Subdomain or Subdirectory? What They Are & How They Affect SEO
Over Christmas, something came to my attention about Sub-Directories and how companies use them. The URL in question is now a 404 page on an NHS site (meaning the page has been moved or deleted). but it was something that was on a poster at a bus stop which was shared on Linkedin by someone I am connected with that caught my attention: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/goro_the-longest-website-address-i-have-ever-seen-ugcPost-6879803181556125696-OQsr/
The URL in question was:
As you can see the URL is still linked and visible even though the page content is missing. The advertising agency and the website designers NHS use have a lot to answer regarding this…
So for the person that designed the poster and signed it off, this poster should bever have gone to print. Imagine how much money the NHS wasted and ended up with eggs on their faces as people are now talking about it. Whoever agreed to publish such a long hyperlink should have their wages docked, or it was a marketing agency they should be fired.
To think someone, somewhere, got paid to do this makes my mind boggle. Any reputable website designer would have suggested a QR Code or URL shortener to either scan the code, rather than have such a long tail of a domain. Another option would be to secure a domain name, similar if not the same www.germawareness.co.uk so that people can remember and spell it, and forward it to the page so that the audience could spell it and memorize it.
I have a subdomain that I use for my site. The parent site is www.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk but I have a sub-domain https://ukdomainbrokers.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/ however I would never expect anyone to remember it, let alone spell it so I have pointed the domain www.ukdomainbrokers.com to the sub-domain and applied the shorter version for advertising and marketing purposes.
The image below is the NHS sub-directory was the category description page after the domain name.
On the other hand, a sub-domain is the website description title before the domain name as you can see by the diagrams below.
My question is who would ever remember a long tail hyphenated domain name?, the answer is no one and even I had trouble writing it down from the video.
Elderly people especially cannot remember things may have trouble memorizing or spelling a long tail domain name, so reading the poster was shocking, to say the least, in fact, anyone trying to memorize the domain name would have had trouble reciting it.
Whoever the advertising company is the NHS use, should be reprimanded as this is disgraceful.
This would never happen on my watch. To think the NHS is complaining they do not have enough money seems to not take into account the money they are wasting on website designers that do not consult them properly and allow for shoddiness to happen.
The link to the video can be found here.
Notice how I have shortened my text by only using one highlighted word. There are other ways to shorten hyperlinks using third-party software such as www.bitly.com to name a few.
Pros and Cons of Sub-domains and Subdirectories.
What is a subdirectory?
A subdirectory is the tail end of a domain name, it is a type of website hierarchy under a root domain that uses pages and folders to organize content on a website. A subdirectory is the same as a subfolder and the names can be used interchangeably. Typically a website is made up of different category sections and web pages.
In the early days of MS Dos and HTML coding, a web designer would create folders and put the web pages into those folders called subfolders or subdirectories. This is method is similar to how we store files on our computer, where we create folders and put images, documents, and spreadsheet files into folders.
When it comes to subdomains being built with WordPress and other PHP-based websites, those subdirectories are virtual. They don’t exist on the server as such but can be migrated using “FileZilla” where you can navigate to them with an FTP program and see the actual folders. Although virtual, they are still a part of the file structure of the website and are still called subdirectories.
A subdirectory is a part of the website that is associated with the domain name.
What Are Sub-Folders
In a computer file system, a subdirectory is a directory that is contained another directory, called a parent directory. A parent directory (root directory) may have multiple subdirectories. In operating systems with a GUI such as Microsoft Windows, a directory is called a folder, and a subdirectory is called a subfolder.
In a URL, the subdirectory comes after the root directory of a website or domain name. For example, “UK Website Designers” root domain is www.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk and a subdirectory URL might be something like this: https://ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/contact-us. Or it may be a tad more complicated such as https://ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/services/uk-video-creation. I have illustrated a sub-directory below:
The problem with subdirectories and subdomains is they can be lengthy and very hard to remember.
What I do if I am advertising something and marketing domain names for example I may write a post, which would be on the subdomain but in the subdirectory, and then forward the domain name I am advertising to the post rather than point it to my subdomain.
