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Two Different Subjects: Subdomains vs Subdirectories? Google 2014


marko whitmore

11:36 am on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

Hello SEO masters and experts, I hope you can help me figure something out!

I have a domain, say example.com, that is being treated as a network (think Cnet). We have 2 completely different sites that have been developed, one about sport, one about music.

Our existing site is using a subdirectory, example.com/site, and was hitting big numbers per day in traffic.

Now we have found that whenever we add the other site to another directory (example.com/site2) our rankings for the existing site dip dramatically (50% decease overnight).

My question is, does google consider subdomains as independent sites or are they linked to the main domain? Would this be the right way to do things without buying a separate domain?



1:42 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

A few years ago, Google changed subdomains to be categorized as internal links within Webmaster Tools.


They've never been clear how this impacts the algorithm, but since you can receive an entire domain penalty for some of the major infractions, I'd play it safe and assume a subdomain is linked to the main domain.

marko whitmore

3:00 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the reply.

So you would suggest that the only way to avoid suffering this penalty from Google would be to use separate domains and not subdomains?


4:46 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

I have big subdomains.
Each one is treated as a separate site by google penalties... (this is a good thing).


5:39 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Oh... glad I found this.

Google always has been very random in it's treatment of what I call "skizofrenic sites" - ie. sites that are simultaneously about very different topics: "dogs, and submarines", "clothes, and foreign politics", or "sport, and music".

Mostly, it's a very good idea to split such sites up into two separate sites, one on each subject. One way to do this is using subdomains. You don't need to get a full domain for each site. Subs will do.

And, even while Dymero has a point about links from one site section to another, it will still be treated as two different sites in any other respect. To the best of my knowledge.

So, my advice would be: Use subs if you want to separate very different content (like in your case). Use directories for topically related content (like different types of sports).

And then, when your sites get big enough this distinction will be of minor importance. But then, most sites on the internet are not Yahoos, or eBays.


6:01 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Our main site has 3 subdomains and over the years the main site and some of the subdomains have received various panda and penguin 'penalties', but not at the same time and not consistently - even between the two that are very interlinked ( one gets hit by pretty much all penalties, one grows 40% -50% a year, but it is the penalised site that attracts natural links, the growing site almost none, so hard to figure out)
So I have concluded that, at least in some circumstances, subdomains are treated as independent entities, even when very interlinked

marko whitmore

6:46 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

I was confused because Google's very own SEO wizard, Matt Cutts, has said that they are starting to blend subdomains with content from the main site to make everything link up ([webpronews.com ]).

Then he says there isn't much difference between subs and directories and actually says he favours the latter.

But.. thanks for the info guys. Information like this is invaluable, very much appreciated.


7:16 pm on Apr 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

"Matt Cutts, has said..."

I think what you would like to take from this 2012 article that you linked to, is that "all things equal" there should be "no significant difference" using one or the other. That, I can agree to.

In your case, however, it's not "all things equal", as your site is about two very different topics. It also seems like Google has formed somewhat different judgements about the pages from one topic, vs. the pages on the other topic (OP: "whenever we add the other site to another directory...", but then there could be many explanations for this).

Always consider that Google representatives have to speak in very broad, general terms. That way they don't have to lie, but they don't have to tell the whole truth either. There are always details, exceptions, and special cases.

And then, I might be entirely wrong. I try not to be, but that's no guarantee as I don't know all :)

marko whitmore

11:17 am on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Really appreciate your input Claus, always good to get another perspective. :)


2:20 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Looks like people with more experience getting penalties than I on different subdomains have better answers than me.

But given the way Google has approached its anti-spam strategy in the last few years - with more of a machete than a chisel - I would recommend not assuming that a subdomain will forever be the answer for any ranking problems you're having.

For example, I know that some SEOs have shunted content that they want, but feel is hampering the ability of their site to rank, into a subdomain. I'd say that this might not work in the future.

So view subdomains more as a way to separate topically-different content than as a way to improve SEO for your site as a whole, or prevent ranking drops.

In reference to your question, marko, even with the increases in indexing speed that have been implemented in the last couple years, it's nearly impossible that your site could have been downgraded overnight due to your new section. There must be something else going on. There has been speculation of a recent update, so maybe the new section coincidentally happened at the same time?


