If you are familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), you are probably aware of the constant debate between subdomains and subdirectories in terms of SEO performance.
To help quench this debate, our team of experts has conducted research, and their findings show that these features are very important for SEO.
As an SEO expert with years of experience, I will explain the differences between subdomains and subdirectories, their use cases, pros and cons, and much more.
Table Of Contents
- Quick Summary
- What Are Subdomains?
- What Are Subdirectories?
- How Do Subdomains And Subdirectories Affect SEO?
- Subdomains: Use Cases
- Subdirectories: Use Cases
- Subdomain Vs. Subdirectory: Which Is Best for Your Site?
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Make Use of Subdomains & Subdirectories Wisely
- Subdomains and subdirectories can boost the SEO rankings and performance of various websites.
- Subdirectories are often preferred for websites such as blogs for search engine optimization.
- A subdomain is a separate website different from the main website and crawled independently by search engines.
What Are Subdomains?
Subdomains are extra information added to the beginning of a domain name, otherwise known as a separate subdomain of the main domain.
The essence of these subdomains is to ensure that your website is well-organized and easy to navigate.
For example, in a domain name, you get the top-level domain, the additional word at the end of the domain name, and the second-level domain, which is the brand name itself.
Given that we have www.facebook.com, “.com” is the top-level domain, “Facebook” is the second-level domain, and “www” is the subdomain.
What Are Subdirectories?
Subdirectories are sub-folders that help divide the website into sections for easy navigation by visitors.
For example, using www.apple.com as a website, a subdirectory could be www.apple.com/pricing, www.apple.com/tools, and so on.
Also, there are other more complicated types of subdirectories, such as www.apple.com/products/sales, www.apple.com/products/sales/reviews, etc.
With a subdirectory URL, you could go on to have sub-folders within sub-folders and so on. However, this isn’t necessarily the best choice to make.
For one, it could negatively affect the SEO because the URL is too long and confusing. Also, it could be very uncomfortable for website visitors, who may tire of constantly having to find sub-folders within a sub-folder.
Even search engine crawlers may face a challenge trying to crawl your main site for new content and take note of other SEO modifications you may have done on it.
Nonetheless, when the right amount of sub-folders are used on a website, its backlinks and domain authority will be well represented.
If the URL is short and simple, it will be easy for users to find their way around the website without complications.
How Do Subdomains And Subdirectories Affect SEO?
When comparing subdomains with subdirectories for SEO, it is important to realize that these tools are quite competent in their own right; one isn’t inherently better.
In the video above, John Mueller, a Google Webmasters Trend Analyst, stated that Google was fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories for search engine optimization. He also said that Google crawls subdomains separately but as a formality for a few days.
However, despite this statement, many SEO experts believe that subdomains are ineffective, considering that they do not share the authority they receive from inbound links (or backlinks) with the root domain.
This is probably true when you discover that subdomains are considered separate entities from the root domain, hence why they do not partake in any link authority relating to the content on your website.
However, this does not take away the fact that subdomains make it easier for users to navigate your website, which could translate into better engagement rates and, in turn, better search engine optimization.
Content on your website can use subdirectories to benefit from your website’s authority, which is good for SEO and is something that subdomains cannot do.
Also, if you focus more on subdirectories for your website, the webpages within them will be able to capture any backlinks that come their way, boosting their page authority. Over time, this will boost the domain authority of your website’s main domain.
- Allows you to promote multiple products using one domain name.
- Make websites easier to manage.
- Websites that have subdomains can easily get crawled.
- Helpful to large websites that offer different content.
- Comes with SSL certificates and content management systems.
- Subdomain website URLs can be too long.
- They aren’t efficient when promoting different, unrelated products.
- Subdomains are more expensive than other options.
- They require constant moderation.
Subdomains: Use Cases
Subdomains have various use cases:
- Subdomains are frequently used to create a trial version of a website. Usually, developers test new plugins and other features on a subdomain trial site before making it public.
- Subdomains are commonly used when creating online e-commerce websites and for handling transactions. This is done because creating an e-commerce website and the complexities involved in running one are difficult.
- Subdomains are also used to create mobile websites. For example, “m.waptrick.com” and “shop.adele.com” are possible because of subdomains.
