Which one should you use?

When it comes time to launch a new site, undergo a site migration or change your CMS, launch a new product, or make another major change, which overall site structure to use is one of the most frequently asked questions.

Should we use or switch to a sub-directory or sub-domain or use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) if we have international content?

Is one better than the other?

Google says there is no difference.

This is definitely a topic that resoundingly falls into 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 the subdomain, subdirectory, and ccTLD.

Define subdomain, subdirectory, and ccTLD

A subdomain is a unique domain that is part of a larger domain.

For example, you can create a sub-domain for your blog or another section of your site to sell products or if you need to feature content.

This will 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’re running a GAP, I’d recommend a simple, SEO-friendly subdirectory instead of the URL they have now, eg 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 country-specific domain.

For example, if you have a website for your business in Canada, you will need a ccTLD for the site, for example, bestbuy.ca.

Pros and cons of using a subdomain

There are some benefits and drawbacks to using a subdomain when the bulk of the content is largely unique from the root domain.

It’s about what the publisher is trying to achieve with this new content.

Will they make an effort to create the necessary equity link?

Is the new content substantially unique from the root domain’s base content?

Positives

  • Sub-domains can help with organization.
  • By keeping your content on its own subdomain, it’s easy to keep track of your content and make sure it’s separated from the rest of your website.
  • Especially useful if you have a large website with a lot of distinct types of content.
  • Search engines display subdomains as separate websites, so a well-optimized subdomain has the ability to rank in search results.

Negatives

  • More expensive than other options.
  • Additionally, some users find subdomains confusing. For example, if someone searches for your business website and types at example.com, they may not realize that your blog is on blog.example.com. This can lead to confusion and loss of traffic.

Also, since Google treats subdomains as separate sites if you create new content on a subdomain, it doesn’t take advantage of the authority that is passed on because it’s a completely new separate website.

Pros and cons of using a subdirectory

There are many benefits and drawbacks to using a subdirectory for your site.

Positives

  • Maintenance is usually more cost-effective than other options.
  • Some users find subdirectories easier to understand than subdomains. For example, if someone searches for your business website and types at example.com, they will immediately see your blog at example.com/blog. It can help prevent confusion and lost traffic.
  • The authority is passed down from the root domain to the subfolder, which can help your search engine visibility.

Negatives

  • Setting it up can be more difficult than other options.
  • Subdirectories are not always considered separate websites by search engines.

Pros and cons of using a ccTLD

There are some benefits and drawbacks to using a ccTLD.

Positives

  • They can help create content for your international website.
  • Using a ccTLD is a strong signal that tells search engines that your content is focused on a specific country.

Negatives

  • If you don’t have any international content or serve users all over the world, you don’t need it.
  • Usually more expensive than other options.
  • Each ccTLD appears as a different website, so if you have multiple websites around the world 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 domain names with ccTLDs.

What do most SEO experts prefer?

SEO experts often prefer subdirectories over subdomains because new URLs take advantage of the already established online authority and equality accumulated through external links.

By utilizing the authority of the root domain, subdirectories compile meaningful classifications and organic performance faster than subdomains.

For this reason, it is preferred by many SEO professionals, which is often translated as “better”.

While it is true that 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 association between the two.

Therefore, the new subdomain then needs many external links pointing to it to become an established authority. This often takes a lot of time and effort.

You may 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 costly depending on how many countries you run, it can be useful to search sub-directories or sub-domains to direct users from different countries to the appropriate content.

Case Study

One of our financial clients moved from .com to a subdomain that we were advised not to do.

When they moved, our client experienced a drop in search engine visibility and traffic, but it wasn’t very severe.

After a year on a subdomain, they’re back in the main domain.

Once we set up our retargeting and content relay strategy, our client saw 15% growth in traffic by returning to the main domain with authority, links, etc.

wrapping

So, which is better for SEO: 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.

More resources:


Featured Image: metamorworks / Shutterstock

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.