Subdomains Vs Folders: Which is better?
By Charles Moffat - June 2012.
Yesterday a client asked me "When it comes to SEO which is better, subdomains or folders?"
For those that don't know subdomains are when are a web address are organized like so "subdomain.nameofwebsite.com" and folders are labeled like so "nameofwebsite.com/folder1/".
There are several schools of thought with respect to which is better subdomains or folders. Both have their pros and cons in terms of SEO. The following chart shows the pros and cons and I've also included a third option: Different Domains.
|Factors ||Folders ||Subdomains ||Different Domains|
|GEO Targeting ||Low ||Medium ||High|
|Authority, Trust, Domain Strength ||The authority is inherited ||A part of authority is inherited ||No authority is inherited|
|SERPs ||Limited number of results ||Increased results in some cases ||Increased number of results|
|Sitelinks Support ||Yes ||Yes ||No|
|Design & Web Structure Freedom ||Very low ||Medium-High ||Very high|
|Link Building + Link Structure ||Internal Link Structure ||Cross linking Subdomains ||Cross linking domains|
In the case of that client I felt that that subdomains were better for his purpose because he was focused on attracting local businesses to specific pages. That means he needed a high ratio of what is called "geo targeting". You will note based on the chart above that different domains are the best when it comes to geo targeting, but the problem with different domains is that you start off from ZERO in terms of SEO value. With subdomains you at least get both the benefit of geo-targeting and you get to maintain part of your SEO authority for building one large website that is interconnected.
Lets say I had a client who is a real estate agent in Toronto and he wants to target specific neighbourhoods. How should he organize his website?
My recommendation would be to do the following: beaches.bobstorontorealestate.ca, donlands.bobstorontorealestate.ca, cabbagetown.bobstorontorealestate.ca and so forth, and then crosslink all his subdomains. This way he gets all the benefits from the keywords in the URL, the extra geo targeting of using subdomains instead of folders, and still maintains his website authority instead of starting from scratch each time.
There are other times when it is also better to use subdomains and that is Language Targeting.
In this example Janet Doesmith is a bilingual writer who publishes her books in both English and French. It therefore makes sense for her to use the following structure for promoting her books: english.janetdoesmith.ca and francais.janetdoesmith.ca (or possibly eng.janetdoesmith.ca and fr.janetdoesmith.ca) and crosslink every single page using buttons in the top right corner that say "English" and "Francais". This way she can target the languages more accurately in an effort to promote her book sales.
Of course sometimes there will be people who aren't worried so much about geo targeting or even language targeting. A client who sells dog food in the USA is going to be quite happy having everything organized on "bobsdogfood.com" and specific types of dog food or other products that he sells will all be organized into pages or folders.
Unless of course he decides to start selling cat food, in which case he should register "bobscatfood.com" and then crosslink the two domains.
So yes, subdomains are definitely better if you are looking to get more local visitors. However I should also point out that you should only expand into subdomains if you feel you have lots of content to go in the new subdomain(s). There is no point into making all this effort if its just going to be a little blurb.