Technical SEO

Subdomains Vs Subfolders: Which is Better For SEO and Why?

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With all the latest updates flowing in, there has been a lot of debate in SEO on the topic of Subdomain vs Subdirectory.

What’s better for SEO? Are subdomains bad for SEO? Is there a need to migrate a blog into subdirectory if it’s hosted on subdomain? What does Google say on this? Does subdomain affect Google ranking?

The above-stated are just some of the many questions commonly surfacing in the SEO groups on various platforms, often met with different opinions.

And in this blog, we will comprehensively discuss the entire topic to clear the confusion and settle the debate about “subdomain vs subdirectory”. Let’s shed light on all the technical SEO considerations you must consider, and we’ll move on to highlight the instances when you can leverage it the most.

Let’s start with:

Understanding Subdomains and Subdirectories

Before we dive deep into the debate of which is better than which, let’s first discuss the technical differences between the two.

Subdomain: blog.domainname.com

Subdirectory: domainname.com/blog/

In simpler terms, a subdomain is the child of the parent domain, and are often used for hosting:

  • Separate mobile websites
  • Quote forms
  • Blogs
  • Ecommerce websites/stores, especially when it’s a large site
  • Different sites to target different markets

Subdirectory, or also called subfolder, you can see how the /blog/ sits with the main domain. This is part of the main domainname.com website in the same manner as any other page would be. This is just another page on this same website, fulfilling different purposes.

However, a subdomain in SEO comes outside of the main domain; as you can see it’s placed within its own partition of the domain. In the example shown above, the subdomain is used to host a blog.

For starters, a subdomain will always come before the root domain when you look at the URL. Conversely, a subdirectory always comes after.

Let’s now come back to the same query: why do we see such a significant debate in the SEO community between subdomains and subfolders? How do we know if one is better than the other, especially when it comes to rankings on the SERPs?

Context On The Debate

First things first; your website’s structure will have a clear impact on your organic search performance.

It must be noted that choosing between a subdomain or a subdirectory for various areas of your website can either help improve or hinder the ability to drive growth. However, we also see quite a few instances when it’s only right to host part of your website on a subdomain.

To clear the confusion on this debate, choosing between the two is very much an “it depends” thing. The important part is to understand the different usage scenarios and how they can influence the organic performance of your website.

This debate stems from the fact that Google takes subdomains as separate entities for your main domain, mainly because there are a lot of websites that place different content on subdomains that shouldn’t be linked with the main site. In other instances, those subdomains of the main domain are owned and used by different people.

We go back to the example we stated above:

  • Domainname.com/blog/ is taken as part of domainname.com by the algorithm of Google
  • Blog.domainname.com is not taken as part domainname.com, but as a different entity.

This basically means that the content, along with backlinks, hosted on subdomain will not be taken into account by the Google algorithm, especially when ranking the main domain.

To help make this a little more clearer, it’s almost as if the content hosted on the subdomain is hosted on a completely different domain to get better rankings.

While a lot of experts and SEO people may disagree, sometimes it makes all the more sense for a subdomain to appear as a separate entity to the main domain, even more so when the subdomains are to be seen as representing separate businesses.

Majority of the times, subdomain is linked, either through a navigation menu or internal links, to the main domain, but sometimes it won’t be. This is the most important factor when you decide the path you should take while setting up your website.

Google’s Say About Subdomains Vs Subdirectories

You must not think that subdirectories are good for SEO and subdomains are bad. The case isn’t this simple!

We need to understand how all the recommendations we have from different experts, match with Google’s guidelines.

John Mueller spoke on the topic, and he said “Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories.” He further added, “We must know how to crawl subdomains separately, but for the most part, it’s only a formality for the first few days”.

The SEO Debate On Subdirectories

Well, If Google told us that subdomains are safe and fine, why do we need to talk any further?

To answer this, we will have to shed light on 2 of the most vital ranking factors on Google:

  • Content
  • Links

Sure, Google may have stated that there’s no issue in using either of the two; subdomains or subdirectories, but that certainly doesn’t mean there are no benefits of one over another. Let’s now talk in detail on the question, “are subdomains or subdirectories better for SEO?”

There are some important differences between subdomains and subfolders, especially in SEO. In general, a subdomain is a content repository on the Internet. It is accessed just like a normal website address, but it doesn’t have paths within the domain. Using subfolders, on the other hand, is better for SEO and building multiple entity profiles and linking values. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Most technical SEO tools will assume that your main domain is the root domain, which is the reason why they treat it as one. But in actuality, they are separate and unrelated to each other. A subfolder, by contrast, will be treated as a path within the same root domain. This is because it will be treated as part of the main website, and the pages will be stored under it. Therefore, while subfolders do not benefit your main website’s SEO, they will increase your traffic volume.

For most websites, it makes more sense to use subfolders instead of subdomains, as they allow for logical structure and retain link authority. Because subfolders are hosted on the same server, they will also benefit from the concentration of keywords. Moreover, subfolders are less likely to lose the benefits of being a separate entity, but they may perform better than their main counterparts because they’re hosted on the same server.

While subfolders are more flexible for organizing your content, there are certain benefits of subdomains, which is why they are still a better option for smaller sites with limited variety of content. Whether or not you choose a subdomain or a subfolder depends on your use case. If your use case justifies it, then a subdomain should be the best choice..

While subfolders may look simpler, it can also be more difficult to maintain a site. In many cases, the URL structure of a website is the most important factor for search engine optimization. Choosing between subfolders and subdomains depends on the specific needs of the website. If you have a large business or a complex site, a subfolder is a better option. The main advantage of subfolders is that it can help you achieve better rankings for your main website. All said, the subdomain vs subfolder choice depends upon your need.

The Challenges Of Subdirectories

Who wouldn’t want to have complete control on whether subdomains or subdirectories are used for several areas of their site?

But it isn’t that simple. This is why you’ll have to make compromises when it comes to technical limitations. These limitations may include:

  • Developer unwilling to host a WordPress blog on the same server as an ecommerce store
  • Wanting to use a dedicated blogging platform instead of the built-in blog of the ecommerce platform
  • Unable to set up international sites in subfolders

Subdomain or Subdirectory: Which Is Right For Me?

For the most part of this debate, the SEO community and experts are of the view that if there are no legal restrictions, technical issues and problems in different regions, you should host content on subdirectory instead of subdomain.

On that note, you must also take into account the context of this decision and when can you host on a subdomain. If you have a blog or ecommerce store, the preferred option should always be that the content be hosted on a subdirectory. However, if it’s a quote form or some content that’s not adding much value to your website, don’t opt for subdirectories.

In majority of the cases, subdirectories have an edge over subdomains for SEO. But, you must still put all considerations on the table before making the final decision.

For content like your blog, the decision is easy, but for other types of content and website features, you should weight all the pros and cons of both options.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you know how your decision will impact your site’s SEO performance.

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