2:42 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member Top Contributors Of The Month

First things first:

If your sites are about two altogether different topics (sport and music), put them on two entirely separate domains.

If your sites are subtopics of a larger topic (football, baseball, rugby, etc. as subtopics of "sport"), then it may be reasonable to make them either subtopics or subdomains of sportsite dot com. But before you can decide which to use (subdomain or subdirectory), you need to determine logically whether the sites belong together at all.

marko whitmore

2:48 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Well maybe I exaggerated slightly with that. I was out of the country at the time and unable to check traffic so it seemed to hit all at once. It was a gradual fall within 24-48 hours in all honesty.

I have checked the flow of Panda upgrades, tweaks etc.. and no update was released that coincided with the traffic fall which made me wonder about the sub-directory causing the hit. I read somewhere about Google starting to punish above-the-fold ads that deter the user from following through and reading the content so a major advert was moved below the fold for 2 weeks. Didn't seem to help.

So, the only thing I could think of that would affect the site would be the directory. I closed the other site and traffic picked up, I opened it up again and traffic smashed to the floor.

marko whitmore

2:50 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

@EditorialGuy, missed that post. Thanks for the info, in the process of doing that right now. Would you suggest assigning the domain as an addon that points to the sub-directory or would you do it differently?


5:21 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Would you suggest assigning the domain as an addon that points to the sub-directory or would you do it differently?

It does not matter how you do it technically on your server as long as:

a) to the outside world, these are two separate domains

b) you cannot access the content of one domain under the second domain. What I mean is you need to make sure you stop showing the content of the second site as a folder of the first site (do not allow access to something like: first-site.com/second-site.com )

Robert Charlton

5:58 pm on Apr 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

There are a bunch of considerations here...

- subdomains vs directories, which I agree are pretty much equivalent these days. Note that the "host crowding" issue, which Matt mentions, originally had to do with limiting the number of results Google would display from each hostname/subdomain of a domain for a single query... and it affected mostly very large sites like blogspot, which hosted separate subdomains as independent sites. Each "site" needed to do its own promotion. This has gone through lots of changes which has raised many other questions, but I don't think that this is your issue.

- "schizophrenic sites", as claus calls them, which can be a complex discussion. For now, I'd say that it probably depends on how schizophrenic, how prominent the site is overall, and how well the second topic catches on with followers of the first topic. Note, eg, that Matt Cutts, on his blog (which I feel in part is an ongoing experiment), targets "Gadgets" in addition to "Google and SEO". He gets reasonable traction on Gadgets, but he's also a special case and a prominent brand in himself. In general, I agree with claus and EditorialGuy about how related your topics are, but there are other factors.

- also, not mentioned, is your navigation structure from home, and how adding another "site" as you call it, would affect that. Assuming, say, that you get most of your inbound links to your home page... if you split your main nav structure in a way that basically splits the overall structure into two, so that your existing site gets only half of your available link juice, that could account for the drop, particularly if your link juice is marginal. In your case, this might be roughly what's happening.

It's not likely that you've built independent deeper links to your individual topics, which would be crucial if you're adding another set of pages.

If you have already established branding, then there are ways of gradually building up pages for a second topic and not impacting the first, but it doesn't sound like that's what you've done. Again, though, the core branding is crucial if you're going to split off into multiple market areas.


4:07 am on Apr 20, 2014 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I used sub domains since it made it easy to host each sub domain on a different server and modify the zone file on dns, but all carried the same main automotive theme.

It looked like each sub domain will all hold their own as long as you don't get a manual penalty(site wide).

I recently received a manual penalty notice, which now appears across all sub domains.

My take is google will apply subdomin penalties that will not effect other areas for dup or thin content, but if they think you are selling links or pagerank, they will sink the whole ship. (as it should be)

I'm posting this since I located a bug in our script, that allowed a few sites to use real urls where as the majority of other links use a cgi script we run. And with the world of domains expiring and others picking them up for their link value I can see why we received this alert.

Hope this helps your subdomain question. If you notice google loves subdomains and they do tend to have a cleaner layout for a site. just not sure if you lose any value with the links, to a subdomain vs the real domain.

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