Setting up a new site? What some people don’t know is that you can use a single domain name to establish several websites through the use of a subdomain, while a subdirectory can create an authoritative body of content for a single web property. There are benefits to using either a subdomain or a subdirectory and this article looks at the pros and cons of both.
What is a subdomain?
A subdomain can be used to organise your existing website into a separate site. They are typically used when clear and distinct content is needed. For example, many websites will use subdomains when dealing with different countries where different languages and SEO features are required. Subdomains are found to the left of the root URL i.e., subdomain.yoursite.com.
Advantages of a subdomain
SEO: A Search engine will view a subdomain as a unique websites unrelated to the main domain. This allows the new website (subdomain) to appear in search engine results pages providing added SEO advantage through cross linking and possibly pushing your competition further down search engine rankings.
Demarcation of content: Subdomains can be used as a clear demarcation of content, audiences, countries or language. This has advantages if for example you don’t want content from one topic hurting the SEO goodwill of another. Demarcating the content through subdomains removes risk of adding new pages, products or content.
Keyword clarity: A subdomain can be used to clearly outline the intent of the new website. For example, google maps used maps.google.com to define its purpose.
Quick indexing: A sub domain names can benefit from the goodwill of its parent domain and index quickly through google and search engines
Disadvantage of a subdomain
No goodwill benefit: An advantage on one hand can also be a disadvantage on another and this is certainly the case for subdomains. While demarcating content reduces the risk of new content contaminating the goodwill of your existing site, the new subdomain is also unable to take advantage of this goodwill. If you have 100 quality backlink to your main site, you will need to start that building process again with the subdomain. It is like building a new web property.
Slow and non-indexing of subdomains: There has been a history of folks using subdomains for spam tactics which is in part why Google decided to filter out overly repetitive subdomains in search results. So if the subdomain content is similar to its parent result there is a chance is could be skipped in indexing or removed from it.
Not a real website: Subdomains are not regarded as ‘proper’ websites in the eyes of Google users – although Google rankings are full of subdomains and internal web pages and blog posts.
What is a subdirectory?
A subdirectory is the part of the url that contains a specific subset of content. Much like a filing cabinet, a website contains folders that we would call subdirectories. They are located to the right of your website, www.yoursite/directory/images. You can host pages, images, posts etc.
Advantages of a subdirectory
Easier to manage: You don’t need to set up separate hosting accounts, content management system, SSLs which makes it not only cheaper, but easier to administer.
One google analytics instance: A subdirectory structure offers a simple implementation process for tracking your website analytics: you just have to add the tracking ID you use on your main site and update your site tree.
Keyword marketing: Arguably, the best marketing benefit of a subdirectory is through keyword density. The words and phrases you use across the pages of your website send signals to search engines that tell it what your site is all about. A directory of similar or related terms will add overall authority to your website, attracting traffic and improving keyword rankings.
Disadvantages of a subdirectory
Page corruption: From an SEO perspective, there is a risk that a single page in a directory, through bad content or black hat SEO, could corrupt the rest of the website, irrespective of the good content on other pages.
Poor choice for lingual sites: If you have identical content in multiple languages on your site you could be penalised for repeating content across several sites. Google recommends using a unique URL or a subdomain.
Examples of when to use a subdomain and a subdirectory
- Standard additions to your site, using related content, such as blogs, new pages etc, are best served using a subdirectory structure.
- For non wild-card SSL certificate websites, you should use subdirectories to avoid errors.
- If you want your website to benefit from the new content, use a subdirectory.
- If you want to create a unique web property, with unique content and its own SEO profile, use a subdomain.
- If you are budget or time conscious use a subdirectory.
- If can’t code, set cookies or administer your google webmaster tools, subdirectories is for you.
- If third parties are publishing content on your web property, best to use a subdomain to limit the risk of bad content hurting your main site.
- If you are creating content for a new country, best to use a subdomain, host locally and optimise according to local conditions and requirements.
Technically neither are overly challenging and a good domain name management provider should be able to recommend when and how to use a subdomain or a subdirectory. Contact brandsec if you have questions about this topic.
Brandsec is a corporate domain name management and brand protection company that look after many of Australia, New Zealand and Asia’s top publicly listed brands. We provide monitoring and enforcement services, DNS, SSL Management, domain name brokerage and dispute management and brand security consultation services.