My subdirectory will look ugly and long and even possibly hard to remember potentially confusing the user’s experience and even perhaps risking navigation to the next piece of relevant content if I did not shorten it with a domain name forwarded to the article. Therefore I always try to shorten the URL whenever possible. Url shorteners are another way to shorten a hyperlink, or you could go one step further with QR Codes.
Think of the Russian doll as the structure of a Subdirectory. Each folder can have another folder or category within one another which would mean you could have a subfolder within a subfolder within a subfolder until you end up with multiple, even hundreds, of layers of folders deep.
One should however consider the user of the domain before structuring kilometer-long hyperlinks. Just because it can be done does not mean it should be done and it could become a nightmare for search engine bots to crawl your site even going as far as making your website slow to load.
The only advantage to subfolders is that backlinks, domain authority, and page authority are closely linked to the root domain, which helps with ranking your website.
What is a subdomain?
At the end of the spectrum, a subdomain is a type of website hierarchy under a root directory and acts as an independent website. This type of subdomain, you can use another content management system, where you could build another website as I have done with www.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk and use WordPress for my subdomain www.ukdomainbrokers.com
The beauty of subdomains you can save yourself a lot of money buying individual domain names and developing them. Having a subdomain of a root directory that has been optimized and ranked by search engines essentially is benefiting your subdomain and once you perform SEO on the pages it will show search engines that you are updating your site regularly. Sometimes a website owner has not got the budget to buy up one-word dot com domain names but if he/she used the one keyword as a subdomain, they have essentially hacked the keyword they needed to be associated with their default website. They then can build on the subdomain an entirely new website, yet closely link it to the root directory or as I call it the mothership.
The structure of the subdomain can also have pages and categories essentially adding more subfolders.
Here is an example my domain name www.ukdomainbrokers.com forwards to the subdomain:
Which has pages and categories for example:
Which may contain a subfolder https://ukdomainbrokers.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/new-domains-listed-for-sale/
However, you will never find a subdomain with a subdomain.
A subdomain is generally considered a standalone site that is branched off from the main domain.
SEO and Subdomains
In terms of SEO, a subdomain can be an advantage to boost ranking especially if you have a blog associated with it and are updating content regularly. Unlike subdirectories, a subdomain’s domain authority won’t automatically be reflected from the primary domain name, therefore you have to independently have to perform SEO on all the individual pages you create and track them using Google Analytics or similar. Your parent site may already have tracking but your subdomain is essentially a separate entity and needs to be tracked separately even though it is associated with the root directory.
Why use subdomains?
Website hosting can be costly and if you create pages in your root directory the hosting provider will charge you for extra pages especially if you are using a web builder. However, the subdomain uses storage data your hosting provider has already allocated. For example, your one page on your root directory may have enough content to fill 100 pages but you are only using one page, if you try splitting this into 100 pages on your main site the hosting provider will charge you. However, with a subdomain, the content from one page can be split into multiple pages on a subdomain again you will not be using storage from your default parent website if you use WordPress. WordPress platform typically stores data virtually but you can back up your data via the root directory using “FileZilla Client”. You should every so often back up your files for security reasons, just in case your website gets hacked or taken down. Check the instructions with your hosting provider on how to do this,
Having subdomains not only helps to optimize your parent site it is ideal if your business has a lot of content that would be difficult to manage all on one website.
If for example, you have a directory as I have, you may also want to offer advertisers advertising space and their very own landing pages in which a subdomain would be an ideal addition to your default site.
When to Use Subdomains
- Landing Pages
- Geo Locations (have your site in different languages
- Ecommerce Store
A subdomain can save a business a lot of money when building an SEO link wheel and having multiple Domain Names pointing to different services. There are a number of instances when a company should use a subdomain. Below are the most common.
A directory is a website listing individuals and businesses alphabetically or thematically with details such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. The directory could have a subfolder to a link to a landing page where the advertiser could showcase their brand.
