Subdirectories vs. Subdomains: How To Choose

Subdomains and subdirectories (another term for folders) remain the subject of heated discussion.

So, let’s cut to the chase and answer the first thing you came here to see.

Subdomains vs. Subdirectories: Which is better for SEO?

A subdomain may be mistaken by Google’s crawlers for a whole separate website from the main domain, according to some experts in SEO. Conversely, Google claims that its crawlers can identify subdomains as extensions of parent domains. According to Google, all subdomains and subdirectories are crawled, indexed, and ranked similarly.

Matt Cutts, the chief of Google’s Webspam division, said about this debate:

My personal preference on subdomains vs. subdirectories is that I usually prefer the convenience of subdirectories for most of my content. A subdomain can be useful to separate out content that is completely different. Google uses subdomains for distinct products such news.google.com or maps.google.com, for example. If you’re a newer webmaster or SEO, I’d recommend using subdirectories until you start to feel pretty confident with the architecture of your site. At that point, you’ll be better equipped to make the right decision for your own site.

Matt Cutts 2007

Well, it’s almost 20 years since this was mentioned; what about now?

Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller thinks that subdomains aren’t a problem regarding search engine results. Because Google sees your main domain and subdomain as linked to one another, this is what he claims.

Google handles them both the same.

He noted strong sentiments on both sides but believed that comparable material should be placed together as much as feasible on the same site.

Mueller advises site owners who are unsure whether to use subdomains or subdirectories to use a subdomain only when it has something unique to offer compared to the rest of the site.

Here’s the source:

In the end.

John Mueller also wrote in Mastodon:

My way of thinking with regards to subdomains is that it depends on what you’re trying to do. Is it content that’s meant to be tightly connected to the main site? then put it on the main site. If you want the content to stand on its own, then a subdomain is a good match.

There’s also the technical side-effect of subdomains sometimes making things a bit more complicated: verification in search console, tracking in analytics, DNS, hosting, security, CSPs, etc.

To be clear, I think it will affect rankings of the new content, but ultimately it depends on what you want to achieve with it. Sometimes you want something separated out, sometimes you want to see something as a part of the main site. These are different situations, and the results will differ.

You may not require a subdomain if your site doesn’t have a lot of verticals in your navigation since you want as many connections to your main site as feasible. Subdirectories are a good alternative to subdomains if you don’t need them.

What are subdirectories?

When a folder or file system is contained within another folder or file system, it is known as a subdirectory. In other words, part of the URL that contains material that is particular to another subfolder is called a “subdirectory.” Using the analogy of a file cabinet, the subdirectories of your site are like folders.

To the right of the domain name, there are individual directories.

website.com/blog and website.com/shop are two instances of websites that have a blog.

Because it’s a subfolder of your main site, search engines can find it.

www.website.com/subfolder is an example of a URL of a subdirectory.

What are subdirectories for?

Subdirectories are the simplest method to divide your site’s content into subcategories. There would be folders for assets like images and downloads. It’s possible to have a folder for “About” and then individual pages for each member of your team:

www.website.com/about/jandoe

A subfolder might be a good place for a company’s official blog. According to most experts, using subdirectories, especially for constantly updated material like blogs, provides the highest SEO benefit. Search engines reward fresh material and inbound links. There will be enough of both on a well-known blog, and their higher ranking will trickle down to the rest of the site.

Advantages of using subdirectories

When it comes to SEO, using subdirectories has several advantages.

Here are other benefits of subdirectories.

1. Tracking and analytics

Because subdirectories don’t need cross-domain tracking, they may be more easily tracked in analytics. Many analytics solutions, like search engines, consider each subdomain a separate site.

This doesn’t exclude monitoring across subdomains, but it does make it more difficult to set up the tracking infrastructure. In most cases, you’ll have to do more than paste a piece of tracking code into your website’s HTML code and call it a day.

If you’re using Google Analytics to monitor your site’s performance and have two domains, you won’t be forced to look at two data points because the data is aggregated for the entire site.

2. Customer and user convenience

Users will also like the convenience of subfolders. Web URLs that are easier for most people to visually digest — and processing fluency is linked to more sharing, more clicking, and all the things website owners desire — are the result of these URLs,” Rand added.

