Setting up a blog: subdomain or subfolder?

Chris Hawkins

Written by Chris Hawkins on Tue, Jun 07, 2016

I was asked by a new client recently how they should set up their new blog: as a subdomain (blog.mycompany.com) or subfolder (mycompany.com/blog)? What’s easier? What’s better for search results? This question has been batted back and forth online like a ball at Wimbledon.

If there’s a consensus in the SEO world, it’s that a subfolder is better for search rankings--and there’s data behind that.

The Argument for Subfolder

Many of the arguments for subfolders center around how Google treats subdomains: as a separate website. So any SEO value your main site has would not be passed along to the subdomain. Essentially it would be like starting from scratch.

To back this up they’ve run experiments with their own blogs to show the difference in traffic and rankings when moving from a subdomain to subfolder. Some of these results are compelling and appear to be slam dunk cases for subfolders.

In MOZ’s case, they moved their beginner's guide to SEO from guides.moz.com to the current moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo and the “results were astounding - rankings rose dramatically across the board for every keyword we tracked to the pages,” according to Rand Fishkin.

Here are some of the results:

Guides.moz.com (2011-12): Ranked #7 or #8 for "SEO Guide" and “#30ish” for Beginner's Guide.

Moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo (2013): Ranked #1 (sometimes #2) for SEO Guide. #2 for Beginner's guide.

However, none of the “experiments” are perfect because they are real and not done with the two competitors toeing the same start line, which is the point of doing them in the first place. Performing a true head-to-head comparison takes a lot of time and resources so for now we have these to go on.  

What Would Google Do?

Google’s position on subdomains vs. subfolders has remained consistent for years saying essentially it’s all the same to them. Matt Cutts said that the search engine sees them as “roughly equivalent” and that it’s really “a question of what’s easier for you.”

Then there’s John Mueller from Google’s Webmaster Central who was asked this question:

How do you respond to the claim that subfolders are superior to subdomains when it comes to SEO. Which one would you recommend for a blog, for example.

Mueller: “From our point of view, they’re essentially equivalent...It kind of depends on your infrastructure, which way is easier for you to handle...I wouldn’t say that anyone or the other is superior in any magical way.”

Which Should You Do?

If you’re setting up a business blog, the ultimate goal should be educating your readers with quality, consistent content. If blogging is part of a larger content strategy and based on well-crafted buyer personas and an SEO strategy, climbing the search rankings ladder will happen no matter which method you choose.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Blogging is one part of a long-term content strategy, not an SEO get-rankings quick scheme
  • Blogging “should be one of the most valuable, dynamic, and creative initiatives your business takes to reach your audience and convert leads”
  • Blogging should also be accompanied by social media distribution and interaction

Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, wrote on this topic last year and made a good argument for using a subfolder.

“Technically, sub-directories are likely better for SEO.  But practically, you shouldn't let trying to get the technical details right stop you from blogging or content creation, because a blog on a sub-domain is still way better than no blog at all.”

Hubspot’s own very successful blog (300,000 subscribers) should be good proof that subdomains can be successful.

To help you decide, Dharmesh came up with this nifty little decision tree.  

Subfolder vs. Folder

Ultimately, the best choice for your blog is the one that will get you started creating content that your customers and future customers will love.  

If you have questions, we’re here to help.  Feel free to connect with us about your content marketing needs.

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