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Subdomains based on location - Yes or No?

 12:06 am on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

I currently have a fairly well indexed site with a little over 200k pages spread out over 4 subdomains, www and three location subdomains.

I am getting great traffic from these as the domains were active for about 6 months before I used them in their current form. But now I am looking to expand to additional markets which will require new subdomains that have not yet been used. The subdomains definitely accomplish the categorization principle behind them and keep me from needing another directory level or longer re-written subfolders but long-term will I be better off with a single www site and a million plus pages or those same million pages spread out over 100 subdomains based on location? All of the content is unique as well.



 1:00 am on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

In my opinion, this is a great use for subdomains. It is also semantically friendly as it is effectively a unique website for each location. That ties in very well with the local-search and local-content move which has seen a lot of movement in recent months.

From a maintainance standpoint, I'd want to have all my subdomains loaded from one single subdomain, i.e. set all the document roots to the same physical location. That would allow you to use your script to differentiate based upon the http host information. One script is easier to maintain than many!


 1:17 am on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'd agree. Also, subdomain structure for locations is how some of the biggest names in local services/products are doing it. You can get ideas for organization and hierarchy by viewing the main index pages on some of these sites.


 2:57 am on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

I spent a lot of time on the hierarchy and the scripts are set and in place with ISAPI's URL Rewriting Engine. I have the cookies migrating the subdomains and everything without any issues. That's not my concern - I'm concerned about the time to get them up and running, indexed, and generating traffic. Is the short term time delay going to be outweighed by the 500+ subdomains that will result in truly unique local content?

Robert Charlton

 4:01 am on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

...it is effectively a unique website for each location.

Just playing devil's advocate here, whatever the advantages, isn't this perhaps also a disadvantage, as vicyankees suggests, when you starting getting highly local?....

Is the short term time delay going to be outweighed by the 500+ subdomains that will result in truly unique local content?

Assuming you're hosting all the subdomains on the same server, you're probably not getting any IP# geo-localization.

I'd wonder how you kick start what are effectively 500 separate sites. Is any "trust" conferred from the main domain, particularly if there is common hosting? If not, what are the tradeoffs of subdomain vs subdirectory structure?

How does Google treat cross subdomain links? Again, assuming common hosting, any better or worse than it would treat internal nav links if you had a subdirectory structure?


 12:49 pm on Jul 2, 2007 (gmt 0)

Rob - you summed it up pretty well. We have our own data center and host our own site because of our close integration with our internal offices where we need the data to be in sync between the web and our internal crm. any other thoughts/comments out there?


 2:04 am on Jul 3, 2007 (gmt 0)

On the subject of subdomains which is better if any - shared or dedicated IP?


 4:24 pm on Jul 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm using a single IP all hosted off of the same box.


 4:35 pm on Jul 10, 2007 (gmt 0)

I absolutely hate area.subdomains

I think they are as spammy as hell, yet google does like them. One such site i know of that has 1000s of area.subdomains ranks in google for all of them if you search on area. widgets!, yet its all content thats derived from its own main site

I think its one thing having a few specific dedicated areas of a site that have enough own content to require a sub site and another taking every town in the country and sticking them on your server as a sub domains.

I would guess that its a matter of time before google reviews it policy on multiple area sub domains

Robert Charlton

 7:43 am on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

I absolutely hate area.subdomains

I think they are as spammy as hell, yet google does like them.

As you can tell from my earlier post, I've never understood what Google does like about them. I'd be curious to hear a theoretical argument about what advantages the arrangement offers.

I really have a particularly hard time conceiving of a hierarchy that makes sense when each small town is a subdomain.


 10:21 am on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Absolutely agree Robert,

The way I see it is that if say an established website (being hypothetical) was about "Amazon Creatures" and it had volumes of information on various creatures but found its content on "Blue Amazon Monkey Creatures" was extending beyond control and within that section had say a big proportion of pages relating to the "diet of the blue monkey", IE say taking up say a third of the sites content then I would say you could justify a sub domain in that instance.

Any substantial sized site that has significant sized specific sections you could perhaps argue for a separate site within the main site. IE the sub domain. I work on one site that has 10 sub domains, but it holds thousands of pages and can take it.

However what we are now seeing is run of directory type sites springing up that have zillions of sub domains for each category. So rather than have a directory set out with area1, area2, area3 we now see a directory with the listings area1subdomain, area2subdomain, area3subdomain.

These are directory’s that have every area in the country as a sub domain and they do it for no other reason than to game Google. The end user doesn’t type into Google area1.subdomain.com to find the site. They find it from Google listing area1. High in their serps.

I guess it comes down to your own taste but I would say that any large site with more than say 20 sub domains (I will be generous) is possibly spam in 99.9% of cases


[edited by: RichTC at 10:23 am (utc) on July 13, 2007]

Robert Charlton

 6:13 pm on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

RichTC - We agree about the disadvantages of the approach. The original poster is asking about whether there might be any advantages... and the question resonates with me because I really don't understand what these advantages are, theoretical or actual.

