Putting an End to the Subdomains vs Subdirectories Debate

web-design-dev

When it comes to SEO in general, when should I use subdomains vs subdirectories (subfolders)?

The subdomains vs subdirectories debate is a bit strange because many people seem to think either one approach or the other should be implemented, when really they are two different animals all together and a combination of using both is appropriate in many situations with respect to search marketing.

The decision to utilize subdirectories and or subdomains can be thought of as a marketing and an information architecture consideration, largely based on how you want your site’s content to be recognized by the engines and how you want to position yourself on the web for maximum profitability. 

You could think of it like this: a sub directory is like a label to help describe the meaning of a page or group of pages on a website while subdomains are actually separate sites in themselves.  For example, you could build up your existing website using subdirectories or you could create a totally new site using a subdomain.

When to use subdirectories

Let me first be clear that subdirectories from a search engine’s point of view are simply a cosmetic feature that help make a URL look more structured and logical.  Some webmasters will physically create sub directories on their file system to organize pages while other sites, for example sites built in drupal, serve up a URL path containing forward slashes to represent a subdirectory architecture in order to give the appearance of organized content on the server (with that said, you really don’t always need to use subdirectories if you wanted to have all pages on your site sitting in the web root).  And so, the benefits of subdirectories are…

  • Organization – Subdirectories are great for organizing content into meaningful, descriptive URLs.  If you’re looking to grow your site and categorize content in a meaninful, logical way then subdirectories are a good way to make your URL path’s more search friendly.
  • For relatively smaller sites, keeping your content in one place will help your site to build initial authority vs spreading too thin with sub domains.  Keep in mind that having content spread out across multiple sub domains won’t help with any one site’s authority/trust.
  • Building dominance in one place over time – The more authority and trust a site builds with the search engines the easier it becomes to rank new content for related keyword terms that would have taken you much longer had you started from scratch. New content can be organized by subfolders.
  • Easier to manage – Using sub directories can be easier to manage than sub domains for the less technically savvy.
  • Basic geo targetingUPDATE 3-11-10, google webmaster tools now lets us set geo-location preferences to sub directories.  The idea is to create a new "site" listing in google webmaster central that also includes the subdirectory, so in addition having a www.domain.com listing you would create an additional listing for www.domain.com/fr (France) or www.domain.com/uk (for the UK) and then set the geo location accordingly.  Note that you can’t assign an IP to a sub directory, and IP’s are generally signals of geo location, so sub domains would likely be a stronger candidate for pure geo targeting.

When subdomains are more appropriate

Remember that Google considers sub domains separate from their parent domains:  sub.yoursite.com is considered a different site altogether compared to yoursite.com when it comes to search engine authority.  A good rule of thumb is to market content using subdomains when each subdomain needs to be positioned as an expert on the topic at hand, so long as that content is semantically different.

  • Different content – If you have a site with many specific themes, topics or products that aren’t well related then using sub domains would be a better way to help partition chunks of the site into more categorical sections that search engines can promote.  Remember, being a jack of all trades won’t help you compete against the expert who dedicates their energy in one area of focus. For example, Google has their news product (news.google.com) and maps product (maps.google.com), and because they’re fundamentally different from each other and different than Google’s main search product, they aren’t mixed together on the same domain.
  • Be competitive in many, related areas – If you have the money and resources, then you can promote related themes that self re-enforce each other, say via the site navigation.  Consider seobook.com, Aaron Wall wrote a book on SEO (seobook.com).  Then take a look at tools.seobook.com: he’s targeting "SEO Tools", training.seobook.com targets "SEO Training" and so on.  Do a search for "SEO" on wordtracker or keyword discovery’s free search tools and you will see each vertical (seo tools, seo training) is a popular topic among searchers.  There are several themes Wall is targeting and all themes are connected from the main site’s navigation, making it easy for visitors to be exposed to the sub domains – and so each theme/sub-vertical is exposed to the user through the site’s navigation.  Wall has spent a significant amount of time building each sub vertical because he knows that as his main site’s authority grows for the brand of "seo book" related searches it begins to drown out his main site’s ability to rank for broader "tools" and "training" related queries, so he built sub domains to become authoritative for just those themes.
  • Multiple listings – It’s possible, though not always to reap more than the two listing limit for a given query using sub domains in Google.  Subdomains can be a good way to snag more brand based searches.
  • Target different regional markets more effectively.  Sub domains are easier to market to specific geographical regions: you can assign an IP address to a sub domain and even set a geographical preference in Google’s webmaster tools for each sub domain (sub directories can have their geo-preference set but can’t be assigned an IP in another country, which might also be a signal of geo location).
  • Branching out using existing brand strength.  If you already have a well established domain and want to expand out into other areas not completely related to your main site’s topics then a sub domain might be a good option.  At the same time, people associate the sub domain with your main domain’s brand, which means it can be easy to build up momentum on a vertical related to your main site.
  • What are your business goal? If you plan on growing and then selling portions of your site in the future then using sub domains would make it easier to section off pieces for others to acquire/purchase.

It’s a perfectly good idea to organize content using subdirectories on each of your subdomains as well, so using subdomains and subdirectories do actually go hand in hand.

If you’ve just skimmed this article

If you’re just skimming this article and want my executive summary, I’m saying subdirectories and subdomains can each be used to market web content differently, subdirectories describe what individual pages are about and subdomains describe what individual sites are about (Google treats subdomains as separate sites while subdirectories are just part of the same site).  You can also say that subdirectories are a more granular way of marketing content via a search engine while subdomains are a more general method.  Either way, search marketers can and should be using both, not arguing if one is simply better than the other.

