Subdomains vs Folders - Which is better for SEO

Are you looking for a great structure for your website and want to extract maximum mileage through organic search. I am sure you must be concerned with your site SEO and must be deciding between the two formats: Subdomains vs. Folders. You also must be wondering between Subdomains vs. Folders – Which is better for SEO of your website to give you maximum mileage in search results.

Well, this is something which has been an unending debate for years, and everyone seems to have an opinion on the basis of their experience. You will see several opinions all over the internet with proofs (Google SERPs print screen) pointing towards contradicting results.

Why care about: Subdomains vs. Folders

You need to care about Subdomains vs. Folders before you start your website, as it can heavily affect the performance of the Website in the major search engines and it ‘s hard to make changes later on.

What is a Subdomain

Choose Subdomains, when you wish to assign a unique name to a particular subject, department, function, or service related to the organisation. For example, a university might assign “cs” to the computer science department, so that many hosts could be used inside that subdomain, such as mail.cs.example.edu or www.cs.example.edu.

What is a Folder (subdirectory)

Use folders, when you wish to keep files about a particular subject in one place for the ease of access and usage.

www.example.edu/marketing

Subdomains vs. Folders – Which is better for SEO?

The truth is that there is not a single best practice, since both the methods have several pros and cons. In this article, we’ll discuss when it is advisable to use subdomains and/or Folders, and we’ll analyse how each method affects the SEO campaign. We will also try to find the answer to the question: Subdomains vs. Folders – Which is better for SEO? The actual answer is that:

IT DEPENDS.

It depends on several factors such as your resources, the value which you want to create for your audience, your web strategy and the CMS you are using.

What does Google say

Google says that it is more likely to treat subdomains as if they are subdirectories (or folders) of their parent domains unless the subdomains demonstrate they are offering unique value proposition to be evaluated independently of the root domains to earn the distinction of being listed as separate and distinct.

An ex-Googler Vanessa Fox has said:

“Google is no longer treating subdomains (blog.example.com versus example.com) independently, instead of attaching some association between them. The ranking algorithm is developed in such a way that pages from multiple subdomains have a much higher relevance bar to clear to be visible.

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 to a query, it’s still possible for all of them to rank well.”

Parameter you must consider while choosing between Subdomains vs. Folders

Authority, Trust & Domain Strength: PageRank Attributes

Search engines use several attributes to determine the SERP rank. These attributes are the authority, the trust and the strength of a domain. Those metrics are critical since they can heavily affect the search engine results. The reason why in some queries, less targeted and low PageRank pages that belong to high authority websites, appear on the top of the search engine results (for example Wikipedia). Therefore always Consider Pagerank attributes while choosing between the two:

Does Authority, Trust and Domain Strength flow from Domain to Subdomain

There are enough indication that PageRank attributes don’t automatically flow from root domain to subdomain unless sufficient links are connecting the hosts. What it means is that unless Subdomain correctly links to the Domain, it might become an orphan in the sea of domains and may not achieve any PageRank. Therefore unless you are planning to put sufficient resource behind it and planning for a unique identity, it does not make any sense to put in energy behind it. What is worse is that the subdomain may not list in the site links as well.

Does Authority, Trust and Domain Strength flow from Domain to Subdomain

Pagerank attributes flow to the folder or subdirectory. The folder could also feature directly along with domain in the form of site link. Giving your search listing much better visibility (in the form of site links) and user experience

DOMAIN PRESENCE & SITELINK ON GOOGLE FOR BRANDLOOM CONSULTING
DOMAIN PRESENCE & SITELINK ON GOOGLE FOR BRANDLOOM CONSULTING

Website Control and Resources

Using folders is quite easy and straightforward solution to build a website as you can use CMS to manage the entire folder structure, you do not need any special coding knowledge, and you do not need to juggle with the webmaster to list the subdomains. Therefore it allows easier control of the entire website.

When you have subdomains, it just means that you have additional parts of the website that needs to be handled separately, so you would need resources to manage it. However, it allows you the liberty to host on the same or separate servers with an entirely different technology to support them.

Design & Web Structure Freedom

With folders, we are limited to the same design and structure across all the pages. However, this allows users to navigate easily and find information faster. Additionally, by keeping the same website structure, we help search engines understand which are the essential components of our website (menus, footers, headers, etc.). That is why when we use folders, which are considered to be parts of the same internet site, we usually tend to have a similar layout on all pages.

With subdomains, we can consider them as different websites and create different layout and site structure.

T0 Summarise the above

While deciding between Subdomains vs. Subfolders – Which is better for SEO, consider the following:

  • Are you looking for a separate identity for your main domain and subdomain?
  • Are you going to put in sufficient efforts to help your subdomain gain the trust of search engines?
  • Do you have resources to manage content strategy for both domain and subdomain?
  • Do you have knowledge to setup correctly the domains/subdomains?
  • Are you going to drive separate and strong SEO campaign for them?
  • Can you provide enough links to all the domains and subdomains?

If you don’t answer positively to all the above questions, then the safest way is to proceed with folders.

Branding, Integrated & Digital Marketing Wizard and Founder of BrandLoom Consulting (A $1m startup). I help companies generate more revenue through digital marketing. I have successfully led Business and Marketing operations of several Large & Small; American, European, Chinese & Indian Brands and Startups. In totality, I have worked with over 100 Brands during my 21 years of professional career with a proven track record of Building Sustainable & Profitable Businesses.

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