Website Architecture: Subfolders vs. Subdirectory for Your Blog

How your blog and website architecture should be structured for SEO

SubDomain:  vs.  Subfolder /SubDirectory:

Sub Folders vs Sub Domains StudyAfter completing an SEO audit for one of our clients I recommended using a subfolder instead of the subdirectory they are using for their blog. When I scraped their site I realized that the tools I used didn’t show any blog pages. I scraped the blog separately and the main site did not show. They are spidered as two distinct websites. This means that any SEO value is split between two sites and the blog is not supporting the main site for ranking.

To be honest, I knew this would happen. I knew there was difficulty ranking subdomains and pushing “link juice” to the main website. I’ve been an SEO for 15+ years. We just know things from testing and results.

The client’s branded content is some of the best content I’ve ever read. Brilliant. It is gold. The copy is hot, the imagery is brandable and it speaks profoundly to their demographic. It has serious wow factor.

As a standalone blog it would probably be a great magazine site, but the goal here is to provide value to the user, educate the user without the hard sell and help the main site garner organic traffic, and help the main site’s SEO.

At Direct Access Digital, we provide paid search and display for the client and we always look at the website and goals holistically – not just by campaign. Anything we can do to help the new brand get more leverage, we will for the big picture.

The big picture here is: the two “sites” need to marry-up to support each other. Currently, the blog is on a subdomain. and I strongly suggested we change the website infrastructure to be

The client has investors and they wanted proof – they weren’t going to just take my word for it. They sent me a link. The link was from 2007. Google’s algorithm changes and evolves all the time – check the date. Just because Matt Cutts spoke about something years ago does not mean it is current. Matt is clearly not a liar, but things change. There is a good list of algorithm updates (like Penguin, Panda, Mobilegeddon, RankBrain) here.

Some of the research results about the subdomain vs. subfolder question:

A report from SearchMetrics entitled, Ranking Factors 2015 Whitepaper, concluded that “when it comes to subdomain usage there is a slightly negative correlation, which means the higher the ranking of the URL, the less frequently it is a subdomain. With Wikipedia the correlation is positive. This is due to the fact that country specific Wikipedia results are directed via subdomains (” They concluded, roughly a quarter of all URLs in the top 30 are subdomains. This means roughly 75% are main domains and key content needed to rank in search engines should sit on the root domain.

Ratio of Subdomains


Feb 2015: I’ve had many interactions with Rand Fishkin from Moz (formerly SEOMoz), over the years. I trust him. I often send out his SEO 101 Guide to new clients.

Rand in a Wipeboard Friday stated, “Subdomains can be kind of interesting sometimes because there’s a lot less technical hurdles a lot of the time. You don’t need to get your engineering staff or development staff involved in putting those on there. From a technical operations perspective, some things might be easier, but from an SEO perspective this can be very dangerous.”

Foreboding indeed …

Moz subdomains vs subfolder whiteboard friday

Rand’s answer, “I’d really urge everyone to keep your content on one single sub and root domain, preferably in subfolders. That’s how you’re going to maximize your potential SEO benefit. This is one of those technical SEO things that just hasn’t changed for many years now.”

Jan 2015: In the article, Rand references someone who oddly changes his blog from a sub-folder to sub-domain and this occurred.

switch to subdomain results

Image: also has some great comments on a reaction piece to Rand’s article written by a guy who basically says if you’re not writing, your blog doesn’t matter. However, the comments below hold valuable tidbits:

“I’ve seen numerous examples moving from the Unbounce subdomain on to with big overnight increase in traffic.” Valentine Valov @vlnt

“We just made this change (moving from a subdomain to a sub-directory) to our blog. We saw a noticeable increase in traffic within less than a week and saw some big jumps in keyword rankings.” Josh Ames @josh_ames

“You want all your link attribution flowing to the primary domain. This is like SEO 101. Sub-directories are always better. The only way I could even consider a subdomain would be via proxy – and that would only be for infrastructure simplicity.” Dan Schiffman @danschiff

subfolder to subdomain case studyMay 30, 2015: BloggingFail has a case study and reports, “I went from somewhere out of the top 100, and I know for a fact I wasn’t even in the top 200, to being number 57 in the SERP’s simply by changing from a subdomain to a subdirectory. Everything else related to my site remained constant.”

Other points: subdomain vs subfolder debate for SEO:

WebMasterWorld, is one of the best sources to get technical SEO answers. Many of the SEO Rockstars from back in the day are moderators on the board and it is self-policing, great discussions and great SEO conferences.

Here I found some good points on this post.

  • April 2014 “I have big subdomains. Each one is treated as a separate site by google penalties… (this is a good thing).” Mentat
  • April 2014: “Google always has been very random in its treatment of what I call “skizofrenic sites” – ie. sites that are simultaneously about very different topics: “dogs, and submarines”, “clothes, and foreign politics”, or “sport, and music”. Mostly, it’s a very good idea to split such sites up into two separate sites, one on each subject. One way to do this is using subdomains. You don’t need to get a full domain for each site. Subs will do.” Claus
  • April 2014, “Our main site has 3 subdomains and over the years the main site and some of the subdomains have received various panda and penguin ‘penalties’, but not at the same time and not consistently – even between the two that are very interlinked ( one gets hit by pretty much all penalties, one grows 40% -50% a year, but it is the penalised site that attracts natural links, the growing site almost none, so hard to figure out) .So I have concluded that, at least in some circumstances, subdomains are treated as independent entities, even when very interlinked” Rasputin.


All of the data from strong sources point to subfolders being better for organic search, with subdomains being treated as separate websites.


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Senior Digital Strategist, Ceri Nelmes. With 16+ years’ experience in digital, Ceri began as an SEO at a UK agency after working as a Canadian journalist for seven years. She’s worked on almost every vertical in almost every digital role end-to-end from wireframes, content, UX, testing, site architecture, content, social media, ecommerce, affiliate, monetization, lead generation, media sales/buying, to advanced SEO and marketing for big brands, start-ups and not-for-profits like Chapters Indigo, Danby, to Bank of Scotland, BBC, and University of Toronto. She can be found scribbling on wipeboards and playing with her Hurricane Katrina Plott Hound, Taffy.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • seo backlinks calgary May 21, 2016, 6:36 am

    So find out who Google likes and make friends
    with them. Cloaking tricks search engines into thinking
    their content is different than it actually is.
    Furthermore, it’s imperative that the two, SEO and Social Media, are integrated for best results.

  • Wilmer July 3, 2016, 1:23 pm

    Its hard trying to pick what to optimise on my own blog, is offsite SEO worth the effort?

    Website Architecture: Subfolders vs. Subdirectory
    for Your Blog – The newest addition to my RSS feed

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