Microsites vs. subdomains vs. subfolders

  • December 8, 2012

This is an old post imported from a blog domain I took down in early 2012

UPDATE 3/8/16 : This is an old post and I now have different thoughts on the matter. I’m keeping this post live in case anyone finds it and comments on it. At that time, I will state what my newer position is. Until then, I’m not going to bother to update this unless people are actually looking at this.
I’ve read a lot on this topic. I know there are very good SEOs that will take various parts of the argument. What I have concluded from all of that is that it really depends on the project. Thank you Eric Highland with Knektion for the most recent SEO Consulting. I do believe there is a place for micro-sites, but it really depends on the project.

So let’s consider a big website with a lot of content.

This site has content attractive on several “levels.” Micro-sites can work well in specific niches within an industry. We have done a few micro-sites with top level domains and these sites ranked well and quickly. We believed the reason for this was relevancy. When competing next to larger sites that were about other stuff, we stood out to the search engines because our micro-sites were all about the the specific niche, hence the relevancy argument. Now, after doing some research, I believe the sites ranked well because basic SEO was done well, not necessarily because they were micro-sites.

Microsites pros and cons

Microsites with top level domains

Pros

  • Concentrated relevancy
  • Faster ranking if there is