Subdomains vs Subdirectories?

Juan Gonzalez
I studied Regional Studies of Latin American at the University of Cologne - Germany, majoring in "Business Informatics“. I also studied Business Administration and currently I’m doing a Master in International Business Administration. I feel a fascination with SEO and the people who make it possible.
25. January 2018 6 Comments

Yesterday, Barry Schwarz reported on the fight between SEOs and Google over how Google treats Subdomains and Subdirectories. At SISTRIX, we subscribe Johannes Müller statement: “Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories”, which confirms what Matt Cutts said in Oktober 2012. And this is true, both subdomains and subfolders have equal opportunities. The problem here is that Google and SEOs each have a different point of view.

Rand Fishkin is talking about something that almost every single SEO has seen before. When you move from Subdomain to Subdirectory, you rank much better, and you get more organic traffic from Google. This is what the real world looks like:

Monster moved /jobs/ from subdomain to subfolder

The same for Monster.de on Google Germany:

Monster moved their /jobs/ from a subdomain to a subfolder on Google Germany

Let’s complete the picture with https (because http and https are 2 diferent URLs):

Monster moved from Sudomains to Subfolders on Google Germany

Next let’s look at Germany’s largest telecommunications provider, Deutsche Telekom AG (the same people behind T-Mobile), and their online news portal, t-online.de. They moved their advisory guides from the subdomain to a subfolder:

But why does this happen?

Assuming that Google web search is fine with using either subdomains or subdirectories, the reason must lie within the website itself.

First, when we move from subdomains to subdirectories, it often also implicitly means that we are doing something new and probably something better than before (new design, better usability, better URLs, better content, better internal links, etc). That could be one reason for better rankings on Google.

Second comes the systems we use. Many systems in use are not optimised for subdomains. Subdomains are complex, requires more time and attention, special content management systems (CMS) and oftentimes they are not well interlinked, some of them are even not in the navigational menu of the main site. Try it yourself by figuring out how to get to the subdomain teachers.theguardian.com, from using the following navigational menu?

Honestly, I don’t really know how to get there when I use theguardian.com.

When Subdomains makes sense?

If you pay attention to the right site of the picture, you will find 2 links to 2 different subdomains “Jobs” and “Dating”. In these cases, it makes sense to use different subdomains, as the core business of The Guardian is news, and not either Jobs nor Soulmates.

I hope you like it.

25. January 2018, 15:56

While I don’t necessarily disagree here….ultimately there are often many things at play and results may vary….

But what we’re seeing here are one way examples. Ideally, if the logic holds true, then we should see visibility drop when sites move content from a subfolder to a subdomain.

As stated, when you make a change, there are often improvements (hopefully), but at the very least, there is more attention being paid, etc. Which begs the question whether this is a result of direction or attention?

Also, while this might be the case, I think it is important that, without actual backend analytics data, “When you move from Subdomain to Subdirectory, you rank much better, and you get more organic traffic from Google,” that “more organic traffic” is an unconfirmed assumption.

Cheers

25. January 2018, 23:42

What about the other way around and you add a subdomain.

29. January 2018, 15:39

Hi Juan

very interesting and possibly the most sensible direction I have seen on this topic. We had an ecommerce blog on our site and moved it to https://blog.willows-consulting.com because we believed that the dwell time on some of our articles ( which were not ecommerce centric ) was hurting our ranking efforts on other keywords. After reading your post I think I may have been wrong, but still not sure. I would be interested to know your opinion.

Regards
Sean

1. February 2018, 03:10

[…] QUOTE: “When you move from Subdomain to Subdirectory, you rank much better, and you get more organic traffic from Google.” Sistrix, 2018 […]

1. February 2018, 23:32

Is a subdomain good in SEO perspective?

Juan Gonzalez
2. February 2018, 08:18

Hi,

The best answer comes from Bill Slawski: When people have asked me whether they should use subdomains or subfolders, my answer hasn’t had anything to do with which will rank higher, but rather which is going to be more work, and subdomains will be. (https://twitter.com/bill_slawski/status/956290033136250880)