Subfolders, subdomains and new domains: Where your blog should live

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Ian Lurie Mar 22 2010

Last week my creative well ran utterly dry. I asked folks to post internet marketing questions, and they obliged. This is one of those questions.

Simon asks:
I would really like help with which URL to use for a new ecommerce store blog, ie
mystore.com/blog
blog.mystore.com
mystoreblog.com
pros and cons of each would be great to know.

Here you go, Simon – the answer:

Using a subdomain

If you put your blog on a subdomain – blog.mystore.com – search engines effectively treat your blog as a separate site.

The good: Once you run a full link building and separate SEO campaign for your blog, links from the blog to your store will carry a lot of weight, since they’re inter-domain. Plus, you can get the subdomain to rank separately, meaning you could potentially occupy multiple positions on page 1 of the search results. That’s good for reputation management.

The not-so-good: There’s evidence search engines lend less weight to links between sites owned by the same person. So, if I launch 3 sites, and link 2 of them to the third, that will carry less weight than if 2 sites I do not own link to me. There’s no possible way to conceal the common ownership when you’re using a subdomain – you own both sites. So the links may be discounted.

The hideous: Since the subdomain is a separate site, none of the authority from the ecommerce site will pass to the blog. That means it’ll take a long time to get it indexed and ranked, unless you’re Amazon.com. Even better, it means that if you write a great blog post and get tons of links, none of the authority from those links will pass back to your site unless you execute a careful linking strategy.

The Lovecraftian nightmare: Content you write on the blog will in no way boost the relevance of the primary site. Nor will can it help boost the store through trending content.

Personally, I give using subdomains a C-. Unless you’ve got or anticipate a reputation management problem, you’re wasting effort. You’d be better off adding more content to your main www.mystore.com site.

The separate site

I like this better than the subdomain. Here’s why:

The good: With a separate site, you can brand separately. That gives you freedom in writing potentially more outrageous link bait than you’d otherwise want to. You can also conceal ownership, if you want to, and then use the separate domain to drive links and authority to the main site. Just be sure you use a domain name that doesn’t read like an expansion of mystore.com. That’s a dead giveaway. Finally, you can potentially encourage guest posts from competitors who might not want to blog on your site, but are comfortable with contributing to an independent site (even if they know it’s you).

The not-so-good: Good luck getting an entirely new site ranked in less than 6 months. In the mean time I hope you like writing for the sake of writing.

The hideous: Why launch and optimize another site, when you’re still trying to optimize the first?
This option gets a B-. Nothing wrong with that – it was my GPA when I graduated law school.
It gets an A if you’re writing about a completely different topic than you were on the original site.

The subfolder

This is the best solution. Barring a crushing reputation management issue, or a hosting configuration that somehow doesn’t let you add a blog, there’s no reason not to do this.

By the way, there is no hosting configuration I know of that rules out installation of a blog. There are some webmaster mental problems that can, though. See below for more valid objections.

The good: With the blog in a subfolder, any rise in link velocity that’s caused by a blog post should also help the main site. Also, the blog will get crawled and indexed very, very quickly. And, if you write a post that hits a fast-trending topic on the head, it’ll boost all nearby (linked) content on mystore.com. Finally, you can easily interlink blog and store content and not worry about losing customers in an awkward intra-website jump. There are lots more reasons, but this should be enough.

The not-so-good: This makes far too much sense. The very fabric of corporate America will shriek in protest.

The hideous: This solution will lead to a number of protests from your IT department. Some are legitimate. Some are ridiculous. See the next section for an explanation.

The Lovecraftian nightmare: As part of your site, your blog gets to drag along all the baggage of whatever implementation compromises you made at 3 AM to get the damned site launched.

Overall, this one gets an A.

Potential arguments against using a subfolder

These are all arguments I’ve run into when trying to move a blog from a subdomain or separate domain to a subfolder:

“It’s a security problem.” OK, I have to acknowledge that. Any time you install another piece of software on your server, it’s potentially a security issue. WordPress in particular is known to get hacked now and then. If you keep it updated, though, it’s just fine. Plus, if you’re running your server on Windows and haven’t installed the last 1,233 patches, you’re screwed anyway. But security is a valid concern.

“It’s too hard. We don’t want to do it.” What?! It’s too hard?! I’m a frakking liberal arts graduate and I can get WordPress running on my laptop in about 4 minutes flat. Are you crying? Are you CRYING? There’s no crying in marketing!!!!

“It will overload the server.” Riiiight. So, that means any day with more than 3 orders will overload the server, too?

“This guy over here says a subdomain is better for SEO” or “There’s no proof that a subfolder is any better for SEO.” Just read this article on SearchEngineLand. Or read Matt Cutts’ article on the subject. But you’re right, he can’t possibly be as trustworthy as some guy on a site called SearchSuccessNow.com.

