Sub-Domain, Folder or External Domain for SEO?

One of the questions I ask myself when doing an SEO clinic is whether the site is structured correctly. One of the things this includes is looking at whether (say) a blog, a forum or any other resource belongs in a sub-domain, a folder or on it’s own domain.folders and sub domains for seo
Now there are pro’s and con’s to all of the options, and what I suggest below is based around an ideal world scenario of lots of content being created, lots of relevant link building and lots of website traffic and engagement. So all things being equal and perfect lets take a look at which option is best for you and your website.

Should I Use a Sub-Domain?

A sub-domain is a website that sit’s outside of the root directory. This means that is treated separately by search engines to or just This separation is one of the reasons why some companies would use this option as it distinctly shows sections of a website such as a blog or forum.

However, that advantage is balanced by the subdomain having it’s own link profile and not being seen as part of the root domain… this means for both and to get a high ranking you have to work twice as hard (in theory).

Advanced notes: In reality a part of the link profile and ranking from the subdomain will pass to the root domain and vice versa, but not all of it. Indeed it is suggested that the proportion passed is less than 10% in some cases. Also in reality a subdomain is a folder within the root directory and is only aliased to the outside world. But shush, it’s complicated.

Should I Use a Folder?

A folder is for example – it is a folder within a root directory or another folder.

The use of folders is again for organisation but also to give the website structure. This is why many websites in particular online shops, such as Clitheroe Beauty Centre, where websites need to section the website into categories. In addition to this websites commonly use folders to hold subsections such as blogs, such as the this blog or a forum such as the SEOMoz Pro Forum.

The advantage to this structure is that the root domain gets all of the link profile from that folder, and the folder gets the link profile of the site as a whole. It’s a win win… however, nothing is perfect. The folder option can cause technical issues with redirects, cross-linking of resources, conflicting htaccess files and some other bugs.

Advanced notes: Whilst you may choose a subdomain for recognition and a little extra freedom, it (in general) should be seen as a bad way forward for SEO. No body really wants to build up 2 link profiles or more for the same root domain, its creating a rod for your own back and whilst a subdomain can be removed later your link profile issue will still remain for sometime. Redirects are not a perfect solution for moving your rank profile, so where possible start with a folder.

Should I Use an External Domain?

Using an external domain (such as and can be useful, as you build 2 link profiles compeltely independent of one another and you can use those profiles to (in theory) boost the other’s profile. But again building 2 link profiles isn’t the best idea nor the best for work load.

The only time I could really advise using an external domain is when you either want to target a specific country or when you have previously had a subdomain but realised it’s not the best solution. External domains are great for Geo Targeting, in partic if the external domain targets another country in another language.

If you are starting from fresh structuring your site and it’s assets, this is not an option you will want to take. It prolongs the ranking process and can at later stages be seen as manipulation, though from a separation of brand is handy sometimes.

So, Which Structure is for You?

Overall I hope the above has given you a good overview of each use case and some pro’s and con’s. The reality of recent updates from Google means that a subdomain should not really be a choice moving forward for new websites.

To decide which you should use, here are a few questions and answers:

Do you want and can you afford to support one domain or multiple domains?
If you want to look after a single domain, choose a folder.
If you have the time and want to have multiple domains, choose an external domain.

Do you have the skills and knowledge to set up a subdomain or additional domains?
If you answered “no”, choose a folder.
If you have the skills, all choices are open to you.

Can you build an SEO Campaign around them?
Any rootdomain (inc external) is easier to build a campaign around
A subdomain is less likely to be remembered and therefore harder to SEO.

Can you build enough links to two areas?
If you have a team of one or two you are likely to not have the resource to link build greatly for more than one area.
If you have a staff of around 5 you could and may want to look at an external domain.

Have recent updates changed anything?
Yes, recently there has been an update (spotted by SEOMoz) where subdomains seem to be being wiped from search rankings. It is unclear whether it is due to low quality content or spammyness or just a general move to “no more subdomains”. But for now better safe than sorry, don’t choose a subdomain for holding files.

Finally, which is the best solution for you?
Truthfully, as an SEO I would stick to using folders unless you are targeting a country or language. Even in these cases I would think carefully about a new domain compared to say integrating Google Translate. A subdomain is as hard to look after as a second domain, but a folder is not (given it’s part of the root). In most cases (not all but most) folders are the correct structure to build your website and link profile. If you really want to have a subdomain for recognition but have now changed your mind you could look at setting up a redirect for the subdomain url (which will only exist virtually in .htaccess) into the given folder.

