SEO

Subdomains or Subfolders : Which are Better for SEO?

An SEJ Reader send in the following question :

Subdomains or Subfolders? What’s better for a blog/forum/etc: a subdomain (eg. http://jobs.searchenginejournal.com/) or subfolder (eg. http://www.seomoz.org/blog/)?

Subdomains and subfolders both have their advantages, especially when setting up blogs.

For blogs, I prefer a subfolder (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/) because the link juice which is sent to that blog is going to be naturally distributed to that main domain, and other subfolders under the domain.

Futhermore, the forum/blog will default logo, home page and other links back to the subfolder. If you set this up with a subdomain, by default, the links in the forum/blog itself will all point back to the subdomain. So, with a subfolder, both the inbound and internal linking structure favor the entire site.

With a subdomain, the forum or blog will be listed as a separate entity in the Google search results, which is good for owning the results and one’s reputation management. However, Google and other engines will generally not list more than two of these subdomains in the search results, unless those subdomains can prove to Google that they are independent and relevant entities.

I would like to reference Vanessa Fox, an ex-Googler and contributor to Search Engine Land :

Google is no longer treating subdomains (blog.widgets.com versus widgets.com) independently, instead attaching some association between them. The ranking algorithms have been tweaked so that pages from multiple subdomains have a much higher relevance bar to clear in order to be shown.

It’s not that the “two page limit” now means from any domain and its associated subdomains in total. It’s simply a bit harder than it used to be for multiple subdomains to rank in a set of 10 results. If multiple subdomains are highly relevant for a query, it’s still possible for all of them to rank well.

Home Depot is one site which has cleared the relevancy bar at Google with subdomains at HomeDepot.com that are actually marketed as individual sites. Take careers.homedepot.com and look into its backlinks, even if this subdomain was on a whole different domain, like HomeDepotJobs.com, it would probably rank just as highly.

So, in conclusion, if you’d like to build the equity of one web site or entity, I suggest using a subfolder. If you’d like to build an entire new entity with its own equity, launch a subdomain.

Your thoughts, comments and concerns are well appreciated.

Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM Subdomains or Subfolders : Which are Better for SEO?
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM Subdomains or Subfolders : Which are Better for SEO?

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56 thoughts on “Subdomains or Subfolders : Which are Better for SEO?

  1. I am not sure about google, but just to look from the logical point of view. If you have a top level domain that is ranked high you should add a subfolder to make use of it. If you add a subdomain , the rank is started from zero. It’s like having two separate domains. Somebody correct me if I’m wrong. Cheers!

  2. Gotta agree with jaan k here.

    Google did announce it will treat subdomains like subfolders to combat the spam techniques and ranking effects of, say, ebay subdomains.

    http://www.seroundtable.com/archives/015621.html

    However, I haven’t seen this in practice yet, I still see multiple subdomains appearing from ebay for certain searches. Perhaps it’s a rollout.

    Now, if subdomains and subfolders are treated the same, then link juice *should* also flow between them.

    One benefit of subfolders, though, is you don’t have to add and verify them separately in Google Webmaster Tools – which, if you have a lot of subdomains (country/language/product etc) can save you a bit of time.

  3. “However, I haven’t seen this in practice yet, I still see multiple subdomains appearing from ebay for certain searches. Perhaps it’s a rollout.”

    Or perhaps it’s because eBay is more of an authority than other sites which used subdomains to spam Google, no?

  4. I personally prefer having a sub folder forblog or forum. Its easier to maintain and as Loren said the Link Juice will pass equally to the whole domain.

  5. One other thing to consider is that when you create a sitemap (certainly using the tool I do), it’s easier to build the entire sitemap if your blog is in a subdomain rather than a subdirectory.

    Which is why I’ve just spent some time today getting my blogging software to move from a subdomain to a subfolder. It was a total pain!

    Timely article though – thanks for this.

  6. if you’d like to build the equity of one web site or entity, I suggest using a subfolder. If you’d like to build an entire new entity with its own equity, launch a subdomain.

    Well stated. It is much more cumbersome for the average user to try to navigate subdomains. For example Yahoo sites (YSM im looking at you) is much more confusing to navigate than Google (adwords, mail, maps etc.)