- Subdomains can be used for denoting language and region.
- Subdomains can be used to create a help section for your website.
- Subdomains can help organize information that is presented on your website more effectively.
- With subdomains, you can create custom websites that function separately from your main website. For example, user.adele.com and guest.bamboo.com are two websites that can function independently.
- Websites that prioritize subdirectories enjoy higher SEO rankings.
- Subdirectories make websites easy to navigate.
- You can code within subdirectories and make changes.
- Websites with subdirectories are easier to track analytically.
- Websites with subdirectories are easier to optimize.
- Can be difficult to set up.
- Some search engines don’t account for website subdirectories.
- Bad subdirectories can affect the SEO performance of a website.
Subdirectories: Use Cases
Subdirectories have several use cases:
- Content-focused websites, where the essence is to promote the relevance of the website through content, prefer and use subdirectories.
You may have a website that sells skincare products, and you want people to know more about these products. Because you want your website to rank as high as possible on search engine pages, you decide to publish blog posts as subdirectories with relevant keywords.
- Subdirectories prioritize the link equity in your domain. Link equity is one of the attributing factors to SEO, where the values and authority associated with the link(s) transfer from one website to another.
If you have quality content with quality links from high-ranking sites, Google will consider your website top-notch and increase your domain authority.
- Subdirectories can also be used for categorizing websites into different sections. This is usually done by large multinational corporations and businesses that run very large websites.
For example, you could have a website that caters to the needs of individuals from different countries.
So what you do is create separate subdirectories that are tailored for each of these countries.
For example, https://www.adidas.com/uk/, https://www.adidas.com/us/, and https://www.adidas.com/ca/.
We have seen many times that when content (such as a blog) is moved from a subdomain to a subfolder, often a dramatic increase in organic traffic and rankings occurs. This is harder to do, and maybe even impossible, depending on the purpose of the subdomain, but is something to be considered when launching a subdomain in the first place.
– John Doherty, Founder of Credo
Subdomain Vs. Subdirectory: Which Is Best for Your Site?
Choosing between subdomains and subdirectories all boils down to your preference as an individual and the type of website you have running on the internet.
Google has already confirmed that it does not favor one over the other as both are equally considered in terms of Google web search and SEO ranking. However, despite this, most people within the SEO community still sway slightly in favor of subdirectories over subdomains.
It is believed that if you are not under restriction in different countries, you should focus more on subdirectories for your website. However, this may not be as easy as you think because you have to consider what will suit the type of website you have best.
For example, blogs are believed to be better when placed in a subdirectory, with most blogs on the internet taking this approach. However, for landing pages, it can be quite tricky to know which one to go for.
If you know you do not have any content that would add value to your website, do not just jump into using subdirectories because most people prefer it.
Before making a decision, weigh each of their pros and cons, and discuss with web developers the type of website you want and which of these tools to use.
This will help you know which one to go for and how it will affect your website’s SEO performance in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Many Subdomains Can A Domain Have?
A domain can have up to 500 subdomains, and each subdomain has a maximum of 255 characters. You can create multiple subdomains for your website’s main domain if there is a need for it.
Do I Need an SSL Certificate For A Subdomain?
Yes, you need an SSL certificate for each subdomain you create. This is because the SSL certificate verifies your identity and creates a secure medium between your clients and your website.
Why Are Subdirectories Used?
Subdirectories are used to categorize your website into sections called subfolders, which will offer unique content. For example, besttools.com/uk/ is an example of a subdirectory belonging to the main website, which is besttools.com.
Can Search Engines Count Backlinks From Subdomains to the Main Domain?
Yes, search engines can count backlinks from subdomains to the main domain because they can detect that the subdomains are part of the main domain.
Make Use of Subdomains & Subdirectories Wisely
Subdomains and subdirectories are quite important for search engine optimization. Regardless of your site structure, these tools can help improve your SEO rankings immensely if appropriately used.
Currently, subdirectories may be considered by many to have the edge when it comes to SEO performance. However, this does not remove the need for many websites’ subdomains.
Weigh in on the pros and cons, choose the type of website you want, and make an informed decision.
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