After deciding what type of content to host on your website, you’re going to quickly be asking another question: “Should I host my content on subfolders or on subdomains?”
Subfolders are the classic option. The internet was built on subdirectories and folders, and their basic structure means they’re easy to understand since they directly resemble traditional computer files and directories. In short: they’re easy to grasp and use.
Subdomains are not new, but their use is growing alongside the rise of remote web services like Google’s Cloud Platform or Amazon Web Services. The simple reason for this is that subdomains interact more easily with remote services compared to traditional subdirectories, an advantage that will only grow larger as remote services continue to grow.
So, does the advent of remote services mean that you should choose subdomains instead of subfolders to organize your website’s content? Or is the simplicity of subfolders still the gold standard?
We’ve produced today’s guide to break down the issue from our perspective to help you choose the best option for your new website.
What is a Subfolder?
It’s easy to tell you’re on a website using subfolders just by looking at the URL: Hushly.com/blog is a subfolder, the /blog at the end is the name of the folder, while Hushly.com is the domain.
Most websites are set up with subfolders by default. They work like the file folders on your computer, with many smaller web pages all being linked to one main page.
When you navigate to a subdirectory on a website, you’re usually navigating to a folder that contains an HTML file. In this way, subdirectories are structural pieces of the website associated with the domain name.
If the website is PHP-based (WordPress), the subfolders are virtual. However, they are still part of the file structure of the site itself.
What is a Subdomain?
A subdomain looks like this: resources.hushly.com. Hushly.com is the main domain, while resources.hushly.com is actually an entirely different website. In fact, anything that comes before the main domain is considered a subdomain, even “www.”
Google has long considered subdomains different websites, and they treat them as such. They even require subdomains to be separately verified in Google Search Console.
According to Google’s SEO webmaster, the search algorithm takes a few days to learn how to crawl subdomains (as compared to subfolders), but he assures us that this is mostly just a formality.
Subfolders vs. Subdomains: Similarities and Differences
There are some good reasons to consider subfolders as well as subdomains. In this section, we’ll compare the two and point out some key similarities and differences.
Why Subfolders Are Useful
A website with subfolders is the most common. This is because most basic websites have this structure as soon as you acquire them, which eliminates the need for additional setup or to verify each subdirectory with Google Search Console.
The early internet was organized on the principles of subfolders.
Until fairly recently, most websites you navigated to were hosted on physical servers. Finding a subdirectory meant you were downloading and opening an HTML file which was the webpage. The internet is still largely structured this way, which makes subfolders a natural option for the structure of your website.
Subfolders are also useful because search engines consider each subfolder part of the main website. Content on mainsite.com/BlogA and mainsite.com/BlogB will both contribute to mainsite.com’s SEO rankings. This means the site will be seen as more authoritative, even if its content is spread around different subdirectories.
Why Subdomains Are Useful
While the early internet favored subfolders, the advent of remote services means that many modern websites are switching to subdomains.
Remote services are easier to manage when used with subdomains.
The technical reason for this is that DNS records, which are necessary for remote services to function, only work on the domain level. This doesn’t include subdirectories.
If the blog at mainsite.com/blog is hosted remotely, the traffic to the hosted blog won’t count unless the traffic is sorted through a reverse proxy. Setting up a reverse proxy is not a minor endeavor and will generally require the use of special web tools like NGINX or another reverse proxy host.
A reverse proxy will also slow the performance of your website since it’s adding an extra step for each client that connects.
Subdomains avoid this problem by existing on the domain level. A DNS CNAME record is usually all that’s needed to link the subdomain to the host of the blog.
Subdomains are also useful as maintenance tools: a test website can be established, which allows you to make and test changes without affecting the main website.
Separate domains also make sense if you’re building a website in another language. Your English keywords aren’t going to rank in Spanish or German, so establishing different domains for those will make more sense.
Are Subdomains or Subfolders Better for SEO?
In 2017, Google Search Central’s YouTube channel stated that both subdomains and subfolders are fine for SEO.
In fact, their webmaster made the point that the only difference is a minor change in the time it takes to crawl a new subdomain, generally on the order of “a few days” according to the video’s presenter.
So according to the main source, there is no difference between the two.
Yet there still exists a lot of debate around the web, and the conventional wisdom is usually that subfolders are the stronger option simply because Google will treat each subfolder as a piece of the main website – thus bolstering your main domain’s overall rankings.
However, this is only one piece of the puzzle that affects your SEO results and is absolutely not the most important one.
Another piece of that puzzle is how quickly clients are clicking away from your website, which is directly impacted by its performance. Subdomains perform better in this regard because they don’t require reverse proxies.
Choose Based on Stability
Beyond the content itself, the management of the content is another reason subdomains have the edge on subfolders. Making constant changes to your website affects your SEO, and it’s recommended that you keep major changes to a minimum to stabilize your rank.
Subdomains are simply easier to connect with remote services. Since the use of those services is only likely to increase as more clients are connecting to the web from more diverse places around the globe, subdomains may be the most stable choice for the future.
Hushly Makes Creating Subdomains Easy
This is an old debate among website creators and a topic that doesn’t have one correct answer for every situation.
There are a lot of factors that should inform your choice, like how your content will be hosted, your experience as a webmaster, and the type of website you aim for.
At Hushly, we favor subdomains and believe that 25+ years of search algorithm optimization means subdomains perform just as well, if not better, than subfolders.
Hushly’s content curation platform makes use of subdomains to quickly connect with remote services. Our self-nurturing landing pages are subdomains. We also facilitate the easy creation of subdomains on our platform.
If you’re interested in a service that utilizes subdomains frequently, check out our video guide to see how Hushly lets you create a hub for content in just a few clicks.
Contact us and find out how we can help make your content creation, marketing, and sales process simpler.