Wednesday, 17 October 2018

“The historical reasons why you might’ve wanted to go for a subdomain don’t really apply as much, and that leaves you with, okay both are on the same domain, overall, and so it’s really a question of which one is easier for you..” - Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam Team, Halloween 2012

Domain, Subdomain, Web Hosting, Hosting Guides, Hosting Learning

With his brief message in late 2012, Cutts updated the ongoing dispute between between making use of subdomains and subdirectories. Google has basically made the two virtually equal in the SEO game, where previously subdomains were given an edge for the ability to provide a sense of unique linking.

And so, we’re back to fundamentals. What is the case for using either on your primary domain? With subdirectories, the answers are more simple to understand, as the structural difference is rather minor. Subdirectories are a partitioning of a single domain, whereas subdomains manifest a virtual split from that single domain.

If you as webmaster are a one person operation, or web development is a very small part of what your business is actually up to, then subdirectories are the place to start, and possibly stay. As you grow, or plan to expand, the subdomain may come into play. Subdirectories are easier to set up and in general, are easier to manage. With subdirectories, you can generally add things to a site in short order, i.e. testing an installation. While you can do this via subdirectories on a subdomain, it is likely not worth the effort to do this as an early and sole purpose for a subdomain.

Perhaps the most simple reason to not just dabble in subdomains is the realization that the general user online doesn’t get this internal debate among administrators of the web. To them, it is not understood that www.example.com is a subdomain for example.com. So, if adding in a standard subdomain, like news.example.com, it may confuse some who think a ‘www’ must precede whatever is being presented as the domain.

Here are the reasons for why and when a subdomain makes good sense:

◈ Differing languages for site content. Wikipedia is prime example of this with 280+ languages that contains a lot of the same content for each subdomain, while intentionally allowing for variation as well. Wikipedia generally adds two character subdomains to the primary domain, such as “en.wikipedia.org” or “fr.wikipedia.org” for its English and French sites respectively.

◈ Differing regions for same products or services, looking to achieve a local brand. Franchises may follow on this path as well. This allows the local or regional management to employ the core features at the primary domain, while also managing content that is unique to its own location specific customer base. Craigslist is a decent example for this use of subdomains.

◈ Differing product lines for same brand. This is more strategic and where expansion in an organization comes into play. This may be better realized via a hypothetical situation. Say a video game website has obtained a core audience that visits the site for say discussion on role playing games (or RPG’s). Now, with more resources available, the site owners wish to become a prime resource for current news in the entire video game industry. As this could possibly disrupt the flow on the primary domain, or alienate some hardcore RPG visitors, the subdomain, along lines of news.videogame.com allows for a strategic and significant distinction from videogame.com/RPG-forum.

◈ In each of these situations we see a common theme – all have far more resources and personnel for managing site content compared to a smaller operation. With the 2012 update from Google, the choice for webmasters is really a matter of own resources and organizational strategies. In general, the subdirectory may be seen as less secure, as an attack on a subdirectory may expose vulnerabilities to the primary domain. The tradeoff though is that a subdomain will likely mean more coding and duplication of resources, including file security.

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