I know that I’ve rambled a little in this post, but I needed to give an overview of the solutions and possible outcomes.

If you have any questions about which solution is best for you, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

45 Comments on “Sub-Domain, Folder or External Domain for SEO?”

  1. I have a site and its about finance, should i create subdomains etc… or should i use Folders ?My domain has some authority and domain age. but i want the best long term approach.

    1. If you have a domain with authority and the various folders are clearly related (as yours are) then I would suggest folders are the best way forwards. I would only suggest otherwise if there was no connection, such that one was about banking and the next chocolate or something. — hope this makes sense

  2. How about a personal blog (not as specific as this one) and a personal portfolio. Should they be in separate domains? Technically the blog is dynamic and the portfolio is static (ish). So if I understand it right – using a folder, the portfolio would benefit from the blog. But should I use separate domains for the blog and portfolio?- Great post

    1. It depends if they are related topics. If design blog and portfolio the together works but if its say a design portfolio and blog about say social media it maybe worth splitting… Each case has its own merits –Sent from my Android phone with K-9 Mail. Please excuse my brevity.

  3. If I have a domain that has a domain age of 5 years, and I set up a sub domain to it, will it matter seo wise, because I know domain age is a huge factor in ranking a site, so lets say for instance my website is and it has a domain age of 5 years, but I want to setup a separate sub domain to rank for a specific keyword “Buy Facebook Fans” will this domain and subdomain have the same domain age, in other words will have the a domain age of 5 years or have a domain age of 5 years

    1. nope, that would be a little odd as .uk .com etc all imply english so no translation is needed. if you had showing french that would be an ok way to do it – if a tad confusing i feel.

  4. Hi Andy, what would be your suggestions in this situation? I have a photography website (example), it contains weddings and commercial. We want to separate the two so the current site gains better SEO for weddings. And create a new site for the commercial so that itself has great seo without having weddings mixed in.
    Would you suggest or – The latter is a far too long domain in my opinion, but your article makes me think a subdomain is not the right way to go.

    I know we don’t want to keep it as a folder as it currently is, as I feel the seo for weddings will improve removing commercial, but it’s now down to a subdomain, or completely rebrand the commercial to have a new business name, just so we can have a short domain.

    What would be your suggestions?

    Many Thanks!

    1. Hi there,A folder in my view would remain best route for anything like this. You mention a new domain or subdomain, either way its a long domain to remember and would require some rebrand work to make it fully work. You would get far more SEO worth from a folder in this aspect than a subdomain in my view.

  5. I have a recruiting website for US & Canada. I want subdomains for Mexico, South America, Europe Africa, Asia, Oceania. Should the subdomain be in the form of an abbreviation or the complete word to improve SEO results? For example, or should it be Should it be or It seems the full word would be better, but that makes it very long. Thanks for reply.

    1. Hi JohnI would use the full word in most cases. EU maybe the one not too, just like if it was a UK site USA would be better than america or unitedstatesofamerica
      hope thats handy

  6. Hey,
    I am planning to create a blog, and improve the SEO. will the blog help improve my SEO? if yes, should i have sub domain or separate folder?

    Please do advise.

    1. Hi John,
      A blog can enhance your SEO profile yes, it creates fresh content on a regular basis that should be of a high quality. I would advise putting it into a folder within the root domain, not a subdomain

  7. Hi admin,
    I am using subdomains now for geographic targeting for two asian countries – A&B

    However one of my lesser linked B is totally overwhelmed /covered by country A in terms of SERP. In fact, some of the keywords typed in B’s google page returned country A listing. Country B pages are hard to find in the main content pages in SERP in B’s google.

    I have geotarget in GWT, changed all the title tags and meta such that they are not the same and are dynamic targeting to each individual country, but it still not showing results yet!

    Should i change to external root domain (ccTLD) ???

    1. Hi Jason
      my gut feeling without knowing the entire story is that each country should have it’s own ccTLD used and simply 301 from your old subdomains to this – in general this is the safest and best way to target specific countries.

