Subdomain vs Subdirectory – Which is better for SEO?

Subdomain vs Subfolder

How one simple change increased the number of keywords in the top 100 by 2000%

Google’s John Mueller in a 2017 video said that it doesn’t really matter whether parts of your site are on a subdomain or a subfolder/subdirectory. (See the video below).

And that Google’s algorithm is intelligent enough to make the connection and assign appropriate ranks/authority. Thus it doesn’t really matter which type of setup you have.

This is a classic case of not taking everything that Google says at face value. There are plenty of high authority websites out there that allow you to create your website for free. A few of them are blogspot.com, wordpress.com, wix.com, about.me and tumblr.com

If this advice by Google holds true, then your website which may be on xyz.blogspot.com should derive the authority from the main domain – blogspot.com But this doesn’t happen. If you see the popular websites such as Pinterest, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, etc you will see that their profiles are built on the subdirectories and not the subdomain.

These sites have a lot more authority but you are more likely to see a Pinterest profile ranking in search results for brand/person query than a Tumblr profile which is on a subdomain.

You might ask is this just your experience and do you really have something that proves that a subfolder performs better than a subdomain? Actually, we do.

Case Study

So we started work for a client in August 2019 and they had their website built out on a custom platform and the blog was on WordPress. It was simpler back then for them to have the blog on a subdomain because a /blog/ subfolder was a complicated setup and they didn’t really have SEO in mind.

One of the very first things that we told the client when we came on board was to switch to a subfolder. However, it took 6 months of convincing and showcasing potential impact before the client made the switch.

The migration involved a high number of development resources but here is a look at the graph before and after migration-

Subdomain vs subfolder graph

81 keywords were ranking on the blog prior to migration. But within the first month of migration, we now are seeing 2k keywords ranking at the time of writing (31st March 2020)

So irrespective of Google’s directives, this experiment shows that sites that make the migration from a subdomain to a subfolder see a positive jump if the migration is done correctly.

This type of migration can prove to be beneficial for the following kind of websites:

  • Websites that currently have their blog on a subdomain
  • Country or language level targeting on a subdomain.

Points To Remember During Migration

1. You need to carry out one to one mapping of all URLs from the subdomain to the subfolder. Download a list of all URLs on your subdomain and make sure that all of these are migrating correctly to the respective subfolders. The URLs should not be redirecting to the home page and resulting in a 404 error.

2. Carry out the site migration phase by phase if you have a very high number of pages. This is because some sites might see traffic and ranking drops as Google reassigns ranks to the new URLs.

3. Monitor Google search console for 404 or response code errors and correct them as soon as possible.

4. Make sure your canonical tags are all pointing towards the new URL when the migration is done and not on the old URL.

5. Let Google know that you have performed a migration with a site move request.

6. Post 2-3 weeks after carrying out the migration, re-edit your internal subdomain URLs to point to the new URLs as Google is likely to crawl these pages. This is an optional step and can be considered depending on the risk to reward ratio (you be the best judge).  But this step would essentially reduce the amount of time spent in redirection and always further optimize your site crawl rate.

Author:
Seasoned digital marketing professional with 10+ years of hands-on experience in the areas of SEO, content, and analytics. Proven track-record of increasing traffic, improving brand and site visibility within Google & major search engines.