“The frendeges gizmohickey will conflict with WordPress’s mozenge and cause a total frilliwopy on the server. It’ll be bad, man. Bad.” A translation of some utter BS a web host once threw at me. Needless to say, I don’t agree.

“It’s a bad idea. I could tell you. But then I’d have to kill you.” Yes. A developer once actually said this to me. It’s here strictly for entertainment value.

Breathe, Ian. Breathe…

In conclusion: Subfolders win

Unless you’re writing completely about a whole new topic that’s unrelated to your main site, go with a subfolder. Avoid subdomains. Use a separate site if you’re looking to write about something new.

tags : conversation marketing

13 Comments

  1. Good read, I couldn’t agree more with your evaluation of each and your overall pick of a subfolder. I think another good point which you hinted at is the intuitiveness of a subfolder. Especially in the case of a e-commerce shop, a blog would fall under the hierarchy of “related site content” and wouldn’t really qualify for its own site with “something new or different” (especially because we can’t all be Amazon).

  2. Your argument about difficulty to hide ownership of subdomain is non-valid in general. Google knows pretty well which domains typical white – hat seo owns or is related to. Do not believe me ? Just check your google profile and see related sites pulled up : Your analytics account, webmaster console, etc. Yeah, you can hide this, host on different IP, keep tens of webmaster/analytics accounts, etc.
    However, there are ton of sites where sub-domain ownership is different from domain ownership. For example wordpress.com.
    And last… somewhere I have read (can’t pull up the source that fast) that when a main domain links to subdomain the penalties of subdomain are extended to the domain. So the subdomain is treated as part of the main domain, similar to folder. Sure, it is all about interlinking and site structure, and in lot of scenarios subfolder would be best. I would not rate subdomain strategy that low, though.

  3. Alan

    Thanks for this, im in the process of redesigning my portfolio and adding a proper blog. I was going to go with the blog.domainname.com route, but it looks like i will be using the subfolder route now, thanks.

  4. Wow, thanks for the tremendous breakdown of subdomains vs. separate site vs. subfolders. I was surprised that the subfolder won. I’ve often contemplated which method to use, but never understood the SEO impact of this. Very helpful stuff.

  5. Sarah

    Last April I was convinced by a seo/web host person in my industry that a subdomain would be perfect to help promote my website, so that is what I did. In January this year I brought it over to a new host (one that supports subfolders), redid my blog and I am much happier with the results. I could have saved a LOT of time and money if the date of this post was March 22, 2009. Thanks for it now though. Validation is a good thing. I will be bookmarking this for future arguments!

  6. Simon

    Ian, thank you kindly for such a detailed response to my question, it’s been nagging me for nearly a year and finally a definitive answer I and others can trust.
    doumo arigatou gozaimasu~

  7. Karen

    Very helpful article! I seriously regret that I made the choice to use a subdomain when I established my site. I discovered some additional downside to using a subdomain; it may be specific to my web host, but many site tools, such as built-in analytics, don’t work on the subdomain. Things that should have been simple to do or resolve became very convoluted or weren’t possible because I’d used a subdomain.

  8. Sam

    You gloss over the resistance from IT and that is dangerous. Not every SEO has the power to override IT / Engineering and get things to the top of the priority que. That leaves the blog sitting and waiting for updates / redesigns / etc. Whereas being on a subdomain keeps the blog off the site framework and allows the blog owner to get his/her hands on the engine.

  9. Ian

    @Sam Believe me I only gloss over it here because I’ve ranted about it so many times. As an SEO I’ve never really managed to override IT, and they typically cause the biggest problems when we’re trying to create a reasonably search-ready site.

  10. It’s too hard. We don’t want to do it.” What?! It’s too hard?! I’m a frakking liberal arts graduate and I can get WordPress running on my laptop in about 4 minutes flat. Are you crying? Are you CRYING? There’s no crying in marketing!!!!

    Ian, WordPress aside, you are the geekiest liberal arts graduate I know. You even managed to slip some battlestar into that example. All kidding aside, great post it was very informative.

  11. “This makes far too much sense. The very fabric of corporate America will shriek in protest.”
    It’s funny because it’s true!
    I’ve seen companies like Hubspot that use domain.com/blog for their blog, but setup a redirect from blog.domain.com to domain.com/blog for those people that assume that’s where you place your blog.

  12. Goran

    Your reference to Search Engine Land and Matt Cutts are 3 years older than your article……

    But if you do Matt says “A subdomain can be useful to separate out content that is completely different.”

    Many site owners lose track of the message of their websites and start writing on other topics. Yes we as marketers say that is not possible, however clients are not marketers they are builders, plumbers, electricians and real estate agents…

    I agree and disagree, you have to look at the client.

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