Mike Shannon

Mike Shannon

Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer
Mike Shannon is the CTO and co-founder of BRIM Agency Mike is a technology entrepreneur specializing in web development and search marketing.
Mike Shannon
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Comments

  1. saching
    January 30th

    Thanks Mike for your article but i had very different experience while switching from subdomains to subdirectories. Can you/anyone please analyse and help me in choosing correct approach.

    I started with http://www.idlefolks.com and had multiple subdirectories like uk.idlefolks.com or bangalore.idlefolks.com. I can see that google was relaxed while indexing the URLs. I thought that i am not getting that recognition to my root domain even though i am getting noticeable traffic on root as well as on subdomains.

    Later i changed my subdomains to subfolders (i.e. http://www.idlefolks.com/uk) so that google can see traffic and give me higher ranking in search. To my amazement, google has stopped doing indexes of my old/new URLs from my sitemaps (may be old URLs/duplicate URLs are still active in its indices).

    I am not able to figure out if i go back to subdomains or have patience now with subdirectories. Please help.

    Thanks

    Saching

    • Mike Shannon
      January 30th

      Saching,  did you 301 redirect your subdomains (and all pages under the subdomains) to your new subfolders on your root domain? It looks like Google cached your home page on January 23rd, so I don’t think there is any major penatly going on with your root domain.

  2. Dhiraj
    February 9th

    Hi Actually we want to create our site for different language, we confused that which one would be better but after doing lot of search on net and reading Matt article we approached subdirectory and we are getting good result on our targeted keyword offshore programming in google and other search engine as well, so this really very nice discussion to clear my confusion.

  3. David Jones
    February 15th

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories/ In this Matt comments that google will be penalising sites who spam the index using subdomains and linking from one to the next or even 301 redirects..I see no eveidence of this however….and there are many sites out there ranking highly who use subdomains to deliver content JUST for Google…it all seems like a contradiction…Google’s own PR guy (effectively), says dont spam via subdomainsand dont produce content just for the search engines, but doing so clearly works!!!

    • Mike Shannon
      February 15th

      I think subdomains are a great way to publish content for the purpose of targeting a sub niche relative to it’s parent domain.  If you produce relevant content and make it accessible via SEO then you have a winner.  Spamming any index is a bad idea, no matter how you do it.

  4. Ken
    February 22nd

    Mike, Thanks for a great post. I have been blogging for a while, and recently wanted to make sure I am maximizing the SEO value for my main site. My blog is currently located at blog.princetoncapitalllc.com, and as I said the main purpose is to get a better ranking for http://www.princetoncapitalllc.com. I thought this would be an easy question, but it appears as though there is a ton of debate on this, and a log of it contradictory. Even Matt’s blog from Google does not appear to really answer the question on which is best for your SEO results. I believe you answered it best, but want to make sure. If your main purpose of a blog is to get better ranking results for your main (www) site, and therefore the blog has similar content to your pages in the main site, it is better to put it in a subfolder than in a subdomain. Correct? Ken

    • Mike Shannon
      February 22nd

      Ken, your best bet is to place your blog on your main site (in a subfolder).  Google will treat blog.princetoncapitalllc.com separately with respect to http://www.princetoncapitalllc.com, meaning the ranking authority blog.princetoncapitalllc.com accumulates will not benefit http://www.princetoncapitalllc.com.  By pooling your resources and placing more pages into the index for a single domain, that domain will gain more "trust" and ability to rank for other, related keywords you didn’t necessarily plan on.

      • Eric Jones
        July 4th

        Great response Ken! I have been consulting with several companies and was thinking on the novelty of doing their blogs as subdomains or subdirectories. It looks as if I will stick with subdirectories as this will improve their main site SEO. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Saching
    March 18th

    Thanks Mike for suggestion. I did change my .htaccess file later and i can see all old links of subdirectories to getting redirected to subdomains automatically by web server. I changed back to subdomains and i am happy with these now. Did couple of experiments with Google webmasters and i can play with it whenever it does not index my URLs. Thanks again.

  6. chris
    April 3rd

    We are debating moving our distinct language sections into subdomains. Currently they are in subdirectories but we are wondering if for the future subdomains would be the way to go…. Both for linking benefits and ranking benefits…. Would you be able to comment on this?

    • Mike Shannon
      April 3rd

      If the location of your target audience is not a factor (meaning they could be anywhere in the world searching for your product/service) and the semantics of your Spanish section is the same as the semantics of your English section (for example) then best to keep on a single domain in subfolders – in this case you have just a single website in different languages and keep in mind Google doesn’t consider a page witten in English that says the same thing as another page written in Spanish to be duplicate – so no duplicate penaltites there.

      If the semantics of your content between languages is different or if they offer different services/products in each section then using subdomains would be the way to go – in this case you really have two websites (regardless of which or how many different languages appear on the site).

      If the location of your target audience is a factor then you could use a different top level domain (.fr for France/french, .es for Span, etc.) for each language which would signal to the engines that your content would be best suited to show up for those searching in that particuar region of the world.  Google wbebmaster tools also allows you to set a geo preference for subdomains, so if you think the content in your spanish section (for example) might be sought after more in Spain, then setting up a subdomain and geo targeting that sub domain is the way to go (if you couldn’t buy yourdomain.es)

      • Chris
        May 21st

        Thanks for your assistance in this regard. It was a complex move to the new URL, things are not very clear in this field relating to multiple language environment. There are many factors which are difficult to face like the difficulty of finding keyword data for other languages….

  7. Binh
    April 28th

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for such a great article about subdomain vs subfolder. I’ve been searching for a good advice for so many months. I saw you responded to other people very open-mindedly so I wish to seek your wisdom.

    I’m having this site http://jewell.vn which I’m building with 3 languages, which are Vietnamese, English, and Chinese accordingly.

