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Old 01-10-2005   #1
pdstein
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subdomains vs subdirectories

My company is in the process of doing a complete overhaul of its website. The new site is going to be divided into sections with each section being for a different set of services. Each section is essentially going to function as its own independent website with its own header and navigational menu, but they willl all be variations on a main theme and each section will have menu links to the other sections.

I know there organizational reasons for going with one or the other, but from a strictly SEO perspective is it better to use subdirectories or subdomains?

I understand that SEs view subdomains as independent sites, so pages pages in the subdomains would not benefit from being a part of the main site and all the IBLs we have to the main site. But on the otherhand, as independent sites the links from the other subdomains would count as IBLs.

So, is there conclusive evidence that one structure would help our search rankings more than the other?
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Old 01-11-2005   #2
glengara
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It seems there'll be quite a bit of close interlinking, and from a "safety" POV, using directories may be the better option, IMO.
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Old 01-11-2005   #3
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directories. Otherwise you'll have all these interliked domains since a sub is a separate domain to search engines.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pdstein
My company is in the process of doing a complete overhaul of its website. The new site is going to be divided into sections with each section being for a different set of services. Each section is essentially going to function as its own independent website with its own header and navigational menu, but they willl all be variations on a main theme and each section will have menu links to the other sections.

I know there organizational reasons for going with one or the other, but from a strictly SEO perspective is it better to use subdirectories or subdomains?

I understand that SEs view subdomains as independent sites, so pages pages in the subdomains would not benefit from being a part of the main site and all the IBLs we have to the main site. But on the otherhand, as independent sites the links from the other subdomains would count as IBLs.

So, is there conclusive evidence that one structure would help our search rankings more than the other?
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Old 01-11-2005   #4
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Depends on your criteria.

A forum as a subdomains could be a good way to sneak an extra listing in the search engines, where both sites a rank for the same keywords.

A forum as a subfolder could be a good way to add additional "authority" to a site, by having extensive content with a number of links in and out of particular threads..


I'd personally suggest it's all about measuring apples and oranges here. After all, tomorrow Google could care little for either subdomains or authority.


SEW, DigitalPoint, and SEOchat are on subdomains - Webmasterworld, v7n and HighRankings are in subdirectories.

I believe subdomains may specifically be a technical option as well, rather than a SEO one - hopefully Danny Sullivan will state - or has stated - his particular reasoning for use of the forums on a subdomain, which could be helpful.
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Old 01-11-2005   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glengara
It seems there'll be quite a bit of close interlinking, and from a "safety" POV, using directories may be the better option, IMO.
Is there actually evidence that interlinking is penalized, or is it speculative.
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Old 01-11-2005   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdstein
Is there actually evidence that interlinking is penalized, or is it speculative.
speculation but why take the chance. If it doesn't happen now it may happen 6 months from now.

also evidence is hard to come by, unless your work for Google.
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Old 01-12-2005   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pdstein
Is there actually evidence that interlinking is penalized, or is it speculative.
It not so much that interlinking subdomains flags a penalty, as much as search engines are well aware of the options for abuse.

Google has already shown an interest in devaluing such interlinking - such as in the paper Hilltop: A Search Engine based on Expert Documents which not only mentions devaluing links within C class IP blocks, but also by association of domain name.

Not that devaluing of links in this manner is not so much a "penalty" as much as a different method of evaluating links in general.

Whether Google and friends have implementated any of the criteria suggested in the Hilltop paper remains something of great debate, though the consensus seems to be that some degree has been applied since November 2003.

Ranking trends can change and change dramatically, though.

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Old 01-12-2005   #8
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I generally advise people pondering the directory versus the subdomain/new domain question as follows:

1) If there's substantial content you have that somehow warrants in your mind, and to your users, the need to have an entirely new web site, then go for having it under either a subdomain or new domain.

1B) Why do a subdomain over a new domain? First, it's free. Second, you might like the consistency with branding.

2) If you have content that really fits with your main site, keep it in a subdirectory.

OK, so now I'll take SEW as an example, since that was raised.

Our main site with original content is searchenginewatch.com, of course.

When we started the forums, they could have been searchenginewatch.com/forums. However, I thought the content and activities of the forums were important enough that they should have their own site.

In particular, people in my view tend to bookmark or treat sites with a little more respect if they aren't full of slashes In other words, making the forums as a subsection of SEW makes cause a few people not to perhaps bookmark it as readily, link to it or see it as standalone from the site itself.

