Should I Use a Subdomain or Subdirectory for SEO?

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One of the most often overlooked methods of improving SEO performance is evaluating how your site content is organized. On-page user experience, such as design and navigation, serves the user by making content easy to find. It’s equally important to organize your content efficiently to make it accessible for search engines, too.

For SEO-rich content like blogs, you may need to choose between a subdomain or subdirectory for optimal performance.

Subdomain vs. Subdirectory: SEO Impact

Ever heard the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” Whoever said it was probably a fan of subdomains. The main difference between a subdomain and a subdirectory is the allocation of keywords.

In most cases:

  • A subdomain will disperse organic keywords across the root and subdomain
  • A subdirectory will focus organic keywords on the root domain

What Is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is a variation on your domain that serves as a technically unique location. This can be used for content, such as blogs, as well as eCommerce stores and other features. If your main website domain is websitedomain.com, you might create subdomains to organize specific categories of content, such as:

  • blog.websitedomain.com
  • store.websitedomain.com
  • help.websitedomain.com
  • insider.websitedomain.com

A subdomain is part of your domain, but it’s considered unique by the algorithms. That is why the root comes BEFORE your domain. This impacts the SEO performance of your root domain in a few ways.

Indexing. When using a subdomain, website crawlers will recognize your subdomain as a separate entity. This will cause the subdomain page to rank individually and compete against root domain pages.  

Authority. Domain authority is a measure of the trustworthiness and freshness of your domain. Subdomains don’t contribute to your site’s domain authority, which could limit the potential of your site in the long run.

Tracking. Subdomains can be tricky to track in tools like Google Analytics 4. Each subdomain needs to be set up as its own property and can’t ‘tie-in’ to reporting from your root domain. There are workarounds, such as aggregating data in tools like Google Data Studio, but it requires additional time and careful monitoring to ensure metrics are accurate.

The big question a lot of people ask is, “Are subdomains bad for SEO?” The short answer is no, they aren’t inherently bad. The issue is that they won’t be ideal for every situation.

When to Use a Subdomain on Your Site

There are a few scenarios where we recommend using subdomains:

Large websites – Large sites (think 10,000+ pages) with substantial website development support should consider subdomains to differentiate content and meet customer expectations.

Ecommerce sites – Ecommerce sites with international sales channels benefit from subdomains by tailoring content to specific markets based on distribution rights and local regulations.

Helpful content – Sites that may see substantial overlap in keyword use applications generally use subdomains to separate help articles from sales or product-focused information. For example, Shopify utilizes a subdomain for help articles (help.shopify.com) and another subdomain for an online forum where users can ask each other questions (community.shopify.com).

Blog content – Blogs about specific services or products can compete with a domain’s service and product pages. This is called keyword cannibalization, and it’s a common problem on large sites. A subdomain eliminates the risk of cannibalization and can improve overall performance by dominating the SERP; that’s when a subdomain and domain hold organic rank for a particular keyword and hold several positions on the first page of results. Trek Bikes, for example, puts all of its blog content on a subdomain.

What Is a Subdirectory?

A subdirectory is a category of your domain that houses specific information. Unlike a subdomain, the root for a subdirectory will appear after your domain:

  • websitedomain.com/subdirectory
  • websitedomain.com/contact

A subdirectory is viewed as a part of your website, like a page in a book. Subdirectories can also house subdirectories, such as websitedomain.com/subdirectory/subdirectory2.

if you have your main site, you might have a subdirectory of blogs, then you might have a category of blogs from a certain month. The use of subdirectories will help keep your site organized for users and keep all your keywords grouped on your root domain.

When to Use a Subdirectory on Your Site

Most websites rely on a subdirectory structure exclusively. This is the easiest way to organize content using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Squarespace. If your site is less than 10,000 pages and doesn’t require a robust library of help resources or an online forum, subdirectories are the way to go.

Is a Subdomain or Subdirectory Better?

Depending on your desired goals, both have advantages.

Subdomain. If you’re looking to have an international presence for your website, a subdomain is an easy way to organize the most relevant content for each region. Subdomains can also widen your reach by spreading keywords across more domains.

Remember to include a robust linking strategy to ensure qualified users ultimately end up on the domain designed to convert.

Subdirectory. If you’re planning on putting content on your websites, like service pages and blogs, the organization will be easier with a subdirectory. A subdirectory also has the benefit of giving your domain authority as other sites link to your content. Subdirectories are also much easier to track using tools like Google Analytics.

Oneupweb Is Here to Help Choose the Right Solution

Should my blog be on a subdomain for SEO reasons? How should I organize my subdirectories? These types of questions don’t have one-size-fits-all answers. Each option will have benefits and drawbacks. Rely on a team with the experience to help you make the right call. If you need help choosing or have other SEO-related questions, get in touch or give us a call at (231) 922-9977.

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