    I read the other comments and come to believe that because I’m targeting different languages, which mean different keywords, I’d go for this structure:

    http://jewell.vn for Vietnamese
    http://en.jewell.vn for English
    http://zh.jewell.vn for Chinese would be a good choice.

    However, I’m still in doubt of my own understanding, and wish you could confirm that is a good way to do.

    Also, which one is be better for the main language Vietnamese? jewell.vn, vi.jewell.vn, or http://www.jewell.vn?

    Come to www subdomain, it means "word wide web" (international) so would it be nice to use that for English instead of Vietnamese?

    Thanks in advance,
    Binh

  8. Rohit
    July 21st

    Hi mike I know I found this blog bit late but I am happy to find it finally. my question is that we have a website http://www.otssolutions.com and we are planning to create our website in other languages also so shoul we create a different website for it like http://www.otssolutions.de or we should host it on same url like http://www.otssolutions.com/german ? please suggest me which would b the best

  9. Nik
    August 25th

    I found this article to be most helpful. Trying to figure out the best solution between sub.domains vs. sub/directories was so confusing, but after reading this, I now feel I have a better handle on the subject matter. One thing’s for sure, there’s no one right answer. It all depends on how you want to approach and position your blog. So, after giving it some thought, I now know I want to build trust with my main site, reinforce the brand of my main site, and use my blog to publish content related to my main site. So the best solution for me will be to use a sub/directory. Thanks for this great post!

  10. Chee Keong
    January 13th

    Hi Mike, Thanks for this article. Finally I’ve found something easy to understand and makes sense. It seems yahoo refuses to crawl my website. Any suggestion?

  11. Bhavin Parikh
    January 31st

    Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing the great information on subdirectories vs. subdomains. I am working on a test prep site which will eventually cater to more than one type of exam. While the topics are all related (in test prep), would subdomains be more appropriate because my goal is to be viewed as an expert resource in each topic (e.g. GMAT, LSAT, SAT, etc…)? Thanks! Bhavin

    • Mike Shannon
      February 1st

      Hi Bhavin, you can still have all the different tests on a single website and might be the more efficient way to go if you have a relatively new site.  Proper internal linking will help the engines understand what different sections are about (GMAT, LSAT, etc.).  A lot of the decision to go with sub domains falls under the question of how large or how much traffic you are getting and your webmaster’s ability to manage sub domains.  For example, in seobook’s case it looks like they’re leveraging the original authority of the root domain to promote a sub domain (tools.seobook.com) in order to harvest more clicks in the search results.

  12. Megan
    February 2nd

    Hi there,
    I’ve been setting up blogger blogs for several clients over the years, all integrated into their existing websites, published via ftp to a subdirectory (e.g., the fishing report for the http://www.fishingportrenfrew.ca site is created with Blogger, but resides at http://www.fishingportrenfrew.ca/report). Blogger will soon not be allowing ftp, forcing us to use a custom domain/subdomain or move to another platform such as wordpress. My question is, what will the SEO implications be of both options? I.e.., will report.fishingportrenfrew.ca be ranked the same as /report, or will moving to WordPress to keep the /report subdirectory be the best option?
    Thanks for any guidance – I’m a SEO newbie!
    Megan

  13. Tyler Duncan
    March 11th

    Thanks for this helpful article Mike. While your article is the clearest I’ve found on the subject, I’m still having a hard time deciding between using subdomains or subdirectories for our international family tree website (http://mundia.com).

    We currently have a sub-domain set up for each individual country we’re targeting (e.g. http://de.mundia.com for Germany) and within Google Webmaster Tools we’ve configured each subdomain to target the correct country location. Also when a user enters our main address http://mundia.com they are automatically forwarded to the correct subdomain based on the user’s geographic location.

    From your article, it would seem that this is a great approach for targeting different regional markets, the down side however is that our site authority and trust is divided between all our subdomains.

    However, irrelevant of the users location, the services that we provide on our site are identical and the site is structured in the same way. The only difference is the default language and the fact that on each subdomain, we plan to create landing pages optimized to target language specific search phrases. Based on your comments about semantics, it sounds like you’re suggesting it might be better for us to use subdirectories.

    It would be greatly appreciated if you could have a quick look at our site and let me know what you think. Another question that I have is in regards to the landing pages. Is it also possible within Google Webmaster Tools to target subdirectories of our main domain to specific countries much as you can do for subdomains? Lastly we have a blog that is currently set up at http://blog.mundia.com. Since this blog will be used primarily for driving traffic to the main site I assume we should move this to http://mundia.com/blog?

    Thanks so much for your help!

    • Mike Shannon
      March 13th

      Hi Tyler, actually as it turns out Google made it possible for us to set geo-location preferences on sub directories, but after I wrote this post. I’ve added the update under the sub directories section of the post.

      To your question, yes subdirectories do sound like an appealing way to go if your content is semantically the same from language to language version, because inbound links to one area of the site help to create the rising tide effect for the rest of the site (pooling your link equity resources) – but that’s moving forward, if you’ve already got links built up pointing to different subdomains then you will want to 301 redirect those subdomains to the subdirectories on your single site if you do decide to make the switch.

      Note that subdirectories can’t be assigned an IP address which is also likely a geo location signal, but if you didn’t already have IP’s in their respective geo locations anyway then I think it’s a mute point in your case. Also note that sub domains are generally a nicer way to reap more brand based searches, so if your brand is popular you may want to consider sticking with subdomains.

      I would not redirect the user based on geo-location because from what I’ve seen, Google doesn’t support redirecting based on location and only crawls from the United States, so geographic redirection may cause crawling problems. Google also makes the point that many people don’t like being redirected automatically: they’d rather choose for themselves.