Your customers can effortlessly navigate between your blog and your product or service sites if you have a blog article on new features or goods.

3. Crawling and optimization

Because you are also continually posting blog articles and new information to your site, it may be crawled more frequently, which means that your SEO authority will be passed on to your major site.

A single website may be optimized instead of competing with a subdomain that may have fresher material than your main domain.

Disadvantages of using subdirectories

Subdomains can be useful when the material in a subfolder isn’t as important as the content in the main directory. It is because a large number of URLs might be generated. The more pages there are, the more diluted the authority becomes since authority is shared throughout all pages.

What are subdomains?

In the easy-to-understand definition, a subdomain is a partition of your website’s primary setup into smaller, more manageable pieces.

For example, www.website.com, one of its subdomains is blog.website.com. A subdomain, like a domain name, is an internet construct. Folders (formerly known as directories) are a feature of the Windows operating system. It’s where you store your data on a designated area of your hard drive.

An alias or split of your domain may be used to create a new site that is distinct from your primary one using a subdomain. As a general rule, subdomains are utilized to separate content from the rest of the website. The part to the left of the root URL indicates subdomains.

What are subdomains for?

One reason organizations utilize subdomains is that they require various servers and software to run these discrete areas of their site, which are entirely different from the scope of your main site. Separate subdomains allow for regional variations in content and language, but all versions are linked under the main site if your site has a worldwide audience.

Because search engines treat each subdomain as a different Web site, using subdomains to get several placements in search results was once a viable option.

When Google started seeing subdomains as more closely related to the main domain in 2007, it lost most of its benefits. Large websites can still benefit from dividing them into several subdomains based on the sort of product or service they offer.

When are subdomains best used?

Using third-party technology to host content on your site makes it difficult, if not impossible, to use a subdirectory. A subdomain solves this problem far more easily. That’s why companies like Hubspot go about things in this manner.

Advantages of using subdomains

In contrast, a subdomain is usually an alias for the domain name system (DNS). Setting up a subdomain might be more challenging for a new webmaster, especially if you’re unfamiliar with terms like “CNAME.” There are advantages and disadvantages to managing subdomains independently, depending on whether you wish to transfer a section of your site or not.

1. Potential for increase in authority

An already established site that ranks highly can profit from the strong standing of its subdomain by creating a new subdomain. The ability to build subdomains that display alongside your parent domain in search engine results pages (SERPs) might have the potential to increase the authority of your product or service while lowering the competition.

2. Increased ways for reaching a target market

There are several ways to use subdomains to target a certain market, readership, or nation. SEO, search engine, and promotional aims may be achieved using keywords. Because of this, the URL format for Google Maps is always formatted as maps.google.com.

3. Better customer experience

Makes it easier for visitors to find their way through your site. Consequently, your SEO might benefit from a better user experience, leading to higher engagement rates and a better user experience.

Disadvantages of using subdomains

1. Seen as separate domains by search engines

Search engines see subdomains as separate domains by the search engines. Creating a subdomain necessitates the acquisition of high-quality backlinks that are distinct from your primary website.

2. Will not share authority with the original domain for the incoming links

Subdomains don’t share the authority of incoming links with the original domain. Because subdomains are regarded as different entities from your parent domain, they may not inherit any link authority you’ve previously generated to your core website content.

3. Tendency to be in direct competition for the site and subdomain

If your main site and subdomain optimize pages for the same keywords, you may compete directly with one another.

Subdomain versus subdirectory

A subdomain is an entirely different website from your main site. In contrast, the word “subdirectory” describes the content of a page or collection of pages on your site’s subdirectory.

Either strategy, if properly implemented, has a chance of success. Focus on building and maintaining a structure that makes sense for your content, not determining which strategy would yield the best results and conversions.

Subdirectory

A subdomain would be like starting over from scratch. The information published in a subfolder performs better in Google (and other search engines) than content placed in a subdomain.

Subdomain

As an alternative, if you were to start a brand new blog on WordPress, it would have its subdomain and would not be able to draw upon the domain history of WordPress.  Rand has observed several instances when moving from a subdomain to a subfolder resulted in increased organic traffic.