      The problem with GWT targetting is that Google has said that and every other setting is just a suggestion and isn’t always taken into account, specifically in terms of GEO targetting as it’s been often set wrongly and manipulated.

      hope that helps

  8. Hi Andy, a great post, thanks!
    I work for spanish market. When a client with a website hires me to do a new website (to renew the old website) and also translate it to english and french for example, what do you think it´s better? .es for spanish market,.com for english market, for french market, etc.. or is better with folders /en /fr…?


    1. Hi Juan
      If the content is the same across the languages then /es for example is fine, if the content differs then I would go with individual domains.

      hope that helps

  9. The problem with putting everything in the folder is that if you are using a hosting company and don’t have your own servers, then what can happen is that too much software on the website will cause the website to crash or dysfunction. I have had to re-install my website so many times. In the end, I used sub domains to prevent plugin conflict.

    1. If you have those kind of problems then it’s likely because you have a problem in your hosting solution and not your site in all honesty. Sub domains may help with conflicts but it wouldn’t stop your site running slowly. If you want to run lots of software on your own site then you should invest in a VPS – and this also goes for large websites, such as this one.

  10. I came here via google to find out if it´s better to have an own domain or a subdomain by free blog hosters like wordpress. At the moment I write on the free I still dont understand if I have a disadvantage now or not when we talk about seo. What do you think? Should I purshase a domainname? Will it improve seo?

  11. Hey Andy. Brilliant articles. Got a couple questions for you if you have a free second, no one seems to be able to give me a comprehensible answer…
    1) I use GoDaddy. I simply want to learn how to connect a SubDomain to a Page. So just as an example, every time someone clicks on ‘Bio’, which would be, I want them to SEE Likewise, when I give someone the link, I want them to SEE that link.

    I’ve gotten all sorts of various gibberish to do with Hosting the SubDomain then setting the Folder to the bio page, which I have done. I’ve also forwarded the SubDomain to that URL, plus a couple other things. Nothing has worked correctly.

    I actually want to UNDERSTAND how it works though. I love this stuff, trying to absorb as much as I can. I understand you are busy and might not be able to answer in detail.

    2) I have a couple branches of my business with different titles. For example, I do wedding music and promote the company as Rockstarr Weddings. Right now I’m building the page at

    Would it be counterproductive for me to launch From the thread above it sounds like it might be.

    The mindset behind it though is it looks more Professional and more like it’s own individual site than giving people

    IF I was going to do that SubDomain, it connects to my first question. What would be the correct method to go about it?

    The first time I tried the SubDomain thing, I got an error message saying I was forwarding a page to itself. I had a SubDomain set, and forwarded the URL to that SubDomain, which was connected to the same page.

    Hope some of this makes sense. Thanks for being out there!

  12. Hi Andy, really useful article to read and that’s great that you’ve answered by posting a blog of given question. I am completely agree that we should go with subdirectory instead of subdomain if our website has limited number of pages. I also heard somewhere is subdomain increases header requests and that’s why increases in load time. Is it true and if yes then how?

    1. Hi,
      it would increase requests only if you were loading assets from both the subdomain and main domain, just as for example loading javascript from google does (such as jquery) or loading third party adverts. the truth is as long as you are on the same server with the sub and main domain you would be fine the reaction time would be the same for the subdomain as main domain, if they were hosted separately and still cross-referenced files it would become an issue. folders remain king 😉

  13. Andy, hellow, your article is very deep. It helps a lot. But stiil i’m undefenite what i should do. My case is that i need wto separate sections form my site: male and female, having different design and pages-menu. Non of the sitebuilders supports this, so i was adviced to use a second domain or a subdomain. I don’t think i cam use folders, cause i can’t have 2 sets of menus this way. So do you think a should take a second domain or use subdomains? Another issue is that i need a landing page which leads to male/famale section, which has the roo-domain-name… This makes me think i probaly need 3 domains (!)…one for the landing page, one for male site, one for female site! That’s insane…Or Should i take 2 subdomains ? It’s really a mess…Can you kindly help?

