of separate sections with unique content or functionalities. It is denoted by a prefix added to the main domain and is often used to organize and categorize different aspects of a website. Subdomains can be highly versatile, accommodating diverse content such as blogs, forums, or specialized services. For example, if your main domain is "yourwebsite.com," a subdomain could be "blog.yourwebsite.com" or "store.yourwebsite.com."

One notable characteristic of subdomains is their ability to function independently, often treated as separate websites by web servers and content management systems. This independence can be advantageous when managing different business components or when aiming to create a clear distinction between various services or content types.

Subdomains are particularly common in scenarios where each section requires a unique design, structure, or branding. For instance, an e-commerce platform might use a subdomain for its online store to provide a tailored shopping experience separate from the main website.

 

Using a Subdirectory

In contrast, a subdirectory, also referred to as subfolder, involves the creation of folders or directories within the main domain, providing a more straightforward and unified structure for organizing content. These directories are part of the main website's URL and are reflected in the path that follows the domain. For instance, if your root domain is "yourwebsite.com," a subdirectory could be "yourwebsite.com/blog" or "yourwebsite.com/products."

Subdirectories foster a cohesive user experience by keeping all content under the umbrella of the main domain. This makes navigation more intuitive, as visitors can explore different sections seamlessly. From a management perspective, subdirectories are often easier to maintain because they are inherently connected to the main website's infrastructure, simplifying tasks like updates, backups, and overall website administration.

The choice between subdomains and subdirectories often hinges on the nature of the content and the desired user experience. Subdirectories are preferred when aiming for a unified website structure, while subdomains offer more flexibility for distinct, independently functioning sections.

Key Differences Between Subdomains and Subdirectories:

URL structure:

  • Subdomains add a prefix to the main domain (e.g., blog.yourwebsite.com).

  • Subdirectories extend the main domain through folders (e.g., yourwebsite.com/blog).

Independence:

  • Subdomains operate with a certain level of independence, often treated as separate entities.

  • Subdirectories maintain a more interconnected relationship with the main domain.

Flexibility:

  • Subdomains offer flexibility for diverse content types or services.

  • Subdirectories excel in maintaining a unified structure suitable for cohesive content.

Before we walk you through which option may be the best fit for your website, it’s essential to understand the SEO implications of both formats. 

What is Better for SEO?

Advantages of Subdomains

Improved User Experience and Targeted Content

Subdomains allow for the creation of specialized sections, each with its design and functionality. This can enhance the user experience by providing a tailored environment for specific content types or services. For example, a company with diverse offerings might use subdomains to separate its blog, e-commerce platform, and customer support, providing visitors with a focused and user-friendly experience in each area.

Potential for Improved Visibility

In some cases, search engines may treat subdomains as distinct entities, potentially leading to increased visibility in search results. This separation can be advantageous when optimizing for specific keywords or targeting different audiences with distinct content strategies.

Advantages of Subdirectories

Simplicity and Cohesiveness

Subdirectories, by design, maintain a more unified structure as they operate within the main domain. This cohesion can contribute to a seamless user journey, where visitors can navigate between different sections without switching between subdomains. From an SEO standpoint, this simplicity can positively impact user engagement metrics like organic click-through rates, which search engines consider when determining rankings.

According to many SEO experts, subdirectories are considered more SEO-friendly than subdomains. While search engines like Google treat subdomains as separate entities, subdirectories are considered part of the main domain. Any effort put into building backlinks or internal linking and improvements in domain authority is more likely to benefit all content under the main domain, including those in subdirectories. The distribution of link equity throughout the domain is a major advantage. Additionally, subdirectories can allow for simplified management and technical SEO, as everything is neatly organized under one domain umbrella, resulting in fewer technical challenges.


Ease of Management and Scalability

Managing content within subdirectories is often more straightforward than dealing with multiple subdomains. This simplicity extends to tasks such as updates, backups, and overall website maintenance. Additionally, as your website grows, the scalability of subdirectories becomes a practical advantage, providing a streamlined approach to organizing an expanding volume of content.

Choosing Between the Two

The SEO implications of choosing between a subdirectory or subdomain are multifaceted, encompassing user experience, visibility, management efficiency, and data analysis considerations. While subdomains offer flexibility for distinct sections, they come with challenges related to data consolidation. On the other hand, subdirectories provide a cohesive structure that is easier to manage and scale.

According to numerous SEO experts, there is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of hosting content on subdomains, particularly regarding ranking on Google. Subdomains may not receive the full benefit of backlinks that the main domain has accumulated over time. This is because Google treats subdomains as separate websites, crawling and indexing them independently. Consequently, improving subdomain content rankings may require investing significant time and effort into acquiring backlinks for each subdomain. Without this additional effort, subdomain content may not rank as well as if hosted on subdirectories.

Furthermore, maintaining a website with multiple subdomains can be challenging. It may result in duplicate content or improper interlinking between the main domain and its subdomains. These errors can negatively impact website rankings and user experience.

Additionally, analyzing data for SEO reports can become more complex when dealing with multiple subdomains. Merging data effectively may require additional tools or settings. For these reasons, many SEO experts recommend using subdirectories instead of subdomains.

Ultimately, the decision between subdomains and subdirectories should align with your website's structure and business goals. Consider whether your content requires distinct, specialized sections or a more unified structure to determine the best option for your website.

Choosing between subdomains and subdirectories is a pivotal decision that hinges on aligning your website structure with your unique business goals. To make an informed choice, consider the following factors:

  • Website goals and content structure: Clearly define your website's overarching goals. If your content spans diverse and independent categories, subdomains might be suitable for creating distinct, specialized sections. On the other hand, if your content is cohesive and interconnected, subdirectories offer a more unified structure. For example, a blog, an e-commerce platform, and informational pages might benefit from subdirectories, maintaining a seamless user experience.

  • Scalability and ease of management: Evaluate the scalability of your website. Subdirectories are often favored for their simplicity in managing content and website administration. If you foresee a growing volume of content, products, or services, the ease of scalability offered by subdirectories can be a practical advantage. This ensures your website structure remains manageable and organized as your business expands.

So, "Which should I choose?" According to Google, the answer is that it depends on your website architecture and management requirements and needs, not SEO.

Google has repeatedly said that it is equally fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories (from an SEO perspective).

 

By aligning your decision with your business objectives and considering scalability, you can create a website structure that meets current needs and sets the foundation for future growth, helping you increase traffic and lead conversions.

 

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Subdomain vs. Subdirectory FAQs

Can a subdirectory be on a different server or host?

No.

Unless pages are behind a load balancer or a proxy, and located in the same LAN, you can't separate the directories into different servers as Domain Name Servers (DNS) make the IP decision before the directory selection.

 

Michael
Michael
Michael is a Designer/Front-End Developer with a focus in Growth Driven Design (GDD). With 7 years of experience in the industry, he works in the HubSpot, WordPress, and Shopify CMS environments crafting beautiful, functional, and responsive websites with a focus on user experience and user journey. When not applying his passion for GDD, you can find him playing with his kids or kayaking the rivers of Texas and beyond.
 

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