      Another important point, if you geo-target a subdomain or subdirectory then you force that property to receive traffic from that geo-specific area only and are more likely to miss out on language specific traffic (e.g. if you geo-target to France you would then likely miss out on French speaking searchers in Canada, etc.).

      Yes, move your blog to live on your main domain.

      • Thanks so much for your thorough response Mike. We’ve since moved our subdomains to subdirectories. So ar.mundia.com now 301 redirects to http://www.mundia.com, which then 302 redirects based on the user’s geo-location. So to http://www.mundia.com/ar assuming that the visitor is based in Argentina. Is this an adequate solution, or should we be redirecting directly to http://www.mundia.com/ar irrelevant of the user’s location?

        Reading through your previous response again, it would seem that redirecting based on location is not a good idea due to crawability issues. I did not fully understand the reasoning behind this, but am I correct in saying that with our current setup, you expect Google could have difficulty crawling our subdirectories?

        With regards to language settings, currently when a new visitor visits http://www.mundia.com, the site will be presented in the same language as their browser language settings. Of course the user can easily change their preferred language by manually selecting from a drop down list.

        One of my biggest concerns with our current approach is the potential of being penalized for duplicate content. Our country home pages are very much the same with the exception that different popular surnames are displayed. My fear is that in Google’s eyes we now have content that is too similar replicated within numerous country specific subdirectories. Are these valid concerns and should we be making more of an effort to customize content within the different country subdirectories?

        Regarding geo-targeting subdirectories, does it make sense in our case to do this? Is there a benefit in geo-targeting http://www.mundia.com/mx to Mexico and http://www.mundia.com/ar to Argentina when the content in these folders is essentially the same and by geo-targeting, we are essentially limiting that URL to being found only in a specific country.

        I realize that I’ve asked more than my fair share of questions, but I’d really appreciate it if you could shed some light on some of these issues for me. Thanks so much!

  14. Flemming
    March 15th

    Hi Mike.

    I am in the process of building a webshop for our company. We currently have physical shops in several countries in Europe, and the webshop will also be made available in several countries in Europe. We currently have a "brandsite", which we most likely will continue running when the shop is online. This, because we work with fashion, and our marketing team needs a "playground" for all their crazy ideas, whereas I will focus hard on the money and customer aspect. So in the future, at least to begin with, we will have both a brandsite and a webshop. We might eventually melt those 2 sites together.

    The question is, which is the right way to go about the domain strategy. My gut feeling tells me I should use country specific domains like http://www.brand.se over for instance shop.brand.com/se/ or brand.com/se/shop, because it seems that Google would give country specific URL’s the most value. I know that going by this strategy I would have extras costs with SSL certificates in the check out flow, but still the SERP value from using country specific domains, would make it the best solution. On the other hand, it seems that using for instance http://www.brand.com/se/shop could make sense as well since we thereby can transfer PR to the shop directory from the main domain.

    What’s your take on this?

  15. Rogo
    April 13th

    Hi Mike, Thanks for this good article. I just lunching brand new site and I need an advice about regional domains vs. subdirectories. Our site is new (clock-hotel-software.com) and i think that if we create several tdl (co.uk, .de, .bg, .ro and .hr) this will split inbound link to sevaral sites and decrease my ranking. Correct?

    • Mike Shannon
      April 13th

      The act of creating different tld’s won’t split an already existing inbound link profile it’s just that you’d need to work on several websites’ inbound link profiles instead of just one.

  16. Skipease
    May 15th

    This is a great article on subdomains v subdirectories, but I still can’t decide on one or the other. I run a people search site and want to add an extensive public records directory. However, I can’t decide on using a subdomain like publicrecords.skipease.com or a subdirectory like skipease.com/publicrecords/ Any opinions on this?

    • There are many variables to consider but I might have it sitting in a subdirectory unless you think the "public records directory" is going to target a totally different search market than your root domain.

  17. SEO Tools
    June 14th

    Thanks for the article. Well i was very confused to have subdirectory or subdomain for my blog but i think i should keep it as sub directory now. Thanks.

  18. Bob
    June 20th

    Now that WordPress 3 has launched you have the opportunity to use either subdomains or subdirectories, I find that subdomains always looks neater but then there is always more work needed relating to ‘wild cards’ and the configuring of the server

    I think I shall only use subdomains for different languages in the future

    Thanks for your article it made good reading

  19. kayle me
    July 28th

    Thanks for the great article!

    What would you recommend for a news site expanding to local cities? I read something about having a ‘link juice’ if I just organize them under subdirectories.

    I wonder if it is for the same reason HuffPo uses subdirectories. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/los-angeles/

    Thanks

    • Mike Shannon
      July 28th

      Hi Kayle, there are several factors to consider.  If your website is small then I would stick with subdirectories if not then subdomains may be the more appropriate option.  If you need consulting on the topic you can contact us.

  20. Victor
    September 30th

    Hello Mike,

    I must say this is by far the most informative article I have read about "to sub-domain or not to sub-domain" is the question?

    I am developing a website and using different tabs for vehicles, real estate, employment and classified ads. Do I understand correctly that since these categories are not semantically related to each other it is better for each of them to be on sub-domains.

    But as far as having more authority on the website maintaining them on sub-directory is better because all updates and new postings will go to the same domain.

    In which case if I gave these tabs its own sub-domain each for (vehicles, real estate, employment and classified ads), I would be at the least be developing and maintaining 4 websites, which would consume a lot of time, resources, energy and money.

    Therefore, if you are not ready to sustain multiple domains which is as good as multiple sites then you are just better off having sub-directories so one does not spread himself too thin.

    I hope you find time to comment on my reply as this will put an end to my long sought after answer to this question about sub-domains.

    Thank you.

    • Mike Shannon
      September 30th

      Hi Victor, you’ve got it right.  Organizing content into subdomains or subdirectories will depend on your available resources and of course how you want that content to be marketed.  

