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Subdomains or subfolders for SEO? That is the question...The devil is in the details when it comes to maximizing SEO. How you structure your website can have a very real impact on the type of results you see from your SEO efforts.

One area that probably doesn't get as much attention as it should is the debate over whether to use subdomains or subfolders to segment your website's content.

For instance, if you run a site that has different sections for different locations, does it make more sense to use yourwebsite.com/london or london.yourwebsite.com?

Rand Fishkin over at SEOmoz has an interesting post that discusses this very subject.

He points out the observational evidence:

  • Individual pages on 'powerful' domains and subdomains will fare better than individual pages on less powerful domains and subdomains.
  • Subdomains don't always inherit the juice of other subdomains that share a common root domain (i.e. *.yourwebsite.com).
  • Sometimes, subdomains don't receive any juice from their root domain.
  • Subfolders typically do.
  • Good crosslinking practices can help spread the wealth when it comes to subdomains.

Based on my personal experience, I generally agree with these observations.

Therefore it makes sense to use subfolders instead of subdomains, right? Unfortunately it's not that simple. There are times when subdomains make a lot of sense.

As Fishkin points out, subdomains could make sense if:

  • You have a specific keyword you want to rank for and two of the pages from your root domain already rank. He notes that "This works because Google will show a maximum of two URLs on a given search results pages from a given subdomain, but may show more from a given root domain if there are multiple subdomains" and provides an example of how this is being used in practice for SEOBook.com.
  • A keyword that exists in the subdomain is one that you want to rank for and is likely going to be used in anchor text. For instance, if you'd like to rank for 'manchester', using manchester.yourwebsite.com might not be such a bad idea since the keyword would be contained in the anchor text even if the URL itself is used.
  • You're already using subdomains that are performing.

One thing that wasn't mentioned which may be a consideration for some is the branding aspect of subdomains. In my experience, assuming that you have a decent ranking, london.yourwebsite.com will often generate more clicks than yourwebsite.com/london because the keyword seems to be more easily noticed by individuals when it's a subdomain. When they see the keyword as a subdomain, it seems to have the effect of demonstrating that the site contains the relevant content. I've found this to be especially true when you use a subdomain vs. multiple levels of subfolders.

No matter which route you choose to go, however, considering these issues from the start will help ensure that you implement the strategy that makes the most sense.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 January, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2378 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan, Industry Manager at Google

There are some additional considerations.

Analytics

Some of the smaller analytics packages struggle to deal with subdomains. For example, Google Analytics has some workarounds but the standard package does not treat subdomains and subfolders in the same manner.

Sitelinks

Google now understands subdomains as part of their sitelinks policy but they are still not as treated in the same manner as subfolders. The same can be said for Subfolders. 

Customer Perception

I would argue that for larger brands, subdomains are less recognised within the search results; Brand.com/product differentiates the brand from Product.Brand.com. I apply the same rule to title tags, and it works.

over 7 years ago

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Debra Carey, Head of Digital Marketing at Mentor Digital

What about the affect going the other way? If a root domain has many sub domains that are used primarily for development work (i.e. on client websites), will that affect the root domain SEO? And if so, why?

10 months ago

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