Teaching Tuesday: Subdomain or Subfolder

By the Editor In SEO, Teaching Tuesday No comments

We’d arrive at work in Ferrari’s if we got a dollar every time we were asked whether it’s better to use a subdomain or subdirectory. This topic seems to come up at least once for every company trying to make strides with inbound marketing. There are so many arguments around this online, but when push comes to shove there is a correct way.

Before we get onto the story, let’s just refresh what subdomains and subdirectories are:

  • Subdomain: http://blog.yourname.com
  • Subdirectory: http://www.yourname.com/blog

Tim Reitnauer from iwantmyname.com, a company that offers domain management, published an article on Hacker News a few weeks ago where he shared his experience with subdomains and subdirectories. This article hit the front page of Hackers News and has gone on to be incredibly popular. Matt Cutts from Google announced that it doesn’t matter whether you use a subdomain or a subdirectory, but time and time again we’ve seen problems with this. Tim and his team decided to move their blog from a subdirectory to a subdomain based on what Matt Cutts has said and the assumption that Google would be geared up enough to understand this and therefore no impact would occur. Unfortunately, this was a bad move.

When you move from a subdomain to subdirectory, there’s a natural slow period whilst Google understands the move and URLs are remapped, but this shouldn’t last more than a couple of months. For Tim though, after 6 months they were still suffering, here’s a graph of their traffic:

That’s a really unhappy graph, from averaging around let’s say 14,000 page views a month to around 8,000 page views a month. Almost a 50% drop in page views just from switching from a subdirectory to a subdomain! Tim and his team decided to move the blog back to a subdirectory after suffering such a loss for such a long time.

Our advise is to use a subdirectory if you’re debating this topic. We’ve been through this a number of times with clients and in some cases there is no choice but to go with a subdomain (hosting, technical reasons) and in situations like this, the results are not nearly as favourable as a subdirectory. So, if you’re trying to decide where to put your blog or content, go for the subdirectory.