      In your case if you are just one person then one website might be best, considering the time it takes to maintain everything.  

      If your main four topics are not really going to be relating to one another at all then that might be a problem as the site grows but if the site is small enough now I wouldn’t worry too much.

      One way to market your content all on one domain is if you position yourself as a portal, a one-top-shop location for all the main categories you mentioned, then find ways to semantically connect those main points throughout the site… of course your solution should still make sense to your users.  Sorry if that sounds general.  If you need more specific advice please give us a call.

  21. Tim Blankenship
    November 6th

    Thanks for taking the time to explain that. I was able to get all the information i need just of reading your post. Subcatagories seem to be the best way to go for me. Thanks Again.

  22. Brett
    November 17th

    I’ve recently been tracking the traffic a sports blog site.

    According to compete.com, the site bostonsportsthenandnow.com was receiving about 3000 unique views a month. In May, the site purchased sportsthenandnow.com and built subdomains for each market. So now, bostonsportsthenandnow.com redirects to boston.sportsthenandnow.com.

    NOW, according to compete.com, neither bostonsportsthenandnow.com or boston.sportsthenandnow.com are registering any hits at all in August.

    This is leading me to believe that subdomains have killed this sites perceived traffic by Google, even though the author of the site claims he is still receiving the same traffic.

    Should I suggest the author stick with subdomains? Or revert and create subdirectories, such as sportsthenandnow.com/boston?

    Let me know. I’m at brett.rudy@charityhop.com. Thanks!

    • Mike Shannon
      November 17th

      Hi Brett, compete.com I think only displays top level domain traffic and not subdomain traffic unless you pay for it, so the public tool won’t show any traffic for the boston.sportsthenandnow.com.

      By running both boston.sportsthenandnow.com and sportsthenandnow.com the owner basically has two websites with two different levels of ranking authority vs a single site.

      It’s not bad one way or the other necessarily it’s just that if more ranking authority under one website means more dollars to that business then I would suggest that approach.

  23. Robert Vayner
    November 22nd

    Wow Mike, thank you for such a write-up !!
    i think i may have found my solution ?

    i need to add a hosted cart solution to replace my wp plugin based cart on a site thats doing very well in serps.

    right now my cart is pointed at my main domain as i had to switch fast during holidays and not shock my costumers which i did 2 days ago .

    i cant host my blog over at my hosted carts host which i pointed my dns to for now so i am forced to host my blog with in my case hostgator.

    if i created blog/fashionpenny.com and forwarded it along with a 301 to a subdirectory on my root domain
    fashionpenny.com/blog and then did all the 404’s 301’s to re-align my juice again then it seems like it would be what i need..

    the question is am i correct and how would i go about crating a subdirectory in hostgator ?

    i am even fine with :
    pointing the hosted cart to cart/fashionpenny.com and forwarding it to ( if possible to create) fashionpenny.com/cart subdirectory using 301 just to keep the juice flowing . i would also love to maybe simply point the cart to a subdirectory of fashionpenny.com/ but i seem to be sooo confused at this point that i even feel like i may be asking a stupid question … can you understand this or am i confusing you as well ?

    Its extremely important to have this hosted cart on the same domain as my blog , all content is themed to product offerings and will be interlinked ,etc..

    its almost like i am brain dead with all the contradictions.

    Mike this content seems to make me feel sane again, i am soooo hoping i am correct in my case.. Please Help , it cant get worst for a online wholesale jeweler to be having tech problems during this season which is when we make 70% of our yearly income…

    If i am offered a solution that works you will never have to purchase ladies jewelry for anyone ,lol, i will give you a code and you go pick whatever you want , thats how important your solution will be to our company . SOS…SOS…

  24. Brice Ashta
    November 29th

    I think the major difference a lot of people are concerned with is the amount of link juice that one will get as opposed to the other. Since subdomains are completely different according to Google, they do not receive the benefits of one-at-a-time link building, which makes it harder to build links through blog comments, guest posting, or even getting written about and reviewed. Subdirectories, however, receive all the same link juice, so it’s "easier" to get a higher rank… in the beginning. That said, many people run into issues using the subdirectory method too intensely, with varied content. If it does not all focus around a niche, it has been speculated that you will rank lower due to Google not knowing where to categorize you… Keep in mind this has never been proven — it’s just what I was told.

  25. markus
    January 27th

    Hi there, and thank you for the helpful article and comments.

    We’re having a quite complex news/article website whole with several languages and content areas. Currently the structure is with language subdomains and localized content subdirectories like en.domain.com/travel, fr.domain.com/voyage. We’re about to rethink our structure, and there are many variables here. Would be great to get some advice how to make a compromise between them. Here are our alternatives:

    a) en.domain.com/travel, fr.domain.com/voyage (like so far)
    + Localized content names
    – Different subdomains for different languages with mostly the same content and structure

    b) Have an English content subdomain, like travel.domain.com/en, travel.domain.com/fr
    + Semantically correct subdomains, based on content
    – Not localized subdomain names – I’ve understood this would be really bad for French people searching with the keyword voyage.

    c) Localized subdomains, like travel.domain.com/en, voyage.domain.com/fr
    + Semantically correct subdomains, based on content
    + Localized content names
    – A myriad of subdomains

    d) Localized subdomains completely without the language variable in the address, like travel.domain.com, voyage.domain.com
    Same +’s and -‘s as in option c – but maybe the language isn’t necessary, since it might be obvious already based on the subdomain and content.

    Thank you beforehand for any advice on this – of course other suggestions are also welcome, in case you can think of something.

  26. hegu
    April 18th

    the best article about the subject online :) With even greater explanations!
    Mike, i was having a dilemma of my own regarding sub-folders and subdirectories. I was given a project of checking, how he could target different countries, with similar, but specific content. Translating some content and some will be country specific (prices, contacts,some products…).

