Should I structure my site using subdomains or subdirectories?

By | August 14, 2019


Today’s question comes from
Bob in Somerville, Massachusetts. Bob asks, “I’m interested in
finding out how Google currently views subdomains– whether there’s any difference
between a site structured as a group of subdomains and one
structured as a group of subdirectories.” We’ve answered
a bunch of questions about subdomains and
subdirectories before, but it’s been a while so it seems
fine to revisit it. They are roughly equivalent. I would basically go with
whichever one is easier for you in terms of configuration,
your CMSs, all that sort of stuff. So let’s use mattcutts.com
as an example. I have mattcutts.com/blog
because it was just easier to put stuff in a subdirectory. I don’t have to have
a DNS subdomain. I don’t have to worry about
moving it around. If I move domains, I don’t have
to worry about losing that subdomain. But it might be easier for some
people to do a subdomain. Or maybe you want to have your
blog powered by some completely different product,
Wordpress VIP or Tumblr or whatever, and so you want to
have that on a separate CNAME. And that’s totally
fine as well. The historical context is, we
used to crowd by what we would call host, where a host is
basically a subdomain, and we would only allow two results
from each host. And in that situation, it might
make sense to have more subdomains because you could get
two results from one host name, and then two results from
another subdomain, and just repeat that. And what we did is, we saw that
people would abuse that. And they would make a whole
bunch of subdomains that they could get more and more
results on the page. And so we changed our scoring
such that now we’re more likely to squnch
those together. That’s the technical term,
to squnch them together. So in order to ensure diversity,
we say, OK, well the first two, three results,
that might make more sense. But maybe it’s a little harder
for that third, or fourth, or fifth result to show up
from a given domain. Not just from a subdomain. So the historical reasons why
you might have wanted to go for a subdomain don’t really
apply as much. And that leaves you with, OK,
both are on the same domain over all, and so it’s really
a question of which one is easier for you. Whichever one makes you happier,
I’d go ahead and do it that way.

47 thoughts on “Should I structure my site using subdomains or subdirectories?

  1. warpigroadkill Post author

    You sound like Bert and Ernie rolled into one. 🙂

    Reply
  2. John Martin Post author

    Just Perfect! we can use subdomains if it´s easier for us… for me folders are easier but I like to use subdomains with users specific area like intranet or client control painel as well !-)

    Reply
  3. Can Celik Post author

    "whichever one makes you happier I would go ahead and do it that way"

    I hope you're not defining the quality guidelines Matt. What makes you happy usually pisses a lot of webmasters off!

    Reply
  4. MrTVTL905 Post author

    What's the difference between skwunching and scrunching? And how do you spell skwunching? Squnching?

    Reply
  5. Paul Zelf Post author

    whichever way… no worries… question, are domain names hosted on tumbler get indexed less or more? just wondering…

    Reply
  6. Joshua Mccoy Post author

    Subdomains are much smarter in my eyes. This is especially true if you're running multi site on WordPress.

    Reply
  7. Gordon Hudson Post author

    This was very helpful as I am about to install a forum but can't do it in a directory because of the CMS for the web site. It looks like doing it on a subdomain on a different server will be OK.

    Reply
  8. Subhash Jain Post author

    The answer removed the suspicion as what to choose between sub-domain and directory. We can go either way depending on situations.

    Reply
  9. Jon Dingman Post author

    Historically, sub-domains were treated as separate domains so the link juice would flow differently between sub-domains and sub-directories…is that not the case anymore? Are sub-domains still considered within the same root domain and link juice flows evenly between them?

    Reply
  10. texxs01 Post author

    Why would you ask this guy? Who the F cares what he thinks? Notice he wasn't able to answer the question properly.
    He couldn't (or wouldn't) even answer the part about Google correctly, blaming the flaws in their system "abuse" by Webmasters…

    Reply
  11. texxs01 Post author

    Now THAT's a good question. The answer is no, no extra link juice for sub domains any longer.
    You shouldn't take my word for it though, you should apply some scientific research to the question. There are lots of liars in SEO, especially the SE's themselves and any 3rd party that gets anything (like exclusive interviews or quest speakers at their events) from them.

