Web Development

Matt Cutts About Subdomains And Subdirectories

The old and ongoing discussion ‘Subdomain vs. Subdirectory’ reaches a new step.
Google has changed the policy against showing multiple subdomains on one SERP.

Nice input for all the Subdomain vs. Subdirectory discussions.

This definition made my day:

Just as a reminder, in a URL such as subdomain.example.com/subdirectory/ , the subdomain is “subdomain” and the subdirectory is “subdirectory” (also sometimes called a folder).

Thanks, Matt for this bullet proof definition. Even the Mac guys can understand it 🙂

Head over to the article Subdomains and subdirectories and see how the big SEO guys are positioning their diplomatic questions in the comments.

Should you choose a Subdomain or a Subdirectory? Some aspects:

Subdomain

  • Subdomains are great for building different sites for totally different content.
  • Subdomains allow testing new sites without affecting other content SEO wise.
  • Subdomains allow to separate successful content to a new site with a specialized structure.
  • Handling subdomains always means more administrative effort if you are using a platform which can’t handle subdomains.
  • Handling subdomains can become a hassle if you don’t have full access to your web server. I.e. automatic creation of subdomains will be difficult.
  • Switching from a subdomain to a real domain means in most hosting environments just some mouse clicks.

I love subdomains but it always takes some time, motivation and effort until I realize a new subdomain.

Subdirectories

  • Testing in subdirectories can have very creepy side effects on the rest of the website.
  • Subdirectories are easy to administrate. From the .htaccess, robot.txt to file organization point of view subdirectory bring great website overview on file level.
  • Subdirectories offer no misunderstanding where root is. A little edit action at the address line always brings the reader back to home.
  • Subdirectories will pop up nicely in your address line history.

Subdirectories are the easy way to go with related content for one website!

Painful Example: My News Kiosk

Using the RSS aggregator Gregarius I realized my personal local web news stand: News.Sankt-Georg.Info. My experience was pretty spectacular traffic wise:

  • Having the aggregator in a sub-directory made my whole traffic drop 80%. Oops. I didn’t dig too much into the possible reasons. I watched the lower traffic for a week with some pain and then decided to use a subdomain.
  • Having the aggregator in a subdomain brought back the old traffic level over night. I knew that lesson before but was too lazy to realize the test in a subdomain. Lesson learned!
  • Having the aggregator in a subdomain now means that the aggregator is creating its own incoming SE traffic. The news kiosk is running by itself and gives me a nice opportunity to link to collected feeds from my homepage i.e. the collected d.i.u bookmarks.

It was no good idea to test the news aggregator in a subdirectory!

Lessons learned

  • Always use a subdomain for website testing
  • If a website flies well in a subdomain you should consider a unique domain for it.
  • Only use subdirectories to structure pretty related content.

Some Software Solutions

  • LifeType is able to automatically create subdomains if your server configuration allows it. If not, LifeType uses subdirectories to create a multi-blog environment. Bad idea (see above)!
  • My preferred Blog-CMS is Textpattern. TXP is not capable of handling subdomains. But compared to WordPress it is capable of a very good subdirectory handling through sections. Textpattern is absolutely my choice if I need a fast and smart Blog-CMS solution on shared hosting.
  • If your hosting offers enough performance it is always a good idea to throw a deeper look at the Drupal feature set. In our context: Multi-lingual Content, Multi-Site Deployment, Sub-sites / Roots

How do you handle the ‘Subdomain vs. Subdirectory’ issue?

Author: markusm

6 thoughts on “Matt Cutts About Subdomains And Subdirectories

  1. I am in the process of building a web portal for my county. I already had Drupal in the root of the main domain, and had some conflict issues when I put my new directory script in the same place, so I made a subdomain or it, i.e. dir.essexportal.co.uk

    Now, does this mean that I will actually find it harder to promote my site because a large part will sit in a subdomain? I am a little concerned to say the least!

  2. Interesting what big G are doing. I guess it’s right considering some places have loads of subdomains.

    My question is what will happen in such places as wordpress? Will only the main blog come up, and all those peoples sites not show up anymore?

  3. A) I published the article with the tags “Google, SEO, Subdomain, Subdirectory, serps” and now they are all gone?

  4. My answer is clear: It depends on the purpose. See my two lists as a kind of checklist.

    I love Textpattern but for subdomains I have to set up another single installation which is an additional administrative effort.

    As far as I know LifeType doesn’t have a multi-domain feature. I only know that LifeType can create subdomains automatically. Right now I have no time to check the LiveType documentation. Maybe you can point me to the appropriate section?

    Too see what Google is saying I recommend to read the linked Matt Cutts article and the comments.

    Re: Different IP-subnets. I remember that on the Google webmaster blog that question was answered negative. They don’t care in most cases because of the many shared hosting environments. But maybe there are certain IP-nets well known for bad neighborhood?

  5. Which are you saying is better? Or are you saying it depends on what you are trying to do. I thought you were saying subdomains were better, but then you say you like textpattern better even though it doesn’t do subdomains.

    You don’t mention it, but what do you think of the multi-domain feature of lifetype, as opposed to *just* subdomains of the same domain. I have heard from some folks that Google doesn’t really care, as long as it is on the same IP. And that to get good google rank, you have to have sites that are in different class subnets, and other far-away-from-each-other ip addresses.

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