I’ve previously talked about the importance of good website architecture, and how you choose to set up specific areas of your website also plays into this.
Choosing whether to use a subdomain or a subdirectory (also known as a subfolder) can be a big decision and can have a larger impact on your website than you may believe.
There are pros and cons to both URL structures and in this post, I will walk through both approaches and share my thoughts and experience of each.
What is a Subdomain?
A subdomain is a partitioned area of your website that can be used to categorise your website into concentrated individual websites. With a subdomain, you will see the “name” of the subdomain to the left of the domain.
Popular subdomain examples include news.domain.com or blog.domain.com.
In these examples, “news” or “blog” would be the name of the subdomains. Any string of letters can be used in a subdomain.
Use of WWW.
Interestingly, the use of “www.” in your website address is also a type of subdomain. It was traditionally used to show that a website is part of the web, as opposed to other areas of the internet such as FTP. It is not mandatory to use www in your web address.
It was previously, incorrectly, assumed that the use of “www.” makes a difference in your search engine rankings. However, that is not the case, all search engines will rank your website regardless of whether or not you use “www.”
These days, most websites choose to disregard “www.” for branding purposes. They feel that the naked domain is snappier and looks better on promotional material.
So don’t feel that you must use “www.”, in my experience, this is the one type of subdomain that does not appear to have a negative impact on performance.
Advantages and Disadvantages to Subdomains
These are some advantages and disadvantages to using a subdomain so you can make the best decision for you and your site.
Advantages of Subdomains
- A subdomain is seen as an individual site that is hosted on a common domain, so search engines like Google, Yahoo and others see these domains as new and unique and completely unrelated to the root domain – depending on the type of content, this could also be seen as a disadvantage.
- There is a chance of being seen more on Google with subdomains. If you have your main domain and then your subdomains listing near or at the top of Google search results then there is a higher chance viewers will click on your site.
- With a subdomain, you can use target keywords as part of the URL so your audience gets to see the exact purpose of your site.
Disadvantages of Subdomains
- No matter how much love and attention you put into the main domain, it’s unlikely that they will accumulate as much content and link equity as they would if they were part of the main domain under a subfolder.
- Spam websites overuse subdomains meaning that if Google deems your content to be spammy they could be filtered out of some search results.
- Subdomains need to be verified separately in Google Search Console and unless you configure subdomain tracking your track performance they will also be separated in Google Analytics.
What is a Subdirectory?
A subdirectory is basically like a big old filing cabinet from back in the day that has large important folders and then little additional ones within those, all nice and neatly organised to create what a subdirectory is by definition, a directory within a directory (a small additional folder within a large folder).
But what does a modern-day computer need a subdirectory for? Well, computers use subdirectories as a URL format to organise web pages, but they’re also used to construct software systems themselves.
And how do you spot a subdirectory? You will see a forward slash after your domain name. It should look something like this:
Subdirectories are the filing cabinets of all filing cabinets, making sure to keep all of your web pages proactively organised and in the same cabinet as your one primary topic.
Where is best to use subdirectories? If you have content or keywords that are all related to the main site then subdirectories are the best option for you and your web page.
Advantages and Disadvantages to Subdirectories
These are some advantages and disadvantages to using a subdirectory so you can make the best decision for you and your site.
Advantages of Subdirectories
- Optimisation of one streamlined website allows you to focus on optimising that website with subdirectories to its full potential, rather than having many sub-websites all under one domain name.
- Back to our filing cabinet analogue again; in your cabinet, there is a file on codes and having a subdirectory makes it way easier to pull out that codes file and edit it, make changes, or even move it to other locations within the primary domain.
- With subdirectories in place, it makes your viewers’ experience of your website seamless and stress-free, being able to glide from your blog page to your services page with minimal effort.
Disadvantages of Subdirectories
- For the other SEOs out there, the disadvantage to having a subdirectory is if you have a single page in your directory that has bad content or just black hat SEO, this could lead to corruption of the whole site regardless of the other great content on site.
- Repeating the same content over and over in different languages onto one site can lead to you getting in trouble for repetitive or copied content, although correct hreflang set up should rectify this.
Which is Better Subdirectories or Subdomains?
In my personal opinion, I say that subdirectories are overall better. This is because regardless of other peoples opinions and Google themselves saying there is no difference, the data shows otherwise.
When you are migrating from one to another the difference is very clear between the two. For example, last year I migrated from a subdomain to the directory and you can see for yourself what the results proved, the contrast is obvious:
The debate between subfolder and subdomain continues: we recently migrated a client's subdomains back to the original subfolder structure they used 2 years ago and the results were instant. pic.twitter.com/RcfqRR40un— Nikki Halliwell (@NikkiRHalliwell) September 17, 2021
To conclude, I recommend hosting content such as blogs on a subdirectory instead of a subdomain. This is because converging assets under a single authoritative domain can increase your relevance in organic search results
The exceptions to this rule and good cases for using a subdomain would be if there is a need for a separate design, brand, and/or language from your main website.
Otherwise, in my experience, it’s subfolders all the way!
If you need more convincing, I find that this explanation originally from Sarah Mackenzie explains it pretty well:
Which website has the most traffic potential?
- 50 pages of fab content and 25 high-quality incoming links.
- 100 pages of fab content and 50 high-quality incoming links
Website.com + website.com/blog
- 150 pages of fab content and 75 high-quality incoming links