    Reply
  12. texxs01 Post author

    yes, many websites that avail themselves of free services are devalued by search engines because of the high incidences of low quality web sites. Google's own blogger and blogspot come with an almost insurmountable penalty for instance.

    Reply
  13. Christian Doerr Post author

    Though depending on your use case, you might have to configure your php.ini for allowing sessions across all sub-domains + ajax doesn't work cross-domain due to the same-origin policy. So I guess it's also a matter of trade-offs outside the realm of seo.

    Reply
  14. MrTVTL905 Post author

    How about we turn that question around…who the F are you and why the F should anyone care what you think?

    Reply
  15. texxs01 Post author

    Nobody, YOU shouldn't listen to me. I have no desire to share knowledge with those who don't want it.

    Reply
  16. Ty Whalin Post author

    Awesome, Google found a way to eliminate more spammers. Get em Google. Never have been a big fan of sub-domain usage but it is a powerful way to generate more results.

    Reply
  17. Shahbaz Mirza Post author

    Hello sir.. i really appreciate this video its so use full for me..

    Reply
  18. Ricky Williamz Post author

    Is it bad for my company domain to have sub domains/directories that cover multiple niches?

    And if it is a bad thing, then why are ALL the Big Names allowed to do it? and their sub domains/directories ALL rank just fine in the SERP's. Both blogspot.com & facebook.com have an endless amount of sub domains/directories in multiple niches created by their members that rank #1 … So can I do the same?

    Reply
  19. Erika Austin Post author

    I feel like this is answered but – doesn't subdirectories take away from the root domain authority? Isn't that almost the sole benefit of using subdirectories. Or is that what Matt meant by it's scrunched now?

    Reply
  20. Rocky Mountain Oils Post author

    Wow, this is one of the few videos where Matt actually gives an explanation behind the question instead of just humming and hawing for 4 minutes before declaring that he somehow answered the question.

    Thanks for the legitimate answer on this one. Let's keep it up!

    Reply
  21. Kyle Reeves Post author

    First, whether it is on or off will slightly change the actual Analytics code. Secondly, with it "off" traffic between your sub-domains and main domains will be tracked like each is a completely unique website. In Analytics, you would then see sub-domains as traffic sources, pages where people went from one sub-domain to another would have high "Exits" or "Bounces", and your average pages/visit and time on site would be low.

    Reply
  22. Spook SEO Post author

    Well… Subdirectories are almost always a lot easier and more convenient to use that's why most people prefer it over subdomains. But then again, there's always an exception to the rule.

    Reply
  23. TheRealGnoric Post author

    This should not make a difference. It doesnt have extra redirects. If you are expiriencing problems with speed, consider moving WP to wpengine.com. This is the only host I am marginaly satisfied with hosting our wp sites.

    Reply
  24. Rafael Barbolo Post author

    The guys from Moz recommends to go with sub-folders (moz.com/learn/seo/domain). What do you think about that? Do you always consider two subdomains as different websites?

    Reply
  25. Eric Scoles Post author

    he seems to contradict himself, here. he's saying the traditional reasons (gaming the 'crowding' algorithm) don't apply anymore, but he's not coming out and saying that subdomains are equivalent to subdirectories from an SEO perspective. "Basically equivalent" doesn't cut it, especially when people who do SEO for a living are telling me they're not. i think the real answer is that the question doesn't have a straight answer.

    Reply
  26. David Fricks Post author

    Can you honestly tell me that all domain level ranking factors governing trust and authority are inherited by a sub domains in the same way they are inherited by a sub folder?

