Subdomains and SEO - Pros and Cons of Subdomains vs Subdirectories

By Michael Kramer on Mar 14, 2013 at 04:58 PM in SEO and CMS

What is a Subdomain?

SubdomainVSsubdirectory

Every website has a subdomain.  In the example http://www.google.com, the subdomain is "www".  It's the section just before your main domain, or "top-level" domain, site-ninja.com. By default, each top-level domain has a subdomain of "www".  You can replace the www with a different subdomain.  One of the best examples I can give of an extremely successful subdomain website is http://santabarbara.craigslist.org.  After you go to this page, click to a different city.  You will see the website looks exactly the same, but the URL has changed to a different subdomain. Each subdomain website is Search Engine Optimized for that city.

What is a Subdirectory?

Subdirectories, also referred to as Folders, are any extsion of the main domain.  For example www.site-ninja.com/blog.  The word "blog" is a subdirectory of the main domain.

What Are The 3 Most Common Reasons to Use Subdomains?

  1. Serving Different Regions - You have multiple geographic regions, and your clients search for your products or services within each region.  For example, if you had a pet store and you wanted to open locations in 5 different cities, you would create subdomain websites for each region.  http://www.lovingcarepetservices.com would be your main Corporate website, and each city would have a subdomain site, http://chicago.lovingcarepetservices.com, http://denver.lovingcarepetservices.com, etc.
    Victory-Gyms-Sandiego-Subdomain
  2. Franchises - If your company offers franchises, then you help your franchisee by givin them their own website, so they can optimize the content for their region.
  3. Different Product Lines - Within your company, your products or services vary enough that you want to focus the homepage of each subdomain site on niches within your product line.  The reason to do this is, niche websites perform better in search engines and convert more visitors than other websites.  For example, let's say you sell most anything to do with kitchens.  You sell applicances, silverware, utencils, towels, cookware, etc.   If a website visitor is looking for dish towels, and they see kitchen appliances on your homepage, they are not convinced that you can provide a good selection of dish towels.  But, if you had a subdomain website called http://dishtowels.everythingkitchen.com, this site would tend to rank higher in the search engines, because the keyword "dishtowels" is in the domain, and therefore associated with every page of the website.  Also the website visitor now considers your website an "authority" in dishtowels.
    To convert visitors to clients, you 1st develop Trust, then build a relationship, then you can do business.  Having a subdomain site with a niche product line is a strong step in building trust with your visitors. 

Pros and Cons of Subdirectory: http://www.dogwalking.com/denver

  1. Pros:
    1. One monthly hosting fee
    2. One Content Management System for all regions
  2. Cons:
    1. You are personally responsible to collect and maintain content for every region
    2. People running the regional business for each subdirectory would not be able to modify the website to optimize it for their region.
    3. Assuming the product for your business is targeted to multiple regions, there usually isn't enough content on the site for any one specific region to let the Search Engines give any one region more importance than a site that was optimzed for only one region. For example, if you have a 50-page website and you only dedicate two pages per region, those two pages are deluted by all the other pages of the website.

Pros and Cons of Subdomain: http://denver.dogwalking.com

  1. Pros:
    1. Multiple Websites- Each subdomain is considred a separate website, with each website having it's own Google PageRank.  PageRank is Google's way of letting you know how important of each page of your website.
      Better-SEO
    2. Total Web Domination - By having multiple websites, you have more opportunity to show up multiple times in a search engine results page, therefore pushing other websites down the page and achieving "Total Web Domination"
    3. Local Control - The people running the local business can have control over thier own content.  For example, in the example of denver.dogwalking.com, they might have a weekly promotion for best pet photo of the week.  They would have control over their subdomain website to post a new photo each week.
    4. Local Optimization of each page - Because the subdomain has the word "Denver", every page of this site is automatically associated with business in Denver.
    5. Promotion of Main Domain - because each subdomain has the main domain in it's URL, it ties all subdomain sites back to the main domain, which would have more corporate information and promotion of each subdomain.
    6. Internal and External Linking - Google gives websites better PageRank if there are external websites linking to pages of your website, or links within your website, to other pages of your website.  In the case of multiple subdomain websites you would cross-link the sites to help each site get better Ranking in Google.  As of the summer of 2011, Google considers all linking between subdomain websites, to the main domain or other subdomains an internal link.
  2. Cons:
    1. Additional Hosting Fees - because subdomains are hosted on separate hosting accounts, you will usually encur hosting fees for each subdomain website.  Some companies, like SiteNinja CMS, give discounts for multiple hosting accounts. 
    2. Content Moderation - Because you are giving more control to the people managing the regional subdomain website, you have a responsibility to moderate content that is place on those sites, to make sure that content is consistent with your company 

Your Tips and Tricks

If you have your own Tips, Tricks or testimonials about subdomains, please leave a comment to this article.  I'm all about helping you and others be successful with your websites.

Jun 30, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
iPlains

Really good post! Your post has given very valuable information. Its very helpful while targeting many regions to target our website.

Jul 22, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
joy

My God,

I must commend you on this article. I am a web developer and spend almost 20 out of 24hrs online. Of all the sites I have visited, and tutorials or info sites read. This by far the most well put together article I have ever read with such clarity.

It was easy to understand and well written. I am therefore taking the time to leave you a reply and say thank you.

Great job.

Cheers

Aug 01, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
JD Lee

Simply the best and most clear perspective on this sometimes confusing topic. Thank you for the clarity of thought put into words!

