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The Great Subdomain vs. Subfolder Debate: Which Is Better for SEO?

The Great Subdomain vs. Subfolder Debate: Which Is Better for SEO?

Getting to the bottom of one of the search community’s longest arguments

It’s a debate that stands the test of time on the internet: Is it better to host your content on a subdomain or in a subfolder? Is one better than the other for SEO?

To put it simply, the question of whether or not to host on subdomains or in subfolders comes down to what makes the most sense for your content. It’s a debate that can definitely go around in circles, but luckily the answer is a lot more simple than you may think. First, let’s look at the definition of each option.


What Is a Subdomain?

Think of a subdomain as a child of your main site. Subdomains are often used for staging environments, e-commerce, and mobile experiences. These sites are treated as completely separate entities from your main site.

A subdomain will always be placed before the main domain in a URL. For example, The New York Times hosts its cooking content on cooking.nytimes.com. This is an example of a subdomain.

What Is a Subfolder?

A subfolder is not a separate site like a subdomain, but rather a page or section that sits within your main site.

The subfolder’s name will always come after the main domain in a URL. For example, RebelMouse-powered Brit + Co hosts its stories about food in the subfolder https://www.brit.co/food.

What defines a subdomain and what defines a subfolder may not seem like an impactful decision for your site, but each choice can have different implications for your search performance.

Subdomain vs. Subfolder: What’s Really Better for SEO?

There’s no cut-and-dry answer to if a subdomain or subfolder is better for search. However, many members of the SEO community agree that there is a huge benefit to hosting your content in subfolders.

The most important thing to keep in mind about subdomains is that they are completely separated from your site’s main domain. Remember, Google considers quality content as its top ranking factor. If you move a large part of your site to a subdomain, you will lose all of the valuable existing links and established presence that come with them. This can weaken your main domain’s authority. As Semrush points out, this is often why sites can experience a lift in organic visibility and traffic when relevant subdomains are migrated to subfolders attached to the original domain.

Officially, Google remains neutral on the topic. Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller said that Google is “fine” with both subdomains and subfolders. Watch his full take in the following video:

Subdomain or subfolder, which is better for SEO?youtu.be

More recently, Mueller chimed in on Mastodon to say that while subdomains bring their own technical complications, the choice truly depends on the content itself.

So, if your content can’t truly stand on its own — think of The New York Times’ Cooking subdomain as an example — then choosing a subdomain may be the right choice for you. However, a subdomain’s content should truly be separate from your main site’s core content, and should be able to function as a standalone website as well. When done correctly, this can be a great way to build legitimate backlinks to your main site.

However, many sites don’t have the right volume of separate content that would make logical sense to be hosted outside of the main domain. This is one of the reasons why many experts in the SEO community will argue that the data favors subfolders.

A Look at the Data

The debate over subdomains and subfolders is always going to be a hot topic among web developers and SEO analysts. There are plenty of threads and debates that you can find after a quick search on Twitter. However, there is no shortage of compelling data that demonstrates subfolders can increase traffic to your site:

Never Stress Over the Right Choice for Your Site

Trying to decide whether it makes more sense for you to host content in a subfolder or on a subdomain is just another piece of the SEO puzzle that becomes more difficult to complete as the years go on. RebelMouse is an enterprise CMS and creative agency that embraces a holistic approach to search so that every piece of content is high performing and SEO friendly from the start.

At RebelMouse, we can help you weigh the benefits of switching from a subdomain to a subfolder, including how to navigate and avoid the traffic volatility it could cause. Our traffic experts and developers will make sure that the process is done quickly and thoroughly so that you can focus on what matters most — continuing to create content that moves the needle.

Request a proposal today and let’s start working together.

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