As part of their “host crowding” algorithm, Google used to display different results for domains that had a hostname and a subdomain name. As a result, a search may return two results for the same URL. Because of this approach, you’ll be able to receive twice as many results on Google by employing subdomains. But Google has updated its algorithms to reduce the likelihood of this.

Thoughts on subdomain and subdirectory

Google has been using “host crowding” for some years, which implies that Google will show up to two matches from each hostname/subdomain of a domain name.

We’ve heard concerns about Google returning a search page with many results from a single domain for various sorts of searches (e.g., esoteric or long-tail searches). Changes to our algorithms have made it less likely that this will happen again.

If you have wholly different material, a subdomain might be handy.  In most cases, the code is also stored if you save all of your material in a single subfolder or folder. Changes, edits, or code changes will be much easier to locate when they are in the folder.

Folders are the most convenient way for him to organize most of his blog content. You may use subdomains to create distinct areas on your website for different types of content. It is interesting to observe that Google, for example, employs subdomains for sites such as “new.google.” and “maps.

What abour separate website domain names?

There are a few advantages to having several websites. To some people, naming their blog and purchasing a domain name with that name is the best way. As a result, the blog may be linked to the main website.

Disadvantages of having a separate website

  • An external blog on a different domain greatly benefits your main site’s search engine optimization.
  • It takes time for a new domain name to establish itself as a trustworthy brand in the eyes of search engines. In terms of SEO, different Web pages aren’t the best solution.
  • If you spread your SEO approach, building a cohesive brand from several websites becomes difficult, and your visitors may be left in the dark about who you are.

Subdirectories or separate websites: Which is better?

It depends on your company goals, whether you want to establish one brand or voice or make different voices for your company’s division. Building an online presence may be accomplished in various ways, just as there are several methods to set up a business.

Even within the same industry, there isn’t a solution that works for every company. In the end, certain tips will help you choose the finest option.

International SEO and its impact on Subdomains vs. Subdirectories

Subdomains, subdirectories, and country code Top Level Domains, or ccTLDs, are the three options for international websites. A ccTLD is a country-code top-level domain that is particular to the United Kingdom.

Using a ccTLD informs search engines that your site is meant for a certain country’s audience. Google has said they employ country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) to establish target audiences. 

ccTLDs are country-specific, not language-specific, and always consist of two letters. Contrastingly, generic Top Level Domains, or gTLDs, are comprised of three letters, such as.com or.org. The country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for the United States is.us; however, it is not frequently used.

ccTLDs are an excellent choice for businesses that:

Have the resources (budget) to create and maintain separate sites for each country in which they do business

  • Have a well-established global brand
  • Constantly create new content
  • Have multiple physical locations
  • Offer a wide range of products and services depending on geographic location
  • Plan to host international versions of their sites on servers that may or may not be located in the targeted countries.

Users are more likely to have a positive online experience when visiting sites with their country’s ccTLD. There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Resources required to create and maintain several versions of the website
  • Each website will need a unique SEO plan. Keyword research, link development, and content creation must be customized for each site.
  • Subdomains might be an alternative for organizations that have not yet established a significant international presence and do not have the resources to produce enough material to fill many ccTLD sites.
  • Each subdomain may be targeted using the Search Console geolocation feature. If you have a ccTLD, you can employ this strategy, but search engines already identify country codes as clues of where to target. To set up and manage a subdomain independently, you’ll need to invest time and money in each subdomain.
  • Each nation or language’s material can be housed in distinct folders using a single gTLD. Your link authority can be put to good use because all folders on the TLD are accessible. Each folder may be geo-targeted using Search Console. If you don’t have the means to use ccTLDs or subdomains for every nation and language you want to target, subdirectories are the way to go.
  • ccTLDs are more powerful signals to search engines than subdirectories. You can rank the erroneous version of a geotargeted site if you use the same language in your attempts.

Conclusion

The use of subdirectories vs. subdomains should be judged case-by-case for each website since the argument over the best approach is still ongoing. In most cases, if you put your material in a subdirectory, you’ll find that the code is already there. Searching, modifying, and altering code is easier for subdirectories. 

In addition, moving code from one location to another may be made easy. Meanwhile, subdomains are useful for international or multi-language targeting, for example, es.yourdomain.com for your Spanish-language site (with appropriate hreflang tags, etc.)

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