An internet message board where communities come together to participate in topics of discussion. Each topic would be a subfolder and each subscriber would have their own subfolder.
3. Landing Pages
A landing page is a web page that a person “lands” on after clicking through from an email, ad, or other digital location. A landing page has many uses from lead capture to buying your products. It can also serve as a micro-website for a business that wants to get more exposure that may use the page for advertising purposes. Here I have my own landing page that is associated with another website owned by “UK Website Designers” https://ukdomainbrokers.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/category/cymru-marketing/
4. GEO Targeting
If you have a website that serves multiple countries or regions, rather than implementing a translator widget on your site, which I do by default, one could duplicate part of the site into another language and add it as a subdomain. As an example, if you have a directory of different states or counties you may want to create subdomains for the different regions you serve. Here are two subdomain sites that Craiglist.org use: https://cardiff.craigslist.org/ or https://london.craigslist.org/
It is a well-known fact a blog will get you ranked faster than any other site so it makes sense to either have multiple sites in your SEO link wheel or subdomains of your parent site.
6. Ecommerce Store
Having an e-commerce store as a subdomain is of personal preference but I tend to build a store as a subdirectory rather than a subdomain. People are more likely to search your website rather than remember the hypertext string to put in their browser. They are more likely to type “ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk/shop” rather than “shop.ukwebsitedesigners.co.uk” both these strings are for example purposes only.
If you are planning on hosting events in the future (Covid Regulations Permitting) you may find partitioning a section of your site into a subdomain. This can be useful when you want to distinguish a section of your default site. As an example, Microsoft does this with its events.microsoft.com.
Having a support page on your site can be really useful especially if you are a growing business and have a lot of customers. A contact page may suffice but I highly recommend a chat widget so that you can interact with your online visitors. There are many Blue Chip companies that are faceless and all you can do is email them, which is no good especially if your matter is urgent. For instance, Google uses support.google.com instead of google.com/support. The main reason is probably because of the site structure and having a dedicated subdomain would make sense if they have multiple support categories.
Technically speaking a website can use both a subdomain and a subdirectory structure.
How do subdomains and subdirectories affect SEO?
The consequence of subdomains is debatable with some SEO experts believing that Google’s crawlers could confuse a subdomain for an entirely different website from the main domain. I tend to agree with this statement as I have not been able to track my website and my subdomain accurately without integrating two lots of tracking analytics. However, others say its crawlers can recognize subdomains as extensions of parent domains, I personally disagree with this because my subdomain subfolders have never been tracked through the parent site until I integrated a second code on my subdomain.
I have also noticed is that my subdomain outperforms my parent site, which tells me my main site does not have many changes whilst my subdomain has on a regular basis, which is why I generate more traffic.
Google Considers Subdomains as Separate Standalone Sites
According to “Search Engine Journal” Google treats subdomains as a separate site, from your main parent site. This is particularly evident within Google Search Console formerly known as Google Webmaster, where subdomains have to be verified separately from the content that exists under the main domain website.
Some SEO professionals argue that subdomains don’t share the authority they receive from inbound links (or backlinks) with the parent site. The opposite can also be also true; subdomains are considered separate entities from your parent website, they may not share any of the link authority you’ve already built to your default parent website.
If you’re optimizing pages for the same keywords on your parent site and also on your subdomain, you could run into a problem by competing with yourself. However, if you use different keywords on your landing pages and header titles your website will be ranked differently. As an example, my keywords for my parent site are “UK Website Designers” whist I do mention those keywords in my Subdomain my header keywords are “UK Domain Brokers” and you will not find the two websites on the same search results.
Which is Better: Subdirectory or Subdomain?
Before contemplating a subdomain do take into consideration if you ever wish to migrate your site to another hosting provider, you will have to copy the root directory as well as your subdomain files as they are stored separately and this is a nightmare to do as I speak from experience, not only this if you wish to track analytics you need one for the parent website and the other for your subdomain.
Regardless of your reason to have a subdomain or subdirectory, you’ll want to stay abreast of SEO best practices in order to meet your ultimate website goals.
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