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The decision of whether to choose subdomains, subfolders, or CCTLDs is not just a technical one; it's a strategic choice that impacts a website's SEO, user experience, and organisational structure.
Understanding the nuances of each approach is essential to crafting a domain structure that aligns with search engines, website visitors, and your website's brand.
In this article we're going to analyse all the pros and cons of using the different available domain structures for your website, online business or ecommerce store. This should then give you a better understanding of which domain structure to choose for your own website.
These are the domain structures we'll be exploring and comparing for the best SEO and branding purposes:
- Subdomain | e.g. https://shop.selljam.com - A subdomain is like a separate section within your main domain. It's often used to organise or categorise content, creating distinct sections while still being connected to the main website.
- Subdirectory | e.g. https://selljam.com/shop - A subdirectory is a folder within your main domain. It's a way to organise content into folders, maintaining a clear hierarchy and unity with the primary website.
- ccTLDs | e.g. https://shop.selljam.co.uk - ccTLDs (Country Code Top Level Domain) are domain extensions associated with specific countries or regions, like .uk for the United Kingdom. Using ccTLDs can help target a specific audience in a particular geographic location, enhancing local visibility and trust.
What makes these different from each other? This look at the subdomain vs. subdirectory vs. ccTLD dispute will help you see what to expect from each choice.
What Is a Subdomain and Who Should Use It?
A subdomain is a domain that goes on top of another existing name. The subdomain has its own website that is closely linked to the main site in your root directory.
For example, you might have a website called www.test.com. A subdomain could be www.help.test.com or www.information.test.com. Those two subdomains have their websites but fall under the same root directory.
Your subdomains can link well together, plus you can use the same branding for all these items. The subdomains also automatically inherit part of your main domain, so you don’t have to start a completely new website to get one of these ready.
Businesses that plan on using sites for different languages, brand names, departments, or locations could benefit from subdomains. A group can create all these separate domains for individual segments. The team can use as many of these as necessary, so long as they are all traced well. The subdomains can also work differently from one another, but they will still conveniently connect to the same root directory.
What Is a Subdirectory and Who Benefits From It the Most?
A subdirectory is a folder that exists within a website. The subfolder is a portion of your main website, as it operates within the realm of that site. The subdirectory appears after the root directory, so it is directly connected to it instead of being loosely linked like what a subdomain has.
For instance, in the www.test.com example, a subdirectory could be www.test.com/help or www.test.com/information.
It’s often easier for people to run subdirectories because they can work with more content at any moment. Users can manage their directories with multiple roots and layouts. Everything also runs on the same website, so there’s no need to create new domains.
A subdirectory is helpful for websites that have multiple departments or segments that are tangentially related and can link together. A group can piece together as many of these as necessary to create a strong result.
How These Work For SEO Purposes
A subdomain will spread your keywords across many domains. But are subdomains bad for SEO purposes?
Subdomains often experience backlink dilution, an issue where the same content appears in many URLs. Since a search engine will find too many pages that appear identical, the page may receive a lower ranking.
Each subdomain could also use separate keywords, which can take time to figure out for each page. Since your subdomains often have distinct features, you’d have to create different keywords for each to ensure everything remains accurate. This subdomain SEO point makes it harder for you to manage all your content.
Subdirectories often work better for SEO because they can collect the link authority from the root page. Since these subdirectories are already a part of your page, it’s easier to get your keywords spread throughout many parts of these pages. The risk of backlink dilution is also minimal through a subdirectory.
One good point about these two is that search engines often treat subdomains and subdirectories similarly to one another. Search engine crawlers treat all these things as URLs, so they won’t hold any preference toward one another. But a subdirectory is still easier to maintain for this situation.
What Works For Reducing Complexity and Reporting?
The process for tracking traffic and creating reports will vary between a subdomain and a subdirectory. First, you can review a subdirectory using an analytics report to determine which subfolders bring in the most traffic. You can also analyze how people go between subfolders to find out what patterns people have when visiting your space.
The reporting process for a subdomain is more complex. A reporting program can review how often a user goes between domains. It is often harder to track traffic at this point due to all the movement and shifting that can occur during this timeframe. You might have to use multiple reports for different domains.
It’s easier to track data on a subdirectory than a subdomain. But both options can be easily tracked if you use the right interfaces and put in enough time to review all data.
What Works Best For Multi-Language Support?
Subdomains are often best when trying to produce websites in multiple languages. You can create different subdomains for whatever languages you’re trying to get your website in. Subdirectories could also support multiple languages, but you’d have to create completely new folder hierarchies for every separate language you want to use.
A Final Word – What Should You Use?
After looking at the subdirectory and subdomain advantages and disadvantages, you can find a choice that works for you. Subdirectories are often easier to manage if you’re trying to run a single site, plus you might have more control over how you manage your website and subdomain SEO setups and reports.
Subdomains can work if you plan on supporting multiple languages or want to establish different websites for various brands or departments. You can choose unique subdomains over whatever you prefer in your work. The versatility of this option helps if you have many groups that are distinct from one another and require their own spaces.
Be sure to check how your site works, and see what you might benefit from the most when running a page. You might find it easier for you to run a quality setup if you have a sensible plan ready for work.
With 18 years of experience in the eCommerce industry, I have successfully launched and grown multiple e-commerce businesses, the 2nd one hit 7-figures in revenue within its first year. In 2022, I joined a European food technology equipment and IT service provider as their Head of E-commerce, overseeing 14 eshops across Europe and South Africa. Selljam is where I share all those ecommerce tips, tricks and hacks learned along the way that I hope will also help you on your journey to success.