  7. Thanks for sharing this.
    My blog is done as a subdomain.
    To me doing it as a subdomain helps keep it seperate from the main site.
    I have several subdomains that I do and each have different topics etc.

  8. Completing Linda Bustos’ input, Google Webmasters Tools reports links from one subdomain to another in the same domain as external links.

    Not that I think that those external links count at all, at least not the way links from external domains do. I agree that subdomains are only pertinent when they contain different content.

  9. Google (Matt) gave a vague explanation as for that change:

    “This change doesn’t apply across the board; if a particular domain is really relevant, we may still return several results from that domain.”

    This “high relevance” may apply to any case.

    But honestly, I tend to see these slight changes take place; and I guess G will be getting even better at telling which subdomains deserve a separate position in SERPs and which don’t. (So if you aim at more than one SERP position, you’ll need several domains – subdomains won’t help a lot; so in this perspective, there’s no point in subdomains).

    Besides (@Linda), by ‘treating subdomains as subfolders’ the post you are citing means rankings, and not link juice. So, no, not completely the same.

    So the main question is, what’s better for link juice. On the one hand, subdirectories grow the link authority of the domain. On the other hand, like Vinny said, a domain is able to give more link weight to a subdomain than to a subfolder:

    “I think you get more link weight back from a subdomain. For instance services.performancing.com gets oodles of links back from the main blog site of performancing.com. I imagine their rankings for their services page would be a lot less if the links from the main site pointed to a subfolder instead of a sub-domain.”

    So what’s better from the linking point of view?

  10. Why not have the best of both worlds? Start off with a subfolder and when necessary have the subdomain URL forward to the subfolder?

  11. Hi guys, I currently have my blog under a sub-folder (www.michaelaulia.com/blogs/) and have all backlinks go to it (/blogs/) instead of the root domain.

    Is this a good practice? My PR hasn’t get updated for months..unless if I’m doing something wrong here…

  12. My question is that does inbound links to a particular subdomain also give value to the TLD or www domain?

    So would a bunch of inbound links to
    blog.mydomain.com contribute to the ranking of mydomain.com and http://www.mydomain.com?

    Any ideas?

  13. My question is that does inbound links to a particular subdomain also give value to the TLD or www domain?

    No, Google deals with subdomains as different entities to domains (except maybe in domain-specific issues such as age, whois and hosting history, renewal date, etc).

  14. Question: I recently read that excessive links (more than 4) between sites (subdomains) was considered “crosslinking” by G.. and would get all involved sites penalized. I had planned to have subdomains for Web Design, SEO, Graphic Design, etc. and “crosslink” them for obvious reasons. I don’t see why this would be a problem since they are seperate specialties but are related to each other. Any ideas?
    Web Design Charlotte, NC

  15. I decided to go with a subfolder after reading countless articles on this subject. Mainly, like stated above, why start from ground zero in the google ranking if your site already has momentum in alexis or google.

    I also read that if you are a new site, then subfolder is definitely the way to go.

    Since I own a freelancing site, I asked other programmers from my site, and they are all in agreement.

    -Danny
    iFreelanceWork.com

  16. Purpose seems to be on the “content issue” to decide between a subdomain or subdirectory strategy.

    Using a subdomain way with really different service will work in both way : building a new entity and entry in SERPs and promoting the juice of inbound beside the domains.

    The same issue without differenciate semantic and keyword universe would be risky because starting from lowest PR without taking advantage of link juice, and spreading the home domain’s one.

    Question is now about delay before GG classified the subdomains ?

  17. My prefrence is for sub folder on same domain as well primarily for SEO reasons. I alerady have ablog on asub folder instead of on a sub-domain. Now I am thinking of adding another blog on my website as content needs have changed and increased. I will go for the same sub-folder apporach mainly because SEO is one of the main reason sfor me adding the second blogs as well.

  18. I would love to see this discussion continue. Hopefully I’m not too late.

    I can see definite advantages and disadvantages of both methods. Branding and differentiation are solid with subdomains – I think it would confuse visitors too much if a subfolder felt like a new and distinct site. On the other hand, it seems you might spend a lot of time trying to bump up rank for both a domain and subdomain since they (sorta) get treated as different entities.