For a pure SEO point, having it on its own subdomain means that it's possible more pages will get indexed than if it were within a single site, since all search engine will spend only a certain amount of time within any one given site. Having your own home page at a root level may also help the particular topics central to that page perhaps rank you a bit better.

We also have a blog, blog.searchenginewatch.com. It was put on a subdomain for the same reason -- substantial content different from the main site and with reasons warranting having its own site.

I have a long standing "webmasters" area about how to do submission, http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/. Why not make that webmasters.searchenginewatch.com or seo.searchenginewatch.com? The content isn't substantial. There's 10-15 pages total within that section. It's a natural part of our main site. There's no overriding reason to put it on its own.

FYI, we also considered doing something like sewforums.com. If we'd done that, we'd have all the same exact advantages of having a subdomain. Being a subdomain still for the major search engines seems to operate as being exactly the same as a completely different domain -- which makes sense, as it is (all domains that end in .com are, for example, subdomains of .com itself).

As further proof of this, some noted when we launched that the site's home page was PR3. Now I really, really, really don't encourage people to worry about PR values -- and I certainly don't. But if forums.searchenginewatch.com were somehow seen as connected with searchenginewatch.com, you'd expect it would have been a higher value like the root domain itself. That didn't happen. Only recently did the score rise, which I would assume is due to external links helping it rise over time (the blog, in contrast, started off at something like PR6 -- links from the blogging world probably pushed it up more quickly)

Why not do sewforums.com? We didn't for branding reasons. We wanted the domain name to be consistent with our main domain name.

You can also look at Google itself for examples of this. Google Images at google.com/images? No, images.google.com -- and news.google.com -- and froogle.com/froogle.google.com. Substantial content different from the main site that warrants being on its own domain/subdomain.

In conclusion, I come back to my standard advice for many things SEO -- do what you think is best for your users. If you think it helps to have your site broken into subsites, do it. If you think you should link between them, as long as you are really doing it in a way that makes sense to human visitors, you should be fine.

Here's a last warning sign. When you start doing a diagram of your interlinking and pondering really detailed questions of "if I do X, will that help or hurt with search engines," that generally means you aren't thinking from the human perspective.

In your case, if your products and services are really distinct -- and they really have substantial content about each product, then the Intuit idea of quicken.com, turbotax.com, quickbooks.com and so on model may make sense.

Last edited by dannysullivan : 01-13-2005 at 07:00 AM.
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Old 01-12-2005   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannysullivan
If there's substantial content
That the biggest point there for sub-domains.

Search engines favor 'large websites' because they have structure in both depth and breadth. Internally linked pages support each other.

On the other hand a smallish website surrounded by satellite sites (which would be the design with sub-domains and limited in each) while you gain in external link pop the 'uniqueness of independent links' is dworfed by your predominently 'self control' links.

Consider that a large website stands a greater chance of gaining one way inbound links than a bunch of small sites.

I would lend to 'directory style' if main site has less than 500 pages with sub-domain around 200 pages... below that you are likely losing more than you gain.

A CAVEAT - if the grow rate is good then - subdomains may be the better route.

Last edited by fathom : 01-12-2005 at 10:40 PM.
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Old 01-12-2005   #10
glengara
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Something on this over at TW...
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Old 01-12-2005   #11
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The biggest deciding factor, IMHO, is ease of implementation. Subdomains offer the ability to seperate out sections onto their own server, where subfolders do not.

This healps make growing the site easier to manage, as resource intensive sections (like forums) can be seperated out onto a different server, with a better suited hosting plan.

Additionally, subdomians allow different hosting OSes to be used. You may have *NIX for your forum, and Windows for your "normal" site. Or, like google, you may use a variety of different technologies cobbled together over time (from memory, Orkut uses Windows and ASP, the Google SE is built on a custom Linux install).

Quote:
Why not do sewforums.com? We didn't for branding reasons. We wanted the domain name to be consistent with our main domain name.
I agree that branding is the number one reason to stick with subdomains and not new domains.
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Old 01-13-2005   #12
glengara
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Theoretically, any downside to having subs hosted in different countries?

I was thinking of a single multi country/language site scenario, where having the local IP for individual country/sub was desirable.

Last edited by glengara : 01-13-2005 at 04:56 AM.
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