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Subdomains vs. Subdirectories: What’s the Difference for SEO?

There’s a big difference between subdomains and subdirectories when it comes to SEO. Which method is better to use? This is a commonly debated topic between technical SEO experts. Incorrectly setting up subdomains can have a negative impact on SEO performance. Find out about the differences and when you should consider implementing a subdomain over a subdirectory.

What is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is technically a separate site from the main site. Subdomains are often used when there is content on the website that is unique and distinct from the rest of the site. A common example of this is the blog or shop section of a website.

In a URL, subdomains appear before the larger, top-level domain.

Examples include:

  • blog.yoursite.com
  • shop.yoursite.com

What is a Subdirectory?

A subdirectory or subfolder is a folder behind a domain address (i.e. following the “/”). It is one of the more common ways of organising a website. Typically, subdirectories are made for blogs and for product category sections.

In a URL, subdomains appear after the top-level domain.

Examples include:

  • www.yoursite.com/blog/
  • www.yoursite.com/shop/

Subdomains vs. Subdirectories

There’s a big difference between subdomains and subdirectories when it comes to their effect on SEO.

From a technical perspective, a subdomain can be easier to set up, but from an SEO perspective, it can have a negative impact on your search rankings if not done correctly. This can be due to a number of reasons, but one thing to be aware of is that a subdomain is treated by search engines as a unique and distinct website. Therefore,  when you create a subdomain you are essentially starting a website from scratch. The SEO value you have from the main website does not cross over to the subdomain. This can be one of the reasons why many people experience a drop in rankings when they make the switch.

Furthermore, research has been done to indicate that moving content from a subdomain to the main domain can improve SEO performance.

Benefits of Using a Subdirectory Over a Subdomain

The main benefit of using a subdirectory or subfolder is that the content on a single domain will positively benefit all the other content on the website, whereas for a subdomain, this may not be the case. Search engines may consider that the content on the subdomains are linked but this is not guaranteed. This means that the added SEO benefit may not be gained if you use subdomains.

It is recommended to keep your content on a subdirectory/subfolder rather than a subdomain but there are a few situations where a subdomain is preferred.

Situations to use a Subdomain

It can be dangerous to keep your content on a subdomain or even move content over to a subdomain but there are situations where a subdomain might be preferable. If you are looking to sell products, setting up a shop.yoursite.com URL is a common strategy. A subdomain may also be appropriate if you want to target different countries that use different languages. Franchises often use subdomains as well, and a subdomain may also be used if you want to target different kinds of audiences.

Subdomains vs Subdirectories – Which is Better?

In order to maximise your SEO performance, it is recommended to use a subdirectory or subfolder. However, there are situations where setting up a subdomain is the preferred option. This is a technical SEO element that has been strongly debated for many years and will continue to be debated until Google makes an official statement.

Contact Pure SEO if you would like a consultation about which approach is best for you. Check out our SEO Resources section for more insights.

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26 October 2017


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