One of the biggest arguments in the SEO world today is the subdomains vs. subfolders debate. The topic has many webmasters and SEO specialists arguing over which is better for search engine optimization. While it might sound like a trivial thing to argue over, choosing the wrong one can actually affect your digital marketing efforts quite drastically.
Algorithms look at everything from content to technical aspects when ranking. While content on your blog post is something you can “easily fix,” technical SEO tends to be more difficult to fix later on. This is exactly why the topic of subdomains vs. subdirectories is important when it comes to implementing a long-term SEO strategy. Picking the more SEO-friendly solution can help you get more results for your content marketing strategies and help you reach the top of SERPs much more quickly. In this content marketing guide, we discuss the key differences between a subdomain and subfolder to help you determine the best URL structure.
Subdomain vs. Subfolder – What is The Difference?
Subdomains and subfolders do not only affect the way your domain shows up, but they are also different approaches to adding additional pages to root domains. While these two approaches share the same goal of organizing site architecture, they have a key distinction that creates SEO issues and impacts SEO rankings.
What is a Subdirectory (Subfolder)?
A subdirectory or subfolder is an additional section to your main domain name. It is a “child directory” (a folder within another folder) that stays under the parent directory (home directory) as a subdomain. The best way to visualize it is by thinking of folders in Microsoft Windows.
An example of a subdirectory would be: strong-digital.com/blog
What is a Subdomain?
Subdomains are additional parts of your website. They are usually created to help ease site organization or navigation. However, it is important to note that subdomains are also URLs, which means they are accessed like other regular web addresses. They are not just content repositories (paths within a domain) like subfolders. It is this distinction that starts to affect your overall ability to get keywords you can rank for.
An example of a subdomain would be: blog.strong-digital.com
What Does Google Say?
This is one of the biggest topics that the SEO world and Google disagree on. Google says that it is all the same and that they can read and understand your site regardless of site architecture. There’s even an official video that says Google will treat subdomains and subdirectories equally. However, the problem is that Google’s response is a little too generic. It says that they can crawl, index, and rank all sites the same way. But they do not address the fact that subdomains underperform on search results.
Why do Subdomains Underperform?
Let’s look at some of the ways in which a subdomain can affect your overall ranking on SERPs.
If you want to understand why subdomains are not best for SEO, it is essential to look at keywords. Keywords are used to assess what your content is about. Getting the right keywords involves doing keyword research and carefully integrating them into a blog post or page. Once the content is created, Google bots crawl it and register important keywords. With these keywords, it pieces together what your site is about in its knowledge base. With time, your website will become synonymous with a particular niche and industry, and begin to rank for it – depending on the quality of your content. If done correctly, you will begin to enjoy higher search engine rankings and more organic traffic.
This is where the issue of a subdomain or subdirectory comes into the picture. Google search engines look at subdomains as their own entity, equal and distinct from the root domain. What this means from an SEO perspective is that Google will treat keywords on a subdomain separately from their root domain. This means that keywords from a subdomain will not affect the ranking of the root domain. For example, a website with a subdomain would be able to rank for specific keywords like any other site, just like Google said. The fact of the matter is that creating a website with subdomains will dilute keywords. Each subdomain added can decrease the likelihood that your root domain ranks for a search term.
Another reason why subdomains underperform is because of backlink dilution. Backlinks are links from one website to another. They often serve as a ranking signal by Google search engines. This is because linking to another website is seen as a sign of quality content worth referencing. Link building is a valuable SEO strategy. However, links directed to a subdomain do not help increase the ranking of the root domain, because Google treats the subdomain as a separate domain. Meaning that any links you get from high-quality websites for your blog post will not benefit your root site, just your subdomain. If you want to maximize the results of your link building, then it is best to go with the subfolder strategy.
When Should You Use Subdomains?
Even though subdomains can affect your online marketing results and overall ranking, there are situations when they can prove to be quite beneficial. These are some cases in which a subdomain can be useful.
Expanding into Foreign Markets
Companies that are looking to expand into foreign markets can benefit from subdomains. If a company that ranks well for English keywords wants to expand into Spain, they will need to create a Spanish subdomain. This is because their English keywords will not rank well in Spanish searches. Starting with another subdomain will not affect their current rankings, but will help them begin to rank on a new domain for a completely new market.
Global brands that cater to numerous markets might consider subdomains when marketing to various parts of the world. This is because they will need to diversify their inbound marketing strategy. Because they are targeting different keywords in multiple languages, having a subdomain will help them rank for numerous products in different parts of the world.
Anyone running a start-up or business needs to look at their online presence in the long run. This means paying attention to things that will benefit your SEO. You need to consider more than social media and content marketing if you want higher website traffic. You need to consider the technical aspects as well. Poor technical optimization now may lead to a website redesign or additional website development later on.
The best way to avoid this is to make sure you follow best practices when setting up your website. This includes making the decision to go with the subdomain or subfolder strategy. Our careful testing with numerous SEO tools and years of experience are showing that the subfolder strategy is a lot more beneficial and easier in the long run. Not only does it help strengthen the authority of your root domain, but it saves you the trouble of building separate entity profiles and linking values for multiple domains.
We hope that we have helped shed some light on the debate of subdirectories vs. subdomains and how they affect search engine optimization. Let this serve as part of an advanced SEO guide to creating a business website that will serve your long term goals and avoid potential SEO issues.
If you have any questions or comments about our take on the subdirectories vs. subdomains debate, feel free to leave a comment down below.