    I decided to go with the sub-domain solution, for each region targeted (not just language, because we target Switzerland and Germany, but with different content). Our .com page is in English, but we are currently not targeting US or UK market, but because it’s a brand page and we want to be understood by many. (internet language)

    We also have bought domain names for most of our targeted area, but due to cost, we will try to redirect our customers from xxx.de to de.xxx.com. Do you think that is the best solution? Do we rather put content on the xxx.de, becouse of the domain name and google preferences (local domain)?

    U said in previous posts, that redirection, if I put .com adress in URL, on a page based on my geo-location is not good, what should i use? I don’t want to use splash pages. The thing is, that the management doesn’t want our bussines partners from Germany to see the prices of our products for Swiss bussienes partners on ch.xxx.com. (management decision). So I’m facing a difficult task… I tried to tell them, that we should try some other ways, like explaining the price difference, but they will not listen…i don’t belive in hiding things on the net is the solution, but, … they insist…

    Can i hide the region selector (drop down) on my .com page for someone coming from specific country, and leave them only few options, not showing them pages that are consider not suitable from management point of view..

    thanks for your thoughts :)

    be well

  27. Ken Kruger
    April 30th

    Most informative and really pleased to see the community participation.

    Hope for some suggestions.

    My root domain is discoversecretsfor.com

    Set it up to promote various niches.

    Instead of a sub domain or plain sub directories I was wondering if I created a separate blog or each niche like discoversecretsfor.com/dog-training – where dog-training would have it’s own blog with categories.

    Would the search engines treat this as a unique domain and what effect would this have on good SEO?

    thanks for any help

  28. Mirage
    May 14th

    I came here via google trying to find how I could redirect subdirectories to the subdomains I created. I chose subdomains because I am letting them to some of my friends, I’m a newbie alright, I actually don’t know about redirection and stuff…..from your article I think I made the right choice of using subdomain but I really need help redirecting the subdir url :D Thanks!

  29. Orin
    May 29th

    I am using google webmaster tools, and listing in google local directory. My business is located Memphis but we ship to customers all over the US. What is the best way for me to compete for local business (let’s say Los Angeles) search results? Should I use subdomains (e.g. losangeles.mydomain.com ) to target that local market? How should I use google local listings to target the los angeles market? Does anything need to be done to my primary domain (e.g. use subdomains?) to use google local directory?

  30. Ed Orton
    July 28th

    I was hit hard by Panda – tried everything and nothing is working.

    I’ve been reading about some sites getting some traffic back by splitting their sites into subdirectories – here is what I am thinking about doing with my site:

    Current:
    http://www.internationallovescout.com/latin-brides/
    http://www.internationallovescout.com/asian-brides/
    http://www.internationallovescout.com/european-brides/
    http://www.internationallovescout.com/african-brides/

    I’m thinking about changing to:

    http://www.latin-brides.internationallovescout.com/
    http://www.asian-brides.internationallovescout.com/
    http://www.european-brides.internationallovescout.com/
    http://www.african-brides.internationallovescout.com/

    The reason I’m thinking about doing this is that google may not understand that “ethiopian brides” have anything to do with “Russian dating”. So, they may be penalizing my site as not being “On Topic”

    I believe this may be how google purged many article directories from their index, by looking to see if articles on the site all related to each other.

    If google’s new algo actually worked I would not be considering this, but judging by the garbage that has replaced me in the SERPS, Panda is obviously pretty stupid.

    Let me know what you think. This would be a tremendous amount of work so I only want to do it if I get a consensus that it might actually work!

  31. Jeevan K Augustin
    September 27th

    thanks a lot for this post. I’m searching in google for a solution about this. I have one doubt. Suppose my domain name is http://www.indiatourism.travel . There are only 10 pages in the main site root folder. Then I would like to create a section of only 25 pages in the main site for the Indian state named "Delhi". What URL should i give for this, in the case of SEO? Should I give http://www.indiatourism.trave/delhi OR http://delhi.indiatourism.travel . Kinldy note that i would like to promote the keywords "delhi india travel" and "delhi india tourism"which one you prefer – the above mentioned subdomain or sub directory ? I’m totally confused…. Please give me your suggestion.

    • Mike Shannon
      September 27th

      I would do a sub dir since you only have 10 pages on the root, mind as well combine strengths since you don’t have much content on either side and they are both "India" related.

  32. Zach Anderson
    November 20th

    Would a subdomain keyword exact match be more beneficial for SEO than a page? For example if I wanted to try and rank for Seattle Plumber. Would I be better off creating an exact match subdomain seattleplumber.site.com and building content specific just for that topic vs. creating a page site.com/seattleplumber and optimizing the page.

  33. Talha
    November 21st

    I have a similar problem at this stage whereby our corporate blog is hosted on a subdomain and I would have preferred it to be a subdirectory instead. Let me explain why:

    languageconnect dot net = Our Website

    blog dot languageconnect dot net = Our Blog

    The problem is that content is mostly placed on our blog on a regular basis. On the other hand our main site does not have a lot of content, and due to the low amount of pages it suffers in SERP rankings. Now, if the blog was on a subdirectory, it would have added to the webpage count and provide search engines a chance to crawl it regularly. For a website with low amount of pages, it is better to have a blog in a subdirectory. Similrarly its better to use keyword rich URL for a blog than just writing blog. Hope this helps, any any input will be welcome.