I know in the early days of the sandbox, subdomains were thought of as a way to build a new site that would inherit trust from the main domain.

In a location based structure as we're discussing, does Google treat each of these subdomains as effectively a different site, and is there any advantage to that over, say, a subdirectory structure.

To comment (again negatively) on one more aspect of this, from the original post...
The subdomains definitely accomplish the categorization principle behind them and keep me from needing another directory level or longer re-written subfolders...

vicyankees - Extra directory levels for organization don't necessarily hurt. What you really need to be concerned about is click-levels down from the source of external inbound links, and I don't see that subdomains would change that.


 8:13 pm on Jul 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

Rob - thanks for your feedback.

click levels wont change at all, but i am trying to limit the number of levels of my hierarchy. i have varying levels but primarily am using counties as the subdomain with xyz.domain.com/townname-coolcategory for my urls. keeping the town at the root level.

i am a firm believer and see lots of evidence to back it up that for every level away from the domain you are, the more ranking drops so i am trying to avoid www.domain.com/county/town and wanted to get away from something long such as www.domain.com/county-town-coolcategory. that seems to me to be more along the lines of spam.

i also believe that google sees the subdomains as a single site as there have been bugs that would bring all subdomains into a site:www.domain.com result. i am not trying to "game" google, i simply created the subdomain hierarchy because it created the cleanest look in terms of location. i also have to include the county because there are some towns in different states that would create duplicates.

so bottom line, in the long term will i be better off with a subdomain for every county we service or to just put everything at the root www.domain.com and take advantage of the non-sandboxing and get traffic from launch.

Robert Charlton

 10:05 pm on Jul 17, 2007 (gmt 0)

click levels wont change at all, but i am trying to limit the number of levels of my hierarchy. i have varying levels but primarily am using counties as the subdomain with xyz.domain.com/townname-coolcategory for my urls. keeping the town at the root level.

If the click levels are the same, the number of directory levels doesn't matter. What's the linking hierarchy difference between...



domain.com/xyz/townname-coolcategory ...?

Linking hierarchy and directory hierarchy do not have to be the same.

In either case, you've got to distribute PR to the townname pages in a hierarchy descending from whatever your most natural entrance points are. I don't see how the linking hierarchy is necessarily changed if you go to subdomains. You're just shifting the location of the xyz county in the url? Why?

Again, I'm not necessarily arguing against it. I'm just not understanding what's behind it.

Also, do you care if the xyz county subdomain ranks at all, or are you using the county subdomains for PR distribution? If the xyz (county) subdomain is treated as a separate site, then you've got to get links to each county.

Do people naturally link to counties for your marketing category... ie, are they natural entrance points?


 1:10 am on Jul 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

I agree with Robert. If you argument is to use sub domains to strengthen your PR through the heirarchy, then linking is what you should be looking at.

Also, as a regional strategy, this approach may have problems. How will you get the results to show in local / regional results. Either you are language specific [ if languages are involved ]or TLD specific [ if countries are involved ].

So again, i can't see the advantages.

[edited by: Whitey at 1:12 am (utc) on July 18, 2007]


 1:44 am on Jul 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

Last year, it was a common spam technique to launch single page subdomains - because Google was letting the home page of a new subdomain get through the "sandbox". I don't see that so much now, but you just know Google gave extra juice to their algo around subdomains to deal with this.

I don't personally see any real value in having many "thin" subdomains - it's just a ranking trick, and probably getting a bit long in the tooth by now.The only time I recommend using a subdomain is when there is an independent and discrete business purpose, plus sufficient content to reasonably support another website.

So I'd say the scenario that vicyankees describes is a solid use of subdomains, and the junk RichTC complains about is truly junk - and I hope Google takes a healthy swipe at it very soon.

[edited by: tedster at 6:31 am (utc) on July 18, 2007]


 6:21 am on Jul 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

Tedster - interesting that you say this.

I was wondering why one of my colleagues site's had plummeted. They had been using sub domains extensively to assist them to rank [ not sure how ]. - but that's history by the sounds of it.


 6:26 pm on Jul 18, 2007 (gmt 0)

each of my subdomains carry about 20-30k pages each. my category allows for related things to do and attractions nearyby, etc so i also include them on the subdomain which adds another 5k pages roughly.

but long term, what's my better bet before i blow this out on a more national basis as i am currently only focused in 2 regions which comprise about 20 counties. 3 of these have been active for about 2 years now and the others only a couple of months. i have yet to see non-supplemental indexing on the new subdomains and the others generate 3k organic visits a day.

so let me pose the question this way, if you had 30k pages worht of content broken down by county, would you create a subdomain for each county to keep things clean or would you put everything under a single domain which will feed pagerank much better to pages on a www.domain.com than a subdomain and also bypass the sandboxing effect of newly launched subdomains?

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