    1. Hi Michael,Sounds like a bit of a confusing situation, but from what i can gather you need a “splash page” / homepage which splits into 2 sections male and female. My thoughts would initially be the same as your own that most platforms can’t support this within a single domain. And you’d be right, so you fall back to subdomains, which has it’s pitfalls and so then it would be 3 domains … but actually lets take a step back you are really needing something that will perform for SEO, both those options don’t really. My solution would be using wordpress (my favored platform still) but using a Woothemes plugin to make “dynamic menus” which you can on each page or category etc choose which menu to show – so you could have male and female menus and choose the menu accordingly. The plugin (link below) also allows you to do the same with sidebars, so you can have different items on a category of sidebars, ideal if you are needing to target something to male or females. This plugin, WooDojo, should see you right.

  14. Hi,
    We have a very good site in terms of SEO at the moment but we are updating some of the pages and are introducing wordpress. Our current site sits in the root folder, the new WP site can’t co-exist in same root folder so it is in a subfolder, is it bad for SEO that part of the site sits in a sub folder?

    1. This mainly depends on your website in all honesty. There is nothing bad about having it in a folder which is nicely named like /blog/ or /news/ – a sub domain is something to avoid, as you have. The reason it depends on your website is that if your website is static right now you could take it all within wordpress – a great option and keeps everything lovely. On the other hand if its another system then a folder is the next best option (as long as your redirect structure doesn’t cause issues for the wp install). If your site is magento, wordpress and mage sit well together and have some decent integration.
      My one big thing is not about the folder, thats an ok option, its simply that you need to ensure the look and style continues across – you can cause a knee-jerk if the templates are different and honestly its not good as it can create lack of trust with visitors.

  15. Hi Andy,so I have a domain name with go daddy, which uses 301 redirect to “”. I have set up “” as a subdomain (“www” is the subdomain). This subdomain then forwards using cname to my store which is hosted with bigcommerce. I did this incase in the future I wanted to make more subdomains outside of big commerce nameservers. If I’m understanding your article, am I totally sabotoging my stores SEO by doing this? My traffic right now is very low and I suspect this may be part of the problem, should I instead just forward the nameservers from to my big commerce store and take out the subdomain on godaddy? any advice would be greatly appreciated. The site is only a few months old, so I figure now is the time to fix any major problems, thanks

    [editor note: later clarification by LR below]
    part of the reason i did this also was because i wanted to still make some use out of the already paid for hosting on godaddy. originally the only reason i moved from interspire to big commerce was in hopes of good seo!

    1. Hi LR,
      Thanks for leaving a comment with your great question, and for answering my subsequent email questions so I can help you out.

      This pretty much sounds like a case of confusion based on previous advice you’ve been given and basically the documentation from GoDaddy and Big Commerce. Basically I would always, unless you have something else going on with the site (such as or some kind of other system running there) have the whole domain pointed across to the service in use. – emails being an obvious exception in many cases, as many people use Google Apps or Outlook for this an so some settings there may vary.

      In essence in your advanced dns settings you should be pointing www. and *. records to big commerce. This is pretty easy to do with most domain registrars. What you seem to have done at the point this comment was made is simply do this for www. and not the whole domain.

      Further to this it’s worth noting that whilst WWW. is a subdomain of sort’s it is not a true sub-domain in the real sense of the word. It’s a legacy folder from the early-ish days of the world wide web and in most cases doesn’t exist as a sub-domain beyond the domain settings (so for example on an apache server the folder public_html is usually the root directory and your scripts decide if this is www. or not). I think this is potential a big bit of confusion in the way much documentation is written as its often unclear this is the case.

      Today I know you’ve moved the whole domain over, this is completely correct to do – you can always alter this later if you need a later subdomain but i don’t see that need for you in all honesty.

      I hope this helps you.

      – further to this reply I will write a blog post on this issue to clarify it further both for you and others to whom technical stuff with domains can often go over your head.

  16. Hi Andy,First of all great article, but I also am still confused what I should do I fear.
    The situation is the following: We want to setup either a couple of online gaming sites or one online gaming (flash games etc.) site, and I am not sure what to do. We would be targeting different genre and dedicating every site only to only one genre, which I feel is harder to achieve with one site since I would like to have different styles across the board with maybe only the navigations beeing similar!? The plan would be to have a couple of specialised sites, all branded with our brand + the genre (i.e. and we would aggregate all games on a main site. (
    Now if I want to rank for 2 keywords lets say “shooting games” and “fighting games”. Would it be as easy to rank for those 2 keywords with one site and 2 folders, or would it be easier with 2 sites each optimised for one keyword? And could I achieve the more specialised approach with one website as well? Or would it confuse the vistors if the style changes inside the website? Would it even make sense having a couple of sites and one which serves as a hub/aggregator?
    So long story short would you recommend working subdomains, different websites and one main website, one domain with different styles or should I just try one domain one style since it would confuse visitors? I can’t wrap my head around it, any help would be greatly appreciated!
    thanks in advance

    1. Hi Matt,Feel free to ping me an email on this as actually I probably can’t answer it without knowing a little more. But from what I gather there are risks either way and benefits either way … so ….