    Reply
  27. Robbie Reynolds Post author

    Is there any affect on customer review syndication between a sub domain and a sub directory? In other words, if multiple business review websites are installed on their own sub domain, is there less chance of their reviews being syndicated? Example: bizA.domain.com, and bizB.domain.com have customer reviews for their respective businesses. Will Google and/or other websites display "reviews from domain.com" or will they use "reviews from bizA.domain.com" or neither?

    Reply
  28. Pawan Gupta Post author

    This is really great update. Some of our "SEO experts" have been suggesting us to move our WordPress  blog hosting from a sub-domain to a sub-directory . 

    Reply
  29. lewis stevens Post author

    You should mention SSL certificates due to the ability to cover all subdomains with a single wildcard SSL certificate rather than individual certificates required on a main domain.

    Reply
  30. Fivesse Post author

    It shows that this was published in 2012. Is this opinion still correct in 2016?

    Reply
  31. Rick Bond Post author

    This is a great video from 2012. The bottom line "do whatever is easier for you" is Mr. Cutts recommendation, and is very practical. Now in 2016 there is some evidence that moving a site from subfolder to subdomain hurts your site's rankings (https://iwantmyname.com/blog/2015/01/seo-penalties-of-moving-our-blog-to-a-subdomain.html) – anyone care to comment on what has changed since this video was published?

    Reply
  32. sameer albasha Post author

    . Just have one question about the content in most forums. Which tends to be low quality .specially in nontechnical forums such fitness, cocking, movies etc. They are fill up with images, poor keywords and short length articles. So If put the forum in main directory, isn’t that will hurt you overall ranking?

    Reply
  33. Justin Time Post author

    I was wonderin i have mydomai.biz that I wan't a social community and forum aspects to be stronger than on a social marketplace where ecommerce takes a lot of space and puts aside the blog and forum community aspects. So i decided to seperate it in 2 sites the socila community on one and the marketplace on the other. I was wondering what indexes better should i perform better using 2 seperate domains one mydomain.biz and the other one mydomain.market (it'S a new domain extension) or should i attempt to deal with subdomains and use either Market.mydomain.biz or mydomain.biz/market? If so wich is better I think you answer that in this video (when a subdomain is in a /subdomain it'S more conveniant to transfer than subdomain.maindomain? so does th .market index better or the subdomains?

    Reply
  34. Team Ten HD Post author

    I never get a clear answer. If i can use both why still i don't get traffic on my channel.

    You can see my channel has almost no views

    Reply
  35. Waterproofing Waterseal Ahmedabad :9825585997 Post author

    Thanks for good advice

    Reply
  36. Rizki Heryandi Post author

    Google has separate host for their blog, blog.google

    But, it's their own blog, there's no SEO with that, their have special place for their own site 😀

    Reply
  37. qwertyuiop Post author

    First of all, sorry for bad English. 🙂
    Regards to all, I was looking for a solution to the problem.
    Problem is:
    If you add subdomains for mobile responsive, you got two web site to maintain and double work to do. Google bots will need double work and time to scan document, but google bots have limited time to scan document. So result will be bad because google bots won't scan all what they need. Google have limited storage resource and bad way is to double requests for resource.

    If you add subdirectories domain.com/m, probably the content will not have a HTML structure for mobile or the opposite. In that you are deprecating content and you lose trafic.
    Another problem for subdirectories is: you can't change image resolution. Image resolution 1920 px is for desktop but on mobile it's so bad looking then you need to create copy with 700 px resolution for small screens but you can't because it's not separate storage and it's same HTML structure.

    My idea for solving this problem is: Request only parts that are needed. Do not request whole document from server just for mobile content.
    An example: default resolution for image is 1920px for desktop, and when user visit web site, sending request just for pieces that we need and in this case is requesting same but smaller image resolution 700px to go to place instead of the first one. Ofcorse folder need to contain both images, so take one that we need right now.

    I'd like to hear your opinion. Is this feasible?

    Reply

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