Archive for July 14th, 2011


SEO Tips: Subdomain or Folder?

Sometimes you hear people talking about SEO and they might as well be speaking Klingon.

“So I H1ed the gateways for semantic indexing, then ported all the overoptimized content to a subdomain.”

What? You what? Okay, every industry has its own lingo. Search marketing’s lingo just happens to be kind of geeky.

All the other tripe in the quote aside, the word “subdomain” is one you should know, and maybe even use.

A subdomain is a way to organize and separate content on a website. You’ve seen them. In this web address, guess what word is the subdomain:

Correct! Translate is a subdomain of How is that different from:

In the second instance, translate is in a folder. They don’t necessarily have to be different at all.  Both URLs go to the same place. In the instance above, Google redirects the folder version to the subdomain, but they wouldn’t have to do that. Each URL could, in fact, lead to completely different pages.

So what’s going on? On a map of a website, the difference is, perhaps, more clear.

Website map: Subdomain

A subdomain is on roughly equal footing with main, or root domain. (In fact, www is a subdomain.  Which is why and are equal. Also in fact, they don’t have to be the same website.) A subdomain can contain a completely separate website from the root domain, and it will be treated as a separate domain by search engines and browsers.

Website map: folder

A folder, on the other hand, is a categorization label, just like a folder on your desktop. You can have folders within folders within folders. The end result is much the same: just another way to organize data, sort pages, make your content easier to find and navigate.


(And did you notice that’s a pretty big “but”?)

There is a distinction between the two. Search engines, Google in particular, treats a subdomain as an almost completely separate and unique website. They treat a folder like a category within the root, or just an organizational level under the same site as the root domain.

Which has some implications.

One: if you have a link on a subdomain site that points to your root domain, it should count as a better link in Google’s algorithm.

Two: If you have content on your main site that is sketchy in some way—irrelevant, poorer quality, etc—and you put it on a subdomain, its negative effect on your rankings should be reduced.

Now, in either case, subdomain or folder, there is an opportunity to display one of your awesome-est keywords. It is known that your rank for a keyword that is somewhere insider your URL is generally higher, and that the position of the keyword in the URL—how physically close to the main domain name it is—carries some weight also.

Which is better? Or

This is debatable, and is often debated among SEO pros. The truth is, it probably doesn’t matter enough to worry about. Just try to use the two the way they are meant to be used and you’ll be golden.

Here are the main things to remember:

  • A subdomain is used for content that is fundamentally different from the content on the root domain.
  • A folder is used to organize and group content within a domain.
  • When naming either a subdomain or a folder always use a great keyword.

Now go forth and organize.