  34. Elisabeth Bertrand
    November 26th

    I’ve chosen a brand name to represent my website instead of relating it to my main keyword which would have made my life a lot easier I suppose but the deed is done and quite a while ago. I’m having a painstakingly awful time at competing with sites with lesser quality content but who have the main keyword in their domain name. My website is at http://www.dolcevia.com . As you see I don’t use the word italie in my domain name and my main competitor is a website called italie .nl (we are in the netherlands) , I just can’t seem to get close to them at least not anything significant.

    So…since the site is rather large I’m trying to decide to create subdomains such as italie-travel.dolcevia for the top categories which basically are all different topics : magazine, travel (reizen), gastronomy (culinair) and cars and motors. After that I could even consider dividing up the sections under travel into subdomains. I’m just thinking about a redirect and not actually placing the content into subfolders.

    Do you think I could make a difference like this and improve my ability to compete?

    • Mike Shannon
      April 22nd

      Hi Elisabeth,

      I would not split up your main site into subdomains. If the problem you are having is that your site just isn’t competing in the results against a higher ranking competitor then removing content from your domain may push it down further. Without further analysis on your site it’s going to be difficult to give you a great answer. Send us an email (bestrank.com/contact) if you want to discuss your specific situation further.

  35. Mike – Great article – but Talha makes a very good point. I completely agree with the author in theory about dividing your content, especially for smaller organization. The real problem is how Google deals with your content on subdomains versus subdirectories. I’m having a whale of a problem, especially with competitors and the SERP effect of using subdirectories versus subdomains — and keep this in mind.
    Google is – at the moment – treating subdirectories as separate sites. As such, if you have good subdirectories, you might get three separate search engine results in Google for the same site as if they were three separate sites. It’s easier to visualize so here is my breakdown:
    http://www.thelaw.com = Main site
    http://lawyers.thelaw.com = Lawyers directory
    http://www.thelaw.com/guide/ = Law Guide and FAQ articles
    http://dictionary.thelaw.com/ = Law Dictionary
    Now here is the kicker – the dictionary and the guide are similar types of content related to the domain. It’s not as if they are separated as they were traditionally such as a large organization would break down operations such as newyork.thelaw or california.thelaw or texas.thelaw. All of these items are related to the site, just different functions. But in Google, this is what SERs show, especially for big my competitors, performing searches for specific keywords:
    1. Main Site
    – Guide
    2. Law Dictionary
    3. Lawyer Directory
    So you have sites coming up for the first THREE search engine results! But what is my advice as to one or the other? Use a subdomain only if (a) you don’t have a great deal of experience with domain name systems (DNS) and (b) you have enough content for each of them separately. Subdomains are much trickier to handle and all the SEO doesn’t help you if your site doesn’t work properly.
    Elisabeth – Did you buy the other domain? It redirects to your site. Not sure why your content is in a subdirectory called "nl" since I don’t think that helps you any in result rankings and is probably a waste of characters.

  36. blog365
    February 8th

    i think sub domains do well ….check the about.com it is all about sub domains

  37. Thanks for your article. I have a question. I have 5 or 6 PLR niche blogs that all relate to health and fitness. I could reserve a unique domain for each one, but I am inclined to make them all subdomains of one very good health URL. My reasons are as follows: 1. The keyword-rich domain name that I would want for each blog is no available. With a subdomain, I can have the exact name that I want for that small site as a subdomain. 2. I want the health site to have more content muscle than a mini-site. I simply don’t have the resources to build a lot of content into this site. If I have a site with several blogs within an over-arching topic (health) then the user will see it as a hefty site, even though the google spider will treat each site separately. 3. In light of recent changes in Google’s algorithm, I am learning that one large site with folders might be considered too broad by Google or even considered to be a content farm. All the folders would pertain to health and fitness, but that is a very broad category. With subdomains I can simply have a collection of mini-sites that are very focused for seo and still broadly related for the user.
    I would appreciate it very much if you comment on my reasoning. Is there something I am overlooking? Is subject matter of health and fitness focused enough that it would still be better to have one site with many folders, even though the range of topics will span healthy skin all the way to six pack abs?

    • Mike Shannon
      April 22nd

      Hello,

      If you already have 5 or 6 well authoritative blogs I’m not sure why you’d want to switch their domain names around. What is it that you’re selling or trying to sell via your sites?

  38. Very helpful, and now i decide to puting subdirectory

  39. Hey Mike, I have almost the identical question that “Location voiture agadir” has.

    If I wanted to promote, let’s say 50 COMPLETELY different products using a single “main” domain, and I used 50 completely different subdomains to promote each product on that same “main” domain, would I be able to rank in SERPs if I did proper SEO for each subdomain?

    Or will Google look at that negatively?

    Each subdomain would have it’s own content, and some would probably have WordPress installed.

    I just want to be sure that Search Engines won’t deem this a bad or spamming practice.

    Thanks for your reply.

    • Hi Mr. Frazier, using subdomains to serve up content is not considered a spammy practice by Google. But based on your description (not sure what you are selling) I wouldn’t split up your store into 50 subdomains unless you were trying to geo target each subdomain or were looking to target completely different keyword phrases/groups for each subdomain.

      • Thanks for your reply Mike.

        What I was considering selling was a few Clickbank products and I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be penalized by Google (or any other search engine) for using the same domain name with multiple (different) subdomains for each Clickbank product I wanted to promote.

        Thanks again for your info.

        Beautiful Blog and Information by the way… You help out so many people.

        • Gotcha. If you are going to push affiliate products you will also want to think about how your domain(s) add value to the web above simply linking to the main product site. Google doesn’t like thin affiliates too much. But the more value you serve up above and beyond simply passing people over to make a purchase the more difficult it gets for Google to devalue your listings in the organic SERPS.

  40. Hi Mike,

    Thank you very much for writing this article. It was very well written, and now I firmly understand the differences and usage differences between subfolders/directories and subdomains.

