Setting up a new website section or blog is exciting. However, before you can really get started, you’ll need to choose between a subdomain or a subdirectory structure. This can be a puzzling decision that stops you in your tracks. To help you make a more informed choice we’ve put together the pros and cons of both.
Subdomains vs. Subfolders: Which is better for SEO?
Google maintains it treats subdomains and subfolders equally. They crawl, index and rank both in the same way so there’s nothing to worry about. The SEO pros aren’t convinced which is why you need to make a choice.
There are occasions where setting up a subdomain is preferable and easier for the business due to technical implementation. For example, a new company blog may be better suited for separating the CMS, content, theme and concept.
The other benefit of choosing subdomains is from a marketing perspective. By keeping the content on a separate URL (e.g. blog.website.com), the blog can act as its own entity and achieve great rankings on its own.
Blog.website.com might just be the first of many subdomains you choose to create. Eventually, you might have events, videos, podcasts and other separate areas of the business on their own subdomains. Users can find exactly what they need quickly and easily, delivering value and ensuring they return in the future.
One of the disadvantages of opting for a subdomain is that because search engines view them as separate sites, they’re treated as separate domains when it comes to determining rankings. Considerations need to be made for developing a subdomain into its own entity. This consists of building inbound links from other relevant, established websites and featuring lots of good quality content.
As an example, if the main website has accumulated 1,000 quality backlinks over time, it would now be necessary to build up at least 1,000 quality backlinks for the subdomain if you expect to see similar results. If there are many similar subdomains to target then the workload can really pile up quite quickly.
Using subfolders as opposed to subdomains has many benefits. Firstly, aside from an SEO viewpoint, folders are a neat way to keep any themed content grouped and web files neatly organised. This is especially useful for larger websites.
It might not feel relevant right now but you’d be surprised how quickly things can get out of hand as you generate content.
In terms of SEO considerations, pages set up in a subfolder-like structure will leverage the ‘power’ of the main domain itself and receive a trickle-down effect. For any business who’s previously struggled to build domain authority, keeping content in one place can help as opposed to spreading the content too thinly across subdomains.
One disadvantage to consider is that the number of pages the URL contains will increase in a subfolder setup.
Having a high number of pages could reduce the rankings of other pages as the authority is shared. If the content you place in your subfolder is much less important than your main content, then a subdomain setup may be better.
What’s the verdict?
When deciding which route to take when setting up your website, both subfolders and subdomains can each be used to market web content differently. Generally speaking, a subfolder structure is a better choice than a subdomain.
The only purpose where a subdomain option would be more preferable is for branding. By creating a subdomain for a product, content is featured as a separate to the main domain. In most cases, however, a subfolder allows marketers to take advantage of the website’s pre-existing domain authority.
One way to think about the different setups is that a subfolder is like a label which describes the meaning of a group of pages within a website whereas subdomains are actually separate sites in themselves.
Why not use both? It might be more work for you but the subfolder and subdomains can be used to market web content in different ways. Subfolders can describe what individual pages are about whereas the subdomains describe individual sites. Either way, search marketers can and should be considering both options as opposed to choosing one above the other.
It’s about finding the right option for your specific requirements. Like with many aspects of inbound marketing, there are multiple ways of doing things so it’s up to you to find the option that suits you.
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If you’re setting up a new blog and want to generate valuable traffic to it, then make sure to download our inbound pillar page. It has a whole section on SEO that’s packed with best practices and tips you can action right now. The pillar page also has sections on video, workflows and content to give you the tools you need to deliver an effective inbound marketing campaign.
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This blog was originally written by Alarin Attias on 12/06/15. It was updated by Jacob Stear for 2020.