Should I Use Subdirectories or Separate Web Sites?

By Melissa J Luther

The answer to whether a subdirectory or separate Web site is best depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to create a unified brand for your company or trying to distinguish different divisions within your company as individual brands? Are you setting up an official company blog, or are individual employees blogging about their areas of expertise?

Just as there are many ways to structure a business, there are many ways to create an online presence. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for every business, even within the same industry. There are, however, guidelines that you can use to determine which solution is best for you.

Subdirectories

A subdirectory is a folder or file system that exists inside another folder or file system. The URL of a subdirectory would look like www.mainsite.com/subdirectory. The subdirectory is part of your main Web site and search engines recognize it as such.

A good use of a subdirectory is for an official company blog. Most experts agree that the best SEO value comes from using subdirectories, especially for frequently changing content like blogs. Search engines reward fresh content and inbound links. A popular blog will have plenty of both, and the increased rank they bring will spill over to the entire site.

Subdomains

A subdomain breaks a domain into smaller parts, and the name of the subdomain comes before the main domain: subdomain.maindomain.com.

Subdomains used to be useful for gaining multiple listings in search results because each subdomain was considered a completely separate Web site by the search engines. By the end of 2007, Google began treating subdomains as more closely associated with the main domain, eliminating much of their advantage.

Breaking large sites into subdomains based on product or service type can still be useful for keeping the site structure and navigation clean.

Separate Web Sites

For the most part separate Web sites offer few advantages. You end up scattering your SEO strategy, it’s hard to create a unified brand from different Web sites and you are likely to leave your visitors confused about who you really are.

Exceptions might be employee blogs that are part of the company but not the official company voice or business activities that are very different from your main business. Some people prefer to name their blog and buy a domain with that name. You can then link the blog back to the main Web site.

Keep in mind that a blog on a separate domain offers very little SEO value to your main site, even if they are linked. In addition, a brand new domain name takes time to gain authority with search engines. If your main goal is SEO value then separate Web sites are not the appropriate choice.

Regardless of your ultimate choice, remember that providing value to your human visitors is the real goal in all cases. If your Web site is relevant and easy to navigate then all your visitors, human and robot, will reward you.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.