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SEO Perspective on Subdomains Vs. Subfolders

by Miguel Salcido

in Organic SEO

Subdomains-vs-Subfolders

An interesting question was posed to me this morning via Twitter from a local social media maven, Melonie Gallegos.

What gives a domain more SEO benefit (link juice): a subdomain or a folder under the primary domain? xyz.domain.com vs domain.com/xyz

This is a difficult question to answer in 140 characters, thus, here I am writing the post. Thanks for the inspiration @melonie! From a pure SEO perspective it really does not matter. You can have the same amount of success with either subdomains or subdirectories, if you use them correctly. This is especially true since Google announced earlier this year that they would be treating subdomains as part of the root domain.

You see, in the past a subdomain was essentially viewed but Google as being a completely different site, independent from the root domain. It had its own link profile, which was a huge benefit SEO wise, and yet it would still absorb authority from the root domain in a similar fashion as subdirectories would. This made it easier for subdomains to rank and rank faster than building entirely new domains. If you had a strong root domain you could throw up a subdomain and link to it strategically and get it ranking in a fairly short period of time, especially if you made the subdomain keyword rich and relevant to the root domain. Google’s change was a direct response to this fact. This technique was being abused for years and many subdomains were a bit spammy in many people’s opinions.

I do not recommend using SEO as a main determinant in whether or not you use a subdomain or subdirectory. You need to think of the user first and if it makes sense to use one over the other. Some people use subdomains for different country and language versions of their sites, especially since they sometimes host the subdomain in the country of origin. But Google now allows sites to specify geo location for subdirectories to that is not necessary any more. But if you have distinctly different sections or audiences to cater to then it may make sense to use a subdomain over a subdirectory. Many companies put secured, client or vendor, login (https) sections of their sites on subdomains. Or if you have a directory for your vertical, you may want it on a subdomain.

So at the end of the day it just depends, not on your SEO goals, but on your users and your content. The best advice I can give anyone is to work towards appeasing your visitors and providing them with a useful and smooth experience. Make that a priority and you should be very successful.

About the Author: Having held Director and VP level positions at large search agencies over the past 8 years I have gained a wealth of experience and knowledge. I now offer agency quality SEO consulting services without the big agency overhead so that more of your dollars will go into your campaign. Follow me on Google+, and Twitter for regular updates.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Milosz February 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Interesting topic that we’re currently facing. We have a WP “portal” that resides in a subdirectory and in many ways is very different than the rest of the domain which is primarily a shopping cart. We are being pushed by IT to move the WP portal to a separate host primarily for security/performance reasons and a subdomain seems to be the easiest solution/location to attain that goal. The portal articles currently have some great ranking pages and crawl rates with new posts getting indexed/rank within hours in some cases. All the articles have deep links to the product pages spreading the link juice. Even after we 301 all the portal urls to it’s new location I’m expecting we’ll drop in ranking for a lot of these articles. Is that the right assumption or is there actually a positive impact to the domain by moving all these incoming links from the domain to subdomain? Your article would suggest that there would be no difference in where this portal resides, correct?

Reply

Miguel Salcido March 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm

It sounds like the only reason to move the blog into the subdomain is because IT thinks that having it within the site is some sort of security risk? If so that is hogwash. I’ve worked with huge enterprises with systems that I’m positive are more complicated than the one you are running and its never been a security or IT issue to have the blog on a subdirectory. Yes, moving the site will most likely cause some decay in authority and rankings. That should rebound but doesn’t always, so there is risk in moving it.

Also, just because it is a blog and the site is ecommerce does not mean that it is very different from the rest of the domain. I’m sure the content is relevant to the ecommerce niche and therefore is very similar, not very different;. When we speak of difference we mean topically. So if the site sold patio furniture but the blog was all about soccer then that would not make any sense and the two should be separated.

You’ll be hard pressed these days to find sites hosting their blog on subdomains and IMHO I also feel that blogs should be on subdirectories. If you are unable to change people’s minds regarding moving the blog to a subdomain then be prepared for the potential loss in traffic.

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Alicia March 5, 2012 at 6:21 am

Firstly, Great writing thanks!

