WSJ, WTF?! Google Panda & Subdomains
Ian Lurie Jul 14 2011
Take a deep breath, everyone.
The Wall Street Journal published an article July 13 all about HubPages, and how the site saved itself from Google Panda’s evil clutches by spreading their site across multiple subdomains. In the article Amir Efrati implies in a very-hard-to-pin-down-but-easy-to-assume way that subdomains may be a magical solution if you’ve been nuked by the Panda update.
That pisses me off.
But, before I rant about unqualified people writing on specialized topics, I’ll clear up the subdomains hysteria.
Subdomains ain’t all dat
Aaron Wall wrote that the WSJ article means Google’s completely reversed their previous stance on subdomains versus subfolders. Google’s always said subfolders are better, as have I.
So, when I read Aaron’s article I nearly coughed up my skull. If Google really reversed this policy, then I’d led clients and readers alike off the Rankings Cliff of Doom. Developers would hunt me down (even more than they do now). Branding teams would burn me in effigy (even more than they do now). IT staff who ‘know SEO’ would see me as an annoying, clueless pest (even more… you get it). People would come up with a new expression:
“Doing a heck of a job there, Lurie.”
But with all respect to Aaron—and understand, he knows more about SEO than 99.9% of the industry, including me—I think he’s got it wrong. This isn’t a reversal, or even a change.
Panda considers the quality of all content on a subdomain when making ranking decisions. If you’re, say, HubPages, and 50% of the content on www.hubpages.com is basically brain snot, that hurts the ability of every page on your site to rank. So the other 50% of content—the arguably decent stuff—gets zapped out of the rankings. The bad content becomes an anchor, dragging everything down.
That’s why subdomains helped HubPages. They used subdomains to separate the crappy stuff from the good stuff: crappy.hubpages.com versus good.hubpages.com. I made those up, by the way. But you get the idea. With subdomains, HubPages was able to move the bad content ‘anchor’ to a whole other site. That helped the good stuff move back up, because Google doesn’t let subdomains directly pass ranking factors back-and-forth.
This is not a change
What HubPages describes is exactly how Google has always treated subdomains. It’s not a change in their algorithm. It’s why I’ve always said putting your blog on a subdomain is a bad idea: Subdomain authority and relevance doesn’t directly transfer to other subdomains.
Apparently, the same holds true for quality.
If you’re running an SEO campaign based on content, subfolders are still the right strategy. Use subdomains to remove lousy stuff from your primary subdomain, if you want. Personally, I’d prefer you just removed the lousy stuff altogether.
So climb out of your shelters. The Google Meteor isn’t going to hit today. I’m not saying it won’t. Aaron’s distrust of huge, monopolistic search engines is, I think, dead-on. But subdomains’ status in SEO hasn’t changed.
By the way, this is another version of the hard lesson learned by Google and Twitter’s breakup: In SEO, don’t chase little shiny things. You’ll get eaten.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about journalists and their utter inability to discuss SEO in anything resembling a sane, coherent manner. Which may lead to me talking about the general fall of civilization, and why I think communication is the most-neglected, most-important skill we’ve got.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint.He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More