How do subdomains and subdirectories impact SEO?

The ‘subdomains Vs subdirectories’ debate has been raging in SEO circles for years and it looks like there’s still plenty of life left in the fight. The truth is that both have advantages and disadvantages and neither will have any great bearing on the success of your SEO campaign. However, it’s often said that ‘knowledge is power’ so let’s have a closer look at the various each:

The pros & cons of subdirectories for SEO

A single domain name with subdirectories (or folders) is a simple and search engine friendly way to organise your content. URLs from a single domain are divided by folders as in the following example:

www.mysite.com

www.mysite.com/category/

www.mysite.com/category/page.htm

Cleverly named folders not only make your site easier for the user to follow, but also identify your most important pages to Google. You’ll also find a logical folder structure much easier to find your way around and to maintain.

When planning the technical structure keep the number of folders to a realistic minimum and don’t go ‘too deep’. Ideally you should only have one or two sub levels. A site with numerous sub folders is cumbersome for both visitors and search engines. Just think about all the navigational work that both humans and bots have to get through to access the following application form:

www.myfinancesite.com/personal-finance/lending/mortgages/joint-mortgages/applications.asp

Rather than making visitors got the long way round, and risking them getting lost or just giving-up en route, you can dramatically reduce their workload by restructuring the site as follows:

www.myfinancesite.com/mortgages/applications.asp

The pros & cons of subdomains for SEO

The arguments for the pros and cons of structuring your site using subdomains are fiercely contested and ever changing. If you don’t know what a subdomain looks like they are tagged on to the front of the URL as in the following example:

www.mysite.com

category.mysite.com

category.mysite.com/page.htm

In the distant past Google treated subdomains as separate entities and it was possible to dominate the SERPS with numerous results for the same website. However, today Google’s wised-up.

Google can now associate a subdomain with its top level domain, and although this hasn’t prevented multiple subdomains from ranking for a query, it’s made it much more difficult and consequently more unlikely to happen. Today multiple rankings for subdomains generally only occur with large, well-known corporations; just type ‘BBC’ or ‘Apple’ into Google’s search box and you’ll get the picture

Unless you have a significant amount of unique content (such as news, videos etc) to justify dividing your website into subdomains, it’s unlikely to be worth the extra effort. You’ll need a good deal of technical expertise and better results aren’t guaranteed.

After all that which is better for SEO?

Now that Google’s got smarter it’s really a question of which is easier for you, and the answer from a technical perspective is likely to be subdirectories.

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