What’s better for SEO: subdomain, subdirectory or a new domain?

If you want to modify the structure of your website, you can go with a straightforward solution like a subdomain or a subdirectory. You can also , however, opt to create an entirely new domain. In addition to their structural differences, each option also has a different effect on search engine optimization measures.

A quick comparison of subdirectories, subdomains and new domains

Subdirectory Subdomain New domain/website
Effort low middle high
Cost low low high
SEO Receives content and link power of the main domain Individual SEO measures required for each subdomain Domain: Transfer of link power and trust possible; Website: Have to start from scratch
Suitable for Subtopics of existing content topics on website Multilingual websites, division of topic clusters New direction for website and new core content areas, new projects

Subdirectories vs. subdomains vs. new domains—Which one is right for you?

If the content you want to create is thematically similar to the content you already have on your website, you can often incorporate the new content using a subdirectory or a subdomain. For example, if you have a celebrity blog and want to create content about the star’s spouse, either one of these options would be suitable.

For content about other topics (e.g., posts about different celebrities that have no connection to the celebrity that your blog focuses on), it may be necessary to go a completely new direction with the website. For instance, instead of focusing on one particular actor or musician, it may be a good idea to cover the lives and careers of many different celebrities.

What follows is a site that is more geared towards celebrity news rather than a portal that focuses exclusively on the life of one celebrity. Making this change, however, can be tricky if the current address for the website contains the name of the celebrity. In such cases, a completely new domain is often the best solution.

Tip

Don’t have your own domain yet? Register a domain name with IONOS.

What are the pros and cons of subdirectories, subdomains and new domains?

Which of these options is most suitable for you depends entirely on the direction of your new content. Additionally, the option you choose will also have an effect on the search engine ranking of your website. Below we’ve summarized the functions and distinctive features of each of these approaches as well as when they should ideally be used.

Pros and cons of subdirectories

A URL directory defines the structure of a website and is subdivided into different subdirectories that are connected to the domain. For an e-commerce platform, a subdirectory may look something like this: example.com/shop. If the platform features products from different manufacturers, it may be useful to create subpages for each manufacturer. This can be done with the help of further subdirectories (example.com/shop/manufacturer1, example.com/shop/manufacturer2, etc.). The technical implementation is, in contrast to a subdomain, rather simple.

In order to ensure that the subdirectories are optimized for search engines, it’s important that the subdirectories are named in a manner that reflects the content on the webpage. Similar to subdomains, you should aim to use a keyword when naming a subdirectory. Not only is this important from an SEO perspective, it also enhances the transparency of a website. If the landing page for a business’ website doesn’t clearly display the company’s name, the site can seem unprofessional. A significant SEO benefit of using subdirectories is that their ranking is influenced by the quality of content and the link power of the root domain.

Advantages Disadvantages
Technical implementation is not very complex. If a subdirectory receives a penalty, the ranking of the entire domain is affected.
Subdirectories benefit from the content and link power of the main domain.

Pros and cons of subdomains

A subdomain is a domain that’s part of a larger domain. When discussing the structure of a website, the term third-level domain is commonly used to refer to subdomains. If, for example, a person wants to set up an e-commerce platform under the domain, www.example.com, they can choose the subdomain shop.example.com.

Subdomains are especially useful if:

  • you want to offer content in different languages (for example, en.example.com for English and es.example.com for Spanish).
  • there are many different topics on a site that all share a common theme (flightprices.example.com vs. busprices.example.com).
  • you want to highlight different products, companies or brands (company1.example.com, company2.example.com).

Manually setting up a subdomain is a complex task. While subdomain plugins exist for many content management systems, the process of setting them up requires multiple steps. In addition to modifying the web server settings, you also need to have wildcards set up to use a subdomain plugin. These steps alone are enough to deter many non-experts. Some web hosting services, however, offer support or simplified processes for setting up subdomains. In terms of SEO, subdomains come with the added advantage that they can appear in search engine results separate from the main domain.

Advantages Disadvantages
Can appear in search results separate from main domain Difficult for non-experts to implement
Penalty only for the subdomain that contains the issue Individual SEO optimization necessary for each subdomain

Pros and cons of new domains/websites

For site operators that want to expand their content beyond what the name of their current domain implies,a domain change may be the easiest solution. This option also allows you to keep the website you already have as its own entity. In the example with the celebrity blog, it would be necessary to register a new domain if the blog’s address refers to a specific person and you want to feature other topics on the site. This means that creating a new address with a name that hints at the site’s new direction.

Tip

To find out how to change a domain, check out the article “Domain change: how to set up your new web address” in our Digital Guide.

If the planned content differs significantly from the other topics on your site and you still want to preserve the look and feel of it, it may be best to set up a completely new platform for the content. If this is the case, you’ll need to create a new domain.

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Setting up a new domain or a new website comes with additional costs though. One of the biggest disadvantages of creating a new website is the amount of work involved. You need to start from the beginning and come up with a concept, set up the website and then test it. What’s more, once the site goes live, it will be another web presence that requires administrative upkeep.

New websites or domains can, however, be useful in cases where the previous site has experienced reputational damage. It doesn’t matter if the damage was caused by external factors or self-imposed.

Advantages Disadvantages
Can optimize additional website for specific countries or languages with an ethical backlinking strategy More effort required
Opportunity for a new beginning or a new topic Have to start at the very beginning with a new website
Note

When changing a domain, it’s possible to transfer the link power and trust that has been achieved with the old domain. In order to transfer these though, some SEO adjustments need to be made. It’s important to link content with the domain, verify the new address in the Google Search Console, and set up a 301 redirect form the old address to then new address. You can find more information about domain redirects in our article on the basics of domain redirects.

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