    I’ve wrestled with the perceived difference between the two “styles” quite a bit. Everyone is aware that you can add a subdomain to Google webmastertools. It is listed as a separate domain, and when checking index stats, you see only the subdomain pages (none from the main domain).

    I decided to check if it was the same for a subfolder. Yes, you can add a subfolder in GWT even if you already have the primary domain added (this surprised me). However, when checking the indexed stats for the subfolder entry I saw all kinds of pages not in that subfolder listed – almost like the subfolder part of the path was just ignored. Kinda interesting.

    Regarding the crosslinking issue and subdomains. Would it be best to do this

    subdomain1 domain subdomain2

    and let the SERPS figure out the rest?

  19. Well, that didn’t work. I had dashed arrows pointing between the subdomains and domain. Isteak, let’s do this

    subdomain1 domain subdomain2

  20. I was wondering about the very topic covered in this post so I Googled a question and up pops this blog #1 in Google search results.

    I find the answer in this informative article along with great additional info in the comment section. Gotta luv it!

    The only down side (if I can call it that) is now I have to spend time exploring this authoritative, informative blog because the content is so good. I won’t get any work done. Oh well, it’s a nice problem to have.

  21. Well both have their own pros. and cons. But I go with sub domain because it value more as sub domain name came first along with your main domain.

  22. I also prefer the subfolder as my blog. I don’t know of it happening with my sites, but I’ve seen in the serps people doing both (sub folder/subdomain) and they both show up in the serps with high rankings.

  23. i just went with subfolders for my new eco blog, but i’m always uncertain if this was a wise move or a mistake for future as this is the first blog i have propertly set up. time will tell i guess. i prefer the subfolder style as well as it’s easier to look at the end of the domain name to see where i am, e.g. /blog, /forums, /shop etc, then look at the beginning

  24. Good information, but no conclusive answers which leads me to believe that there is no real right or wrong. How about for an SME with low traffic looking to now invest in proper SEO – what would be the consensus for putting the blog in a subfolder on the main domain or going with a sub domain? Some notes: fairly niche B2B business that is geographically focused (4 distinct geo regions). Which route would readers go? Thx.

  25. Thanks for this great post and thread comments. This has been a hot topic around the office due to the complexity of a current client. Although it seems very straight forward what to do in many instances, it still is a lot to put in proper perspective when you have a site that hosts other sites (similar to ebay). I.E. In sub folders versus sub domains, which benefits for all the various factors…link flow in either direction, difficulty in execution in webmaster tasks, google considerations (1,2,3 etc.) To your knowledge has anyone (that is willing to share) attempted to put many of these variables into a spreadsheet that might help to better quantify alternatives?

    Thanks…

  26. Thank you for this post. Very insightful, I had no idea that Google treated sub-domains as websites in their own right. This will really help me with future SEO development work.

  27. You should only use subdomains when you have enough content to justify the use of it. As a subdomain requires an extra DNS lookup Google will penalise you as speed is very important to Google & obviously the SEO impact is that they are two different sites.

  28. Thanks for the article, i was just getting ready to setup a subdomain for my partners site to hold his blog and after reading your article, I'll be taking the easier folder route.

  29. Hi, i ahve a betting tip website in romanian, lots of picks every day over 100 now i have another script wich i want to use, if i will use on subdomain and redirect acual url to new one will be ok fo big G ?

  30. On the lighter side .. Like voodoo and witchhdoctors, SEO is an evil term used to describe the way SEO optimizers believe they can beat the system by making you believe they know what will get your search ranking to the top, most of the time SEO is achieved by throwing darts or mixing chicken bones with blood!!

    both have their advantages and disadvantages … i prefer to use sub-domains

  31. On the lighter side .. Like voodoo and witchhdoctors, SEO is an evil term used to describe the way SEO optimizers believe they can beat the system by making you believe they know what will get your search ranking to the top, most of the time SEO is achieved by throwing darts or mixing chicken bones with blood!!

    both have their advantages and disadvantages … i prefer to use sub-domains

  32. I think subdomain is very usable if you don’t want to rank in google. For me, like aboutme.jomarlipon.com. If you would like to rank a certain topic. I better suggest the subfolders like jomarlipon.com/seo.