What Are the Differences between Subdomain and Subdirectory

WordPress multisite allows you to run a network of sites under a single WordPress dashboard. You can manage everything including the number of sites, features, themes, and user roles in one place.

When building a multisite from scratch, the most challenging decision is whether to use subdomains or subdirectories for your network.

It’s time-consuming and tricky to switch between subdomains and subdirectories later on.

That’s why we’d like to bring this article to you. Today, we’ll walk you through the differences between WordPress Multisite subdomain and subdirectory installation. We’ll also look at some scenarios in which you should choose the subdirectory or subdomain.

So let’s start!

What’s a domain, subdomain & subdirectory?

Before diving into more details, let’s get familiar with the domain, subdomain, and subdirectory first.

PPWP Pro: What Are the Differences between Subdomain and Subdirectory

What is a domain?

Just like your house, your website needs an address to be found.

Let’s say your house is addressed by something like 4310 Moonlight Drive, Camden, New Jersey, United States. When it comes to your website, this address is called a domain, which contains the website’s registration, name, and location.

A domain contains “www”, followed by the website name and an extension, which can indicate the business area and country of location.

The extensions are separated into 3 main categories as follows.

#1.Generic Top-Level Domain (gLTD)

We’re sure that you’re familiar with extensions like .com, .net, .org.

While these might be known as “generic,” they can still tell you a lot about what kind of site you’re visiting.

    • “.com” is a stand-in for “commercial”
    • “.net” stands for “network”
    • “.org” is short for “organization”

#2 Sponsored Top-Level Domain (sTLD)

Sponsored top-level domains are TLDs that have been specifically sponsored by groups like businesses and governments. Some examples include: .gov, .museum, .edu

#3 Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)

The last category is country code top-level domains. These are two-character top-level domains that are specific to countries.

Examples include: .ca (Canada), .br (Brazil), .de (Germany), .fr (France).

What is a subdomain?

Basically, everything before domainname.com is a subdomain. You can have as many subdomains as you need since they act independently one from the other.

Site owners might use subdomains to separate sections of a website from the root domain.

For example, Disney has created multiple subdomains that each serves a different purpose:

    • cars.disney.com
    • videos.disney.com
    • disneyparks.disney.com
    • princess.disney.com

All sub-domain are at the same level. You can’t create a sub-domain of a sub-domain.

Though websites under subdomains are still closely associated with the root directory, they’ll usually have a separate content management system, template, analytics tools, and more.

What is a subdirectory?

A subdirectory is a folder or directory that is created from your main website. For instance: www.yoursite/support.com

It’s possible to have various subdirectories, just as you would organize the folders on your computer. It can also have multiple levels, such as in yoursite/support/pda.com

For example, https://www.callrail.com/ has a subdirectory at https://www.callrail.com/learn/

What’s the Difference between Subdomains and Sub-directory?

Each kind of structure will fit specific use cases. In this section, we’ll point out common cases for using subdomain and subdirectory as well as their pros and cons. From there, you can determine which structure best suits your website.

PPWP Pro: The difference between subdomain and subdirectory

When to Use a Subdomain?

Subdomains keep things on the same domain separate. This comes into practice when you have products in different niches, sell goods to different regions, or simply want to keep different areas of your business separate.

Subdomain’s Pros:

    1. Maintain branding and niche authority.
    2. Easily link between your various subdomains.
    3. Regarded by Google as internal links. All subdomains are likely to be crawled when the main domain is visited by Googlebot. You have no need to submit separate sitemaps for each subdomain.
    4. Easier to manage a site with several subdomains than several separate domains.

Subdomain’s Cons:

    1. Some services or tools that charge per website might charge you for each subdomain separately.
    2. Subdomains have limitations and challenges around SSL support. You’ll possibly need to purchase a more expensive Wildcard SSL certificate.
    3. Subdomains can affect hosting performance and increase security risks.

When to Use a Subdirectory?

Subdirectories, on the other hand, are URLs that host subsets of content in separate “folders.”

Popular use cases for subdirectories include:

    1. Optimizing existing websites
    2. Increasing SEO traffic to your main domain
    3. Organizing content in a way that’s easy to understand and manage
    4. Streamlining analytics by housing data on one standalone domain instead of potentially several subdomains, which could make data analysis harder

Subdirectory’s Pros:

    1. Easier to manage: you don’t need to set up separate hosting accounts, content management systems, SSLs which makes it not only cheaper but easier to administer.
    2. One Google analytics instance: a subdirectory structure offers a simple implementation process for tracking your website analytics: you just have to add the tracking ID you use on your main site and update your site tree.
    3. Keyword marketing: arguably, the best marketing benefit of a subdirectory is through keyword density.  The words and phrases you use across the pages of your website send signals to search engines that tell it what your site is all about. A directory of similar or related terms will add overall authority to your website, attracting traffic and improving keyword rankings.

Subdirectory’s Cons:

    1. Page corruption: from an SEO perspective, there is a risk that a single page in a directory, through bad content or black hat SEO, could corrupt the rest of the website, irrespective of the good content on other pages.
    2. Poor choice for lingual sites: if you have identical content in multiple languages on your site, you could be penalized for repeating content across several sites.  Google recommends using a unique URL or a subdomain.

What to Remember When Deciding on Website Structure

Before you make a final decision, you should clearly answer the questions below.

    1. Is your network on a new WordPress installation or an established one?
    2. Is your network for your personal sites, or sites you will let other people set up or buy.
    3. Are you using domain redirection?
    4. Does your hosting allow you to set up subdomains?
    5. Where is your site located – on a local or remote server, or in a subdirectory

That said, it will depend partially on your preference.

What Do You Choose: Subdomain or Subdirectory?

Each website is created for a specific purpose. Based on the foregoing and the promotion strategy used, everyone decides whether to use subfolders or subdomains on their root site.

Regardless of what website structure you choose, the most important thing is to have high-quality content that is interesting for your users, on the website. Constant content updates and improvements will help grow the target audience.

Have you decided whether to go for subdomain or subdirectory yet?

Let us know in the comment section below!