SEO

Subdomain vs. subfolder, is one better than the other for SEO?

subdomain-vs-subfolder-is-one-better-than-the-other-for-seo

A subdomain is to the left of the root domain (Subdomain.domain.com) while a subfolder is to the right of the root domain (domain.com/Subfolder).

Let’s take a look at why SEOs argue about this topic and how it really works.

  1. Which one is best for SEO?
  2. SEO Case studies
  3. Reasons for traffic differences

Is a subdomain or a subfolder better for SEO?

SEOs have been arguing about this for as long as I can remember. A lot of SEOs say subfolders are better for SEO and insist on using them. This is a myth that persists based on some ancient studies.

Google has repeatedly said that both are fine.

Matt Cutts said in 2012:

They are roughly equivalent. Basically, I would go for what is easier for you in terms of configuration, your CMS, all of these things. Both are on the same domain overall and it really is a question of which one is easier for you to find. Whatever makes you happier, I would do it that way.

Matt Cutts

John Mueller said in 2017:

Either subdomains or subdirectories can be used for Google web search. Make changes to a site Url The structure usually needs some time to find its way through the search. So I recommend choosing a setup that you can keep longer.

John Mueller

I don’t think they could make it any clearer, but some SEOs are still arguing with google. I love John’s sarcastic response to these arguments.

What reason could Google possibly be misleading here? “We’re running out of subdirectory servers”? I knew this would trigger some people so I spent time letting people know the reality internally and there is nothing to hide here.

– 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) January 24, 2018

It’s silly to argue whether a left or right path is better. Without going into too many technical details, in most modern systems these paths are virtual, which means that they don’t even point to actual locations on a server. You can change your name and location in the Url Structure in a few minutes.

Think about it for a second. You can change a subdomain so that it is made available as a subfolder quickly and without further changes. Why do people think it is important where the path is in the? Url?

Many SEOs believe that subdomains are treated as separate domains, but the truth is more complicated. Anyone with subdomains as the main part of their site will likely be treated the same way as a subfolder. However, if you do not treat the subdomains as part of your main website (read that they are not internally linked), they may be treated as separate.

A little history lesson. At a certain point in time, subdomains could receive additional entries in the SERPs. As with many things, SEOs have abused this. Google closed this loophole in one of the old domain / host clustering updates.

These days, subdomains are likely to be treated as part of the same website when they appear as part of the same website. Even sitelinks contain links to subdomains.

Various Disney subdomains shown as sitelinks. Data from Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

I can give you tons of examples showing different subdomains showing up as sitelinks for the brand – Github, LinkedIn, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, Netflix, Walmart, etc.

Many case studies show that subfolders are better than subdomains, but I haven’t seen any that haven’t been hampered by other changes like adding internal links or migrating multiple properties into one.

Let’s look at one of these case studies and what I see. Using Top sites 2.0 In Site Explorer, you can click and drag the history chart to see the difference between any two dates. In the case of Mention.com, they were migrated from a subdomain to a subdirectory in January 2016. I really don’t see any difference during this period. Only after that, when they started adding additional content, do I see their traffic grow.

Note that for every page that has lost traffic, an equivalent page with the same traffic is reclaimed. The traffic just shifted to a new location, but there was no real increase.

Here’s another fun one. Github was migrated from a subfolder (github.com/blog) to a subdomain (blog.github.com) and then to a completely different domain (github.blog). There were some changes during the migration periods, and there were other changes during the transition, but it would be hard to argue that one of them was better than the other simply because of the Url.

Why may you see differences in traffic?

Various problems can lead people to believe that migration had more or less impact than it actually had.

Temporary signal changes

When pages are new or moved, Google may let them inherit some temporary signals at the folder or site level as they are not entirely sure how much to crawl or how to rank. This can cause temporary fluctuations as they figure out the changes.

Track or measure problems

This can take many different forms. There might be problems setting up analytics, such as: For example, subdomain tracking may not have been set up properly. These can be timing problems, e.g. Measuring growth during a fast season, e.g. B. Vacation purchases versus average traffic time, or a core Google update. It can only be the growth in the new folder. The main thing is to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.

Blocked or unindexed pages

If you block pages or pages without an index from crawling, the signals will not be properly consolidated. This means that there is likely to be a decline during the migration. I would recommend reading our robots.txt guide to understand this better.

Redesign or platform change

A lot of different things can change when you redesign a website or change the platform. Technology, speed, headings, Url Changes and more can all be different.

Changes to the internal link

I see this a lot in case studies of subdomains and subfolders: From a separate subdomain that was not internally linked to a subfolder linked on every page. Of course there will be an uplift.

Content removed or updated

Changing content means ranking and traffic are likely to change. If you remove content with traffic, the traffic will decrease.

Final thoughts

Changes bring risks. You may want to think twice before moving from a subdomain to a subfolder if the only reason you’re doing it is SEO.

If you have a case where you migrated and saw a boost without the changes above, I’d love to see it. Drop me a message on twitter and I’ll investigate, but I’m willing to bet there’s a change that can make the difference.

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Jeffrey Rabinowitz