      Own Domains
      + memorable location
      + potentailly better for search and socail (though probably not)
      – needs to make its own way in the world
      – may not look like central site and so users dont link them

      Subsections of your main site
      + all in one brand
      + easier to rank for “games” terms as a large property with authority
      + users will find your other games and stay on site more
      – potential user confusion if design changes a lot
      – if site gets a penalty everything is affected not just one site

      there are swings and round abouts for each option, its a hard one to call without knowing what the remainder of your digital marketing plan (and marketing plan in general) looks like. but ping me an email contact at andyk at and i can have a look.


  17. Hi Andy, thanks for the post. I am still a little confused on what to do in my situation. I have an established blog under one domain, and I just bought the domain for my personal portfolio (under my own name), which will obviously link to the blog, but also my other projects. I’m not super concerned about SEO on my portfolio, just functionality; however, I AM concerned about SEO on my blog. Do I put my personal portfolio in a folder, subdomain or external? And, will people still be able to get to my portfolio typing in, or will it be (Ideally it would be Sorry if I sound obtuse; I could use any advice you have. Thanks!

    1. Hi Vanessa
      My advice would be to put your portfolio into a folder, this will then get some benefit from the work on your blog – extra traffic your portfolio may get for free… the only time i wouldnt do this is if your portfolio is not the same subject matter as the blog, in which case I would keep them seperate and just link across between domains.

      If you put it into a folder you can then create a redirect from your .com across to that and then you can give people that address for ease – even though the real one and the one google see’s will be the folder url.

      Hope that helps.

  18. Hi Andy, am a little confused, can you help. My wordpress website is sitting in a subdirectory (I started building it while the original website was live). Now that I am done, I just modified the index.php to show the main url as the root site. Will this affect my SEO ranking?

    1. Hi Janice,
      What is on your main domain just now if you are using a subdomain? … what is the subdomain also you are using?

      Moving back would be easy and you’d not loose any rank if done correctly (which is fairly easy within a domain). Let me know here or ping me an email andy*at* and I will be happy to advise

  19. Hi Andy,nice post, I am thinking to change some things in my site and I want to ask your opinion.
    I want to have the best SEO possible for my site as I want to spread all over the world. My domain is an .eu and I actually have istalled WPML on my page. I noted that WPML is causing some slowness on my page so I was thinking: shoud I create subdomains for my 3 languages? Does this mean that I have to buy my premium theme another 2 times becuase it is on 3 different domains?

    Also an OT question. I submitted my sitemap on Google Web Master Tool 4 weeks ago. Today only 8 links of 50 where indexed, why this?

    Thanks for reply

    1. Hi Angelo
      WPML can be slow, especially with large websites. I would suggest using simple WP install with a translation plugin, there are plugins that exist which can create translations as you go as a directory (which is good) of the root or a subdomain if you have access within your server and dns etc.

      Either way folder, or subdomain, as long as you mark the canonical url as your first language there isn’t much of an SEO issue – assuming you’ve marked languages as a header meta tag.

      In terms of your sitemap, without knowing your domain and perhaps seeing your GWT I can’t really say what the issue could be sorry.

  20. Hi Andy,My situation is, I bought a domain using my name [my name].com, but I have not uploaded a site yet. I have a couple of businesses that are not really related to each other that I would like to have websites for. One is a building design and drafting service. The other is art work that I want to sell. I might also want to have a personal website to tell about my backpacking adventures, etc.
    What would you suggest for this scenario?

    1. Hi Hal,
      Sounds pretty similar to my own case, I use as my hub and point it to several sites, including

      The reason is that my other websites are so far apart from each other (subject wise) that sitting them on the same domain makes little sense. Also to enhance chances of ranking sites should be as targeted as possible, if as you’ve said, the topics are different then i’d recommend seperate domains entirely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *