Which is Best For SEO: Subdomains or Subfolders?

What’s better for SEO using a subdomain or subfolder? Is there a reason why?

This is an age-old debate when it comes to SEO. If you ask Google they’ll say they don’t really care if you use a subfolder or subdomain. You have to use what’s best for you.

Sound wishy washy? Maybe a little bit.

In the video below John Mueller explains Google’s view.

Ok now we have Google’s statement. They rank, crawl and index directories the same as they subdomains, which means you have the same chance to get either setup to rank.

But Wait, Why Don’t SEO Experts Agree?

If you talk to the SEO pros, you’ll find they don’t agree with this broad explanation. Here’s why.

EFFORT

It often takes a lot more effort to get a subdomain to rank.

First let’s look at how domains work:

  • First you have to register a top-level domain (yourdomain.com) with a registrar. Notice there is no “www”.
  • Then you need to set up hosting so you have access to a server that is online where you keep your website.

This is a relatively simple example.

Once you point the domain to the server you have to make a decision for how you want your website address to look:

  • Should it use a subdomain: i.e. www.yourdomain.com?
  • Or use the top-level domain: i.e. yourdomain.com

It’s very common to use www but this is technically a subdomain. As we saw in the video Google will rank either way the same. This is good. However, this also means each way will be rank individually. More on this later.

A Case For Why To Use Subdomains Instead of Subfolders:

Using subdomains is a great way to separate sections of you site that may be related but you want them to rank separately.

We can actually use Google itself as an example.

Google has many services and products.

  • There’s normal search which can be found under google.com
  • The Google Store: store.google.com
  • The app store, Google Play: play.google.com
  • Google My Business: business.google.com
  • Google Ads: ads.google.com

I could go on, but the point is these are all separate parts of the business that need to stand on their own and be found as individual entities, while still being connected to Google.

Need help optimizing your site? Talk to our SEO experts.

So here it makes sense to keep them on separate subdomains.

Why Use Subfolders Instead of Subdomains?

Let’s look at a different scenario which probably comes closer to what your company is facing.

Search engines love fresh useful informative content. And hey, so do people too. A great way to develop this content is to create a blog of a news section of you site and start posting content that is useful and relevant to your company, products and services and industry.

Subdomains divide your SEO strength

If you use the subdomain model it might look like this:

Google will look at these as three separate sites. If you were hoping to use you blog to support your main site and drive ranking for you products and services you’ll have to be very diligent in linking from your blog to the products and hope that some of the ranking authority passes from the blog to the main site.

If that seems a bit to abstract he’s a visualization that might help.

I’ll simplify the explanation using backlinks to your sites. Links are one of many factors that search engines use to rank sites, but limiting the discussion to backlinks will help clarify things.

If each one of your subdomains has the following number of backlinks.

  • Main site: www.yourdomain.com = 30
  • Blog: blog.yourdomain.com = 35
  • News: news.yourdomain.com = 10
  • Total = 75

This is what it looks like visually:

subdomains and links

You might think, “Great, we have 75 links!” But, since Google looks at each site separately they do not add up. They are links to each individual “site” or subdomain. If you are very diligent in cross-linking then some of the authority will pass to the other subdomains, but only a fraction of the full strength.

But if you use subfolders, and acquire links to the pages within the subfolders they are all part of the same site. Therefor your site www.yourdomain.com truly has 75 links pointing to the same subdomain or domain.

subdomains and links combined

Pro tip: Use the top-level domain whenever possible.

Meaning if not properly configured, your site could be ranking as two separate sits. For example:

Summary

It’s up to you to decide which option to use.  Both subfolders and subdomains have their merits and while Google will gives you the opportunity to rank subdomains and top-level domains equally this can also be a bad thing.

Our recommendation is to us subfolders or directories unless there is a good reason to separate sections of your site. This will help you save time and effort because using subdomains means you essentially have to do the same work for every subdomain individually, but with subfolders you only have one site that you need to work with.

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