JDL

Aug 05, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
Abritus

Sub-directory could make visitors feel less important, Subdomain is better in this case. But the subdomains must have close connection to the root domain. I is really hard to make a decision between subdoman and a new domain.

Aug 14, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
John

Well defined arguments Michael. I work with many individual locations of franchise networks and multi-location businesses and we have been referred to the corporate level by several over the last few month to provide proposals on bringing their individual location based sites (many of which were dup content laden clones) to a centralized domain.

I have been researching and weighing the pros and cons of this exact point for some time now so I certainly appreciate your perspective and the clearly defined points you presented in this article.

Aug 15, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
Sean

Another good example of subdomains is when you have a huge collection of users in your system.

A prime example would be https://friendlydog.keepdom.com/ instead of placing all the user accounts on the root https://keepdom.com

Oct 27, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
swati

Clarified my confusion by listing down the differences in a very clear manner.. Good Job

Nov 22, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
Ronn

Thanks for the well written article above. It's clearly one of the best on this topic so far.
Now I know subdomain will be my best choice for my individual product subdomain.

Thanks.

Nov 28, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
John A Grindle

Great Article, I agree with your thinking. One of the great difficulties of SEO is how much conflicting advice their is out there. Everyone has an opinion, and google deliberately makes it so that its not 'cut and dry'. A few things I would like to add. I find myself in a situation where I have a company that serves a 35 mile radius including about 20 cities. Because the company has been around for 100 years they won't change their name. But their name sucks for SEO. Its Http://excessivelylongdomain.com. Wordpress likes to toss it all into categories of course. I wanted a landing page for each city. So what I was looking at was: Http://excessivelylongdomain.com/service/cityname. It is known that google assigns a higher value tothe first 3 to five words in a domain name. Furthermore, domain names work better when they are short. I.E. //FACEBOOK.COM The local strategy I want to implement is all about rich keywords tied to the location. Even though most people out there say I am a fool for doing it I needed a shorter name. So I bout a keyword rich domain. http:// service.com. and I pointed off of the main site to wordpress multi-install for various subdomains. So I have a subdomain for each city of an alternate domain that I feel will perform better. http://city.service.com. This gives me far more control over each site and maximizes the local relevance. It flies in the face of convention, but it works.

Dec 03, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
anand om sharma

sub domains are good for seo or not? how lots of sub domains increase the seo?

Dec 31, 2013 Arrow1 Down Reply
Rakesh

I want to confirm that if we create a sub domain of our site then SEO effect (both positive and negative) of sub domain transfer to main domain and Vice-Versa ?

Jan 15, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Alex

Here is what you wrote in your article:

----
In the example http://www.google.com, the subdomain is "www". It's the section just before your main domain, or "top-level" domain.
----

A top level domain (TLD) in your example is '.com', and not 'google'. 'google' in your example is a host name. As such a sub-domain is the section just before your HOST NAME, and not "top-level domain".

Feb 24, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
globalcomputerstalagang

Really good information. I prefer subdomains

Mar 10, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
درب اتوماتیک کرکره ای

Good news, I did read it, good article, thanks.

Mar 18, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
JZ

What about using a subdomain for a blog if the main domain is an eCommerce site and that server doesn't play nice with good blog software, such as WordPress? My intention for the blog is to drive traffic for eCommerce.

Mar 25, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Juan

Great article! It really provided the clarification I was looking for.

Thanks!

Apr 07, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
brian

Actually from an SEO point of View and from personal trial and error. denver.dogwalking.com looks nicer, but dogwalking.com suffers penalties is denver doesn't keep good SEO practices as well.
While dogwalking.com/denver doesn't matter as the dogwalking.com's SEO will take presidence. When I started blog.example.com on example.com The SEO numbers for example.com dropped from 98 to 63 even after being fully optimized. Whereas, the other way it stayed the exact same.

Apr 30, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
DaeDae

Note, using subdomains this way doesn't work as well and in some cases leads to Penguin issues (building unnatural links, when all subdomains link back to www). Doing the city.domain.com is quickly becoming black hat (especially if you are generating hundreds of city subdomains linking back to www).

http://searchengineland.com/google-domain-clustering-change-159997

May 29, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Scott

Great article Michael. I've been doing a lot of research on this myself and still think it's a 50-50 decision. I'd like your opinion though, if I owned insurance.com are you saying that I would be better off utilizing the name with sub-domains say as homeowners.insurance.com/; health.insurance.com/; life.insurance.com/ or as insurance.com/homeowners/, etc.? I thought the former would be better and then have the option to apply say a city and state as sub-directories so what I'd end up with is: homeowners.insurance.com/chicago/IL versus insurance.com/homeowners/chicago/IL. Any thoughts on what you think would be better from both a business and SEO point of view?

Jun 02, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Balaji

I had googled many times,but I didn't get any clarification like yours
really its awesome keep it up :-)
I am trying to create sub domain for my site www.frunu.com
cheers

Jun 17, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
GB-Plugins

Awesome article!
Great job.
I have a domain and a sub domain that describes two aspects of my business, WordPress plugins - gb-plugins.com
and WordPress web development - web.gb-plugins.com
I couldn't write it better myself, there are loads of benefits to having a sub domain!

Jun 18, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Brad Bernard

@درب اتوماتیک کرکره ای: Even better news... I read it too!

Jun 26, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Sue

I believe sub domains work! great article..

Jul 13, 2014 Arrow1 Down Reply
Enrico

Thank you for this very clear and concise article.







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