The topic of subdomains vs. subfolders and how it affects your SEO strategy has been discussed ad nauseam, and probably will be for as long as SEO is a thing. But this post was triggered by a conversation I had with a client last week, and it presented this age-old question in a unique way.
What Factors Influenced the Decision? The Problem
Our client explained that they wanted to combine two businesses that operate independently in the same industry, in the same geographic area – roughly 20 miles apart. Each business currently has its own URL, but more importantly, each has a very different design aesthetic. Their goal is to combine them and form a multi-location business with plans for expansion in other states. As they expand, each location will need to maintain a different aesthetic as they serve highly unique neighborhoods (they offer high-end real estate in luxury neighborhoods). More importantly, this is not a franchise situation.
Designing for SEO
Because they are on a WordPress site, they want to build a unique website on a subdomain for each location. They also wanted to have a URL structure of city.domain.com. Normally that strategy is perfectly fine with our team, but the SEO campaign that we built for 2+ years was very comprehensive, and we were worried about losing the hard work and equity we created for the brand that would eventually own the mothership domain. Nobody likes to see their hard work flushed down the drain – especially for a few small design changes.
A LITTLE HISTORY — WHY WOULD YOU USE EITHER STRATEGY?
Does it matter? Can’t I just use whichever strategy we feel works best for us? Well, yes! But it wasn’t always that way, and I’m sure I’ll get plenty of comments providing me examples of why I’m wrong. I promise to ignore them.
In the past, best practice was to use subdomains for locations, regions, franchises, etc. And the real advantages depend on your situation. For example, if in the case that I provided, the situation called for “Franchised” locations we would probably want to use a subdomain. Providing website access to the franchise owner would be a priority especially if they each had “custom” websites that needed frequent updates. But make no mistake, using a subfolder would work well, but it might be a more cumbersome solution in this case.
There used to be real world advantages to using a subdomain also. For instance, when we were all still using Google Places (Does anyone remember how brutal that was?) and there were new ways to optimize for local, the subdomain worked wonders getting your client into the local 7-pack. I would frequently use city.domain.com and instantly get my client into the local pack. Google would even show the subdomain in the field for “website”! That has since been deprecated, but it was a clear ranking signal for Google at one time. As EMD’s continue to diminish as a ranking signal, subdomains are doing the same for local ranking signals.
CONSISTENCY IN BRANDING IS THE KEY
I personally always prefer to use the subfolder strategy. It’s a cleaner “look” to your URL structure and feels better to me as a user. Consistency for brands is important too. Business owners want more consistent branding so that all locations and franchises provide a consistent experience for their customers.
WHAT IF YOU CHOOSE THE WRONG STRATEGY?
Don’t worry about it. Move forward with your choice and focus on CONSISTENCY. If you’re a large national brand, there might be scenarios where you would make a big change to your strategy, but only do it if it makes sense for your business. Don’t be reactive and change just because you see your competition doing the same thing.
In reality, your SEO strategy shouldn’t be affected by the subdomain vs. subfolder debate. Focus on building a good business and building great content and links. As always, listening to your customers and presenting them with the information that matters to them is the most effective form of marketing.
HELP! WE SCREWED UP!
Sometimes we make hasty decisions and then feel heavy remorse. Don’t worry, the “What the hell did I just do?!” feelings of panic will subside. If you’re in a situation that you believe is not favorable for your business goals, SEO strategy, or other, feel free to leave us a note in the comment section. We love doing research and testing new strategies and would love to help. Any questions – Just ask!