How Subdomains and Subfolders Affect SEO
“Yeah, so which is better, a subdomain or subfolder when it comes to SEO?” This is perhaps one of the frequently asked questions by clients who have an in-house IT team. I don’t blame them. Sometimes even SEO specialists ask me this question when I bump into them.
I don’t blame them – I’ve had my own questions back then which led me to testing it out where to put my subsite. And you know what the verdict was? Generally speaking, if you want better rankings, go with a subfolder.
First, let’s get our Definitions Right:
TLD – Top Level Domain is the main domain names around the web. Today, we have tons of TLDs to choose from but very few of them rank well globally. The main TLDs that rank well globally are: .com, .org, .net
SLD – Second Level domain is the domain name that we usually purchase at Godaddy or Namecheap. For this site’s URL, seo-hacker is the SLD. To highlight it further, this is the SLD: https://seo-hacker.com
You see, search engines treat subfolders as if it was part of the second-level domain (SLD) while they treat subdomains as if it was a different site altogether – with much less authority to boot.
What is a Subfolder?
A subfolder in a URL perspective is this:
https://seo-hacker.net/growth – if you visit this URL, you’ll notice that it hosts a different installation of WordPress altogether. https://seo-hacker.net as an SLD has its own WordPress installation and this is mainly evident from the different designs of both.
Why do I need a completely different installation of WordPress in the same domain name?
Mainly because we use https://seo-hacker.net for the internal team and it makes a lot of sense to me to make our internal new-hire onboarding system as part of the main site instead of purchasing another SLD altogether. It also makes sense to me to beef up https://seo-hacker.net with more indexed pages through the internal onboarding system.
That said, it’s not really hard to put in a new WordPress site (or other CMS for that matter) in a subfolder. But, I concur that it’s much easier to put it in a subdomain – technically speaking.
What is a Subdomain?
A subdomain in a URL perspective is this:
https://growth.seo-hacker.net – this site is non-existent. I’m merely pointing out that it’s structured in such a way that the subdomain is added before the SLD in a URL structure. So why do people use subdomains?
For starters, if you don’t want the pages in your new site to be indexed together with the pages in your SLD, a subdomain would be perfect. Putting those pages in a subfolder means that it will be indexed as coming from one and the same site.
I used to use a subdomain because it’s hell of a lot easier to set up than a subfolder. But once I figured how to setup a site on a subfolder, I never looked back.
How do you Setup a WordPress Site in a Subfolder?
Go to your cPanel File Manager
Upload the WordPress zip file
Extract the WordPress zip file
Rename the new WordPress folder to what you want your subfolder site to be
Once you access your subsite from its subfolder for the first time, you should be able to set it up like how you setup a normal WordPress site in a SLD
And voila! You have an all-new WordPress subsite in a subfolder. Easy, right?
Why use a Subdomain then?
It makes sense to use a subdomain if you are:
Setting up a site that caters to different languages. Diffrent versions of your site that cater to different countries can be put in subdomains such as: jp.example.com, in.example.com, ph.example.com. Putting these in a subfolder would make your site seem huge but have the same content – just in different languages.
Sometimes you have people who bought a franchise from you and you want to keep them (or they want to stay) on the same SLD. In this case, you may not have complete control on whatever they are going to do with their site so you’re better off giving them their own subdomain rather than putting them in a subfolder and risking your entire site when they do something stupid with their SEO.
There will be times when your SLD site is so big and you find yourself in danger of overlapping the URLs. If that’s the case, use a subdomain. That way your URLs will never conflict with any of your SLD’s URLs.
Tips for Keeps: The unbeatable advantage of having your subsite as a subfolder is that it gets all the link equity and other SEO factors that your SLD receives.