    I am new to marketing on the internet, as well as setting up websites, etc. This has certainly give me better understanding on how to proceed as I build my presence on the internet.

    Most grateful,

    Victoria

  41. Hi Mike,

    Great article. I’m learning so much about this topic. If it’s ok I’d like to ask you a question – since I’m still a bit unsure about how to proceed with my situation.

    I have a website with a few basic consumer products and own pretty much every domain name except the .com domain (most gltd’s and about 65 other ccTlds of mysite.domain) – the .com was bought by a squatter and I’m committed to moving forward (right, wrong, or indifferent.) Buying it will never be an option – and we’re still number 2 on google right below the company that’s using the .com for a completely unrelated subject matter/product.

    Anyways, long story short – I want to build country specific segments of my site. I really like the way the implementation of subdomains can make my main .net domain stick out for branding purposes (ex would be: nl.mysite.net)… but after reading your blog realize that it may potentially impact seo, thus making it different websites and content – def better from a content management perspective thou lol.

    At the same time, I would just prefer to forward all the ccTld’s to either the respective country specific subfolder or subdirectory (I primarily purchased them for defensive brand protection services and paid quite a lot but feel it was a business decision I had to make to build up a global awareness that mydomain.anything but .com was my brand. For the most part all of the products will be the same, but there may be some situations where content is different, sales and prices, service & support differs, etc relating to various projects or scenarios.

    So! if You’re still reading this, what would you advise me to do in terms of the domain/folder configuration? Sorry for such the long commentary but I’ve been trying to figure this out for a while and it’s a bit frustrating. I’ve noticed that big companies often use subfolders — but given my situation just wondering what should I do.

    Thanks,
    Veronika

    • I may have been a little confusing… what i meant to say was I’d like to use subdomains, i mean I’m in this for the long haul, subfolders appear to be what most people use, but I really just want to target the content to geo-specific countries!

      haha sorry for the confusion.

      Veronika

      • Hi Veronika,

        You can try geo-targeting subdirectories in Google Webmaster tools if that helps save you some time vs setting up subdomains.

  42. Todde
    August 24th

    I have a couple of questions regarding subdirectories and Google Webmaster Tools.

    I have a WordPress multisite which currently has 40 subdirectories, with each subdirectory basically acting as separate country tourist sites but with similar topics.

    1. Should each subdirectory site be added to Google as a new site (ADD A SITE)?

    I have added a few but when doing so Google does not ask me to verify the new sites, only the main domain so I guess this is okay.

    2. Should I add the Google verification code to each of the subdirectories anyway. it would be the same verification code used on the main site.

    Thank you.

    • Mike Shannon
      August 24th

      Hi Todde, you would want to inform google that a subdirectory is a new site relative to your main site if you were going to target that subdirectory to a specific language or geo location. Sounds like you are on the right track but I haven’t gone through the process of adding the verification code so if Google isn’t asking for it then I wouldn’t worry about it.

  43. Todde
    August 24th

    Thanks Mike. I think everything is okay with with the way I’m adding the site so I will just carry on with this procedure.

    However a couple more questions. With Google Analytics I am using a multisite plugin and the code analytics code is appearing on every page of each website (main site and sub-directories) so this seems to be working fine.

    1. However I am not seeing any statistics in Google Analytics. It’s has been showing literally one (1) visit since I added the site. Is there a certain way to add multisites to Google Analytics?

    2. should I also add each sub-directory site to Google Analytics?

    Thanks.

    • Mike Shannon
      August 24th

      I’d have to review your situation in detail to give any kind of recommendation. Shoot me an email at mike@ or submit at /contact if you’d like our help looking into this further.

  44. Mike Shannon
    April 28th

    using the non-www or www won’t make a big difference, so long as you stick with one or the other and not allow both versions to be crawled (301 one to the other).  I’d go with what you think you’r users will remember, I like the www over the non-www.

    Regarding the language strategy, refer to my previous comment.  It sounds like you will want to have a single site that is translated into different languages (so the semantics would be the same).  In that case I’d stick with a single site and use sub directories – any authority you build in one section will likely help out other sections.  It also couldn’t hurt to give each language it’s own subdomain (you could also geo trarget those sub domains in Google’s web master tools), but in that case one language section’s authority would not benefit any other sections’ authority.

  45. Mike Shannon
    March 15th

    Hi Flemming, country specific domain names plus geo-targeting in Google webmaster tools can usually be a great to target a specific country.  Keep in mind if you geo-target a country then you may miss out on traffic from other parts of the world.

    As long as your pages are semantically equivalent I don’t see a reason to use separate, country specific domains, I’d go with the subdirectory option.  You can still geo-target subdirectories (although geo-targeting may or may not be what your’e after) and inbounds links to one part of the site will benefit other parts, so long as your internal linking is done well.

  46. I checked ar.mundia.com which now 301 redirects to http://www.mundia.com which then 302 redirects to www.mundia.com/ar, so you may want to have your team revisit that redirect because it appears to not 301 directly to the destination as you described.

    I would not redirect the user to a URL based on their location.  If you’re going to do a redirect probably best to do that for all visitors, including bots.  The idea is that if you show different content to different people based on geo location, some people may not like that, including Google, e.g. redirecting a Spanish speaking user in the United States to an english page while redirecting a Spanish speaking user in Spain to a Spanish landing page – or redirecting a Google bot to one location (who crawled from the US) while redirecting users to a different location.

    Even if the content in each one of your subdirectories is semantically the same, as long as that content is written in a different language from subdirectory to subdirectory then you should be ok.

    Geo-targeting subdirectories is more of a business decision than an SEO one I would think, but if your visitors come from around the world who speak that language I would not geo-target in that case.

  47. admin
    August 10th

    Hi Ed, best to give us a call or submit us a lead with your contact information at /contact

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