Subdomain (Or Subdirectory) Usage: Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Subdomains and subdirectories allow you to organize certain types of content on your website.

But can using subdomains or subdirectories affect your organic search rankings?

Read on to see if there is any connection between subdomains, subdirectories, and improved Google rankings.

Claim: Subdomains and subdirectories are ranking factors

What are subdomains and subdirectories?

Subdomains are sections of your website.

Examples of subdomains include the bolded portions of the following URLs:

  • https://Big

Subdirectories, on the other hand, are folders in your domains. You can have subdirectories on the main domain as well as in your subdirectories.

Examples of subdirectories include bolded parts of the following URLs:


Directory on subdomains and subdirectories as ranking factors

in 2007Matt Cutts, formerly Head of the Spam Team at Google, wrote a blog post about subdomains and subdirectories.

In it he said:

“A subdomain can be useful for separating completely different content.”

in 2011In response to the Google Panda update, HubPages moved user-generated content to subdomains.

As reported by WSJ and Search Engine Watch, HubPages:

“…they went back to before the pandas [traffic] levels in the first three weeks since he activated subdomains for himself and several other authors. Other authors have seen significant, if not complete, recoveries of web traffic.”

Directory vs subdomains and subdirectories as ranking factors

Google has confirmed how it handles subdomains and subdirectories on a few occasions.

In the Google Search Central Support documentation, you will find the following:

Is it better to use subfolders or subdomains?

You should choose what is easiest for you to organize and manage. From an indexing and ranking perspective, Google has no preference.

In 2013 Katz answered the same question about how Google displays subdomains and subdirectories:

“They are almost equivalent. I would basically choose which one is easier for you to configure, your CMS [content management systems]… all that kind of thing.”

Cutts gave an example, using a company that wants to use a different CMS (such as WordPress VIP or Tumblr) to power its blog.

He went on to say that historically, Google would return two results for each host. This allowed webmasters to misuse subdomains, which made enough to take over search results.

Google has updated its algorithm to only show one or two results per domain, making it difficult for subdomains to take up more positions in search results.

in 2018John Mueller, Google search attorney, was clear in his response on what works best for SEO – subdomains or subdirectories:

“Google Web Search is OK to use subdomains or subdirectories.”

He went on to discuss the difference in handling between subdomains and subdirectories:

“Some servers make it easy to set up different parts of a website as subdirectories. This helps us crawl because we know everything is on the same server and we can crawl it in a similar way.”

Mueller said regarding the subsidiary guides:

“You’ll need to check the subdomains separately in Search Console, make any changes to the settings, and track the overall performance of each subdomain. We’ll have to learn how to crawl them separately, but mostly it’s just a formality in the first few days.”

Subdomains and subdirectories as ranking factors: our judgment

Since you have to check subdomains separately in Search Console, but not subdirectories, it’s safe to assume that Google treats subdomains as separate websites.

This does not mean that using subdomains or subdirectories is a ranking factor in Google.

Featured image: Robin Biong / Search Engine Journal

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