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.