After reading your article I got a concern.
I am launching a new website for just resumes, and I structured my htaccess as to provide dynamic subdomains as:
marketing.exampleresumes.org/index.html
sales.exampleresumes.org/index.html
california.exampleresumes.org/index.html
etc. etc.

I did that because I think visitors can easily find related resumes, but after reading this article I am concerned by SEO perspective because I will have probably thousands of dynamic subdomains and I really wonder if google may think these as spam or not.

Any suggestions or thoughts about this?
thanks

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Milosz March 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Thanks for the response. The security/performance issues is real and can arise from having the wp blog on the same server as our shopping platform, as wp sites are very hackable unless they’re updated automatically. As we all know, some of the best WP plugins don’t keep up with the updates and we do have to wait for those first… That being said the move from subdirectory to subdomain was considered as the only solution since the two areas of the site would end up on separate servers. However I did find out a solution to uniting the content under one domain via reverse proxy! Technically the blog would reside on a subdomain but will “appear” in a folder. A great infographic on this is here: http://www.slingshotseo.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ReverseProxy_9_6-e1315407839540.png

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shiju thomas April 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

I had the same concern.. i was searching for this particular answer.. Thank you very much

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Lee Smith May 6, 2012 at 6:24 am

I want to use the keyword Top Financial Advisor as my anchor text on blogs. Do I make a subdomain or webpage as in:

http://www.FinancialAdvisor.com/Top or go with the subdomain http://www.Top.FinancialAdvisor.com

I am using the anchor text Financial Advisor to the domain http://www.FinancialAdvisor.com

Would Google see my website as anchor text Top Financial Advisor and also Financial Advisor going to the domain http://www.FinancialAdvisor.com

Reply

Miguel Salcido May 6, 2012 at 8:40 am

Hi Lee, thanks for stopping by and great question. I would not worry too much about trying to force your keyword “top financial advisor” into your domain name. That tactic carries far less weight than it used to and Google has come right out and admitted that they have, over the years, worked to devalue the natural benefits that exact match domains had because it was a very lopsided advantage traditionally and Google wants the advantage to go to quality sites rather than technicalities.

If you were to use the subdomain that would look very bad and you would get no benefit from this. If you really wanted to have a URL with that keyword in it you could use http://financial–advisor.com/top-financial-advisor/ and make that page a great content page that explains what makes up a top financial advisor. Fill it with useful content and search and visitors alike would find it useful!

You definitely need more content on your site if you want to draw traffic. And with the latest Google algorithm updates targeting sites that use their exact match keyword(s) to link to their sites over and over again, I suggest not doing that. You really need to now focus on building at least 65-70% of your links using branded anchor text like Lee Smith, Lee Smith Financial Advisor, Lee Smith Top Financial Advisor, Top Financial Advisor Lee Smith, etc.

I can help you formulate a plan and deliver high quality content to your site, as well as helping you to gain natural, compliant, and relevant links to your site as well. Contact me through the site if this is something that you might be interested in.

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Lee Smith May 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

…just wanted to say that your website is very popular on Google. I typed in Top Financial Advisor Lee Smith and your website came up on the first page. It was only a week ago that you commented on my question with that phrase. Amazing.

How do you make a website that gets indexed the day after you post something?

Reply

Miguel Salcido May 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Hi Lee,

Unfortunately it takes many years of strong link building to get your site to be very authoritative. Links from other very credible and authoritative sites within your niche. You site currently does not even rank for “Top Financial Advisor Lee Smith” which leads me to believe that you’d have a pretty difficult time getting the site to rank for “Top Financial Advisor.” Of course that term does not really carry any sort of decent search traffic so that would not be a good term to target.

Also, I’m not sure of this but I think that domains with double hyphens might be flagged as having a high potential for spam since most people that have them are trying to get the exact match keyword in their domain and are usually spammers.

I might suggest that you look to target local terms like [City] financial planner or [City] financial advisor first and work to claim, optimize, and rank a Google Places account as well. I can help you with these services so let me know if you are interested. Of course you’ll need some money/budget for this.

Reply

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