Depending on where and when you look, the consensus on whether you should or shouldn’t use a subdomain for your website can lie on either side of the argument. It can be a lot of work to change your site architecture back and forth from subdomains to subdirectories — not to mention the potentially disastrous SEO implications of choosing the wrong structure — which is why it’s so important to start your website off on the right foot.
Whether you know all about subdomains or you’re thinking “a subwhat?”, let’s take a look at the subdomain/subfolder debate and see where it stands today.
What are Subdomains and Subfolders?
Every website that you visit has a subdomain. Using this website as an example — www.hover.com — www is the subdomain. A subdomain is an alias of your domain name with its own IP address, making it essentially a different website. Although it shares your domain name, the subdomain allows it to be controlled independently with its own hosting provider, content management system, and site architecture.
Because of all this, however, subdomains also require more work to maintain. Also, SEO gains for one subdomain will not carry over to other subdomains, so you’ll need to work extra hard to get all of your subdomains to rank well in search results.
Your website is a collection of folders that contain site files, and a subfolder (also known as a subdirectory) is one of these folders. In this URL — www.hover.com/blog — /blog is the subdirectory. A subdirectory is much more integrated with your website, sharing traffic/hosting and SEO benefits that other pages on your site earn.
A Quick History of Subdomains
Once upon a time, Google used to treat subdomains as separate websites in search results. Capitalizing on this, many people would create a ton of subdomains for their websites with targeted keywords as the subdomain. This would often result in one website taking up most of the top results in a related search.
As you can imagine, this did not often yield the best results. Many websites were ranking well because of their ability to hack the system, as opposed to the quality of their website’s content. A few years ago, Google solved this problem by beginning to treat a website’s subdomains as part of one domain name. Now, where a website would have ten results for a search, it would only have one. Some experts have even noticed a decline in rankings for attempting this old strategy.
Why Use a Subdomain?
If Google is more skeptical of subdomains, you may be wondering why you should even bother using one. Here are some reasons why a subdomain may still make sense for your website.
For businesses that operate in different languages, subdomains are a common way to provide alternate versions of your website according to a visitor’s language preference. This will commonly be displayed with a two-letter subdomain indicating the language, such as en.domain.com for english or fr.domain.com for french.
If your website represents multiple locations, each with its own distinct web presence, then subdomains are suitable for providing each location its own independent version of your site. Craigslist uses this technique for the many cities it represents, such as toronto.craigslist.org or chicago.craigslist.org.
Franchise websites will typically have mostly the same content as other franchises, with only a few variations such as location, store hours and updates. Using subdirectories, a business risks being penalized for having duplicate content by having many pages on the domain with the exact same content. By using a subdomain for each location, there is less risk for duplicate content because each subdomain is regarded more as its own website.
What do you think?
Is there still a need for subdomains or should they be avoided at all costs? Let us know in the comments!