When it’s time to launch a new site, undergo a site migration or change your CMS, launch a new product, or make another major change, what overarching site structure to use is one of the most common questions.
Should we use or change over to a subdirectory, subdomain, or use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) if we have international content?
And is one better than the other?
Google says there isn’t a difference.
This is definitely a topic that falls resoundingly in the “it all depends” box.
After all, when it comes to SEO, there are a lot of factors to consider.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of each option and help you decide which is best for your website.
First, let’s define subdomain, subdirectory, and a ccTLD.
Subdomain, Subdirectory And ccTLD Defined
A subdomain is a unique domain that is part of a larger domain.
For example, you could create a subdomain for your blog or another section of your site that sells products or if you need to differentiate content.
This would give you a URL that looks like this: blog.example.com or productname.subdomain.com.
Subdomains are often used to create separate website sections with distinct content.
A subdirectory is a folder on your website that contains separate pages or pieces of content.
For example, if you were managing the GAP, I would recommend a simple and SEO-friendly product subdirectory instead of the URL they have now, i.e., https://www.gap.com/browse/category.do?cid=6998&nav=expmore%3Amen%3Acategories%3Ajeans#pageId=0&department=75.
Subdirectories are often used to create separate website sections with distinct content.
A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is a unique domain specific to a certain country.
For example, if you have a website for your business in Canada, you will need a ccTLD for the site, i.e., bestbuy.ca.
Pros And Cons Of Using A Subdomain
There are some benefits and drawbacks to using a subdomain when the overwhelming bulk of the content will be substantially unique from the root domain.
It comes down to what the publisher is trying to accomplish with that new content.
Will they make an effort to establish the necessary link equity?
Is the new content really that substantially unique from the primary content of the root domain?
- Subdomains can help with organization.
- By keeping your content on its own subdomain, it’s easy to keep track of the content and make sure it’s separate from the rest of your website.
- Especially helpful if you have a large website with lots of distinct types of content.
- Search engines view subdomains as separate websites, so a well-optimized subdomain has the potential to rank in search results.
- More expensive than other options.
- Additionally, some users find subdomains confusing. For example, if someone is looking for your business website and types in example.com, they may not realize that your blog is at blog.example.com. This can lead to confusion and lost traffic.
Also, since Google treats subdomains as separate sites if you create new content on a subdomain, it does not benefit from the authority being passed down because it is considered a brand-new separate website.
Pros And Cons Of Using A Subdirectory
There are several benefits and drawbacks to using a subdirectory for your site.
- Usually more cost-effective to maintain than other options.
- Some users find subdirectories easier to understand than subdomains. For example, if someone is looking for your business website and types in example.com, they will immediately see your blog at example.com/blog. It can help prevent confusion and lost traffic.
- Authority is passed down from the root domain over to the subfolder, which can help with your search engine visibility.
- Can be more difficult to set up than other options.
- Subdirectories are not always seen as separate websites by search engines.
Pros And Cons Of Using A ccTLD
There are some benefits and drawbacks to using a ccTLD.
- Can help set up your international website content.
- Using a ccTLD is a strong signal that tells the search engines your content focuses on a specific country.
- If you don’t have any international content or serve users around the globe, you do not need it.
- Usually more expensive than other options.
- Each ccTLD appears as a different website, so if you own multiple websites across the globe with different ccTLDs, you will have to optimize them all because they are all seen as separate entities.
- Some countries require you to be a citizen or have some affiliation with the country to purchase the domain names with ccTLDs.
What Is Favored By Most SEO Experts?
SEO experts often favor subdirectories over subdomains because new URLs benefit from the root domain’s already established online authority and equity accumulated through external links.
By leveraging that authority of the root domain, subdirectories accumulate meaningful rankings and organic performance quicker than subdomains.
For that reason, many SEO professionals favor them, which frequently gets translated as “better.”
While it’s true Google recognizes subdomains as properties of the larger domain entity and can see the relationship between the two when done well and correctly, publishers will limit the linking between the two properties.
Therefore, the new subdomain then needs many external links pointed to it to become an established authority. That often takes substantial time and effort.
You might need a ccTLD if you have content in different countries and need to send a strong signal to Google and other search engines about your international content strategy.
While this can be expensive depending on the number of countries you manage, it may be worth looking into subdirectories or subdomains to direct users from different countries to the appropriate content.
One of our clients in the financial space moved from a .com to a subdomain which we advised against.
When they moved, our client experienced decreased search engine visibility and traffic, but it was not too drastic.
After a year on a subdomain, they moved back to the main domain.
Once we set up the redirect and content migration strategy, our client experienced a 15% growth in traffic by moving back to the main domain with the authority, links, etc.
So, which is better for SEO: A subdomain, subdirectory, or ccTLD?
There is no easy answer.
It depends on your specific needs and goals. As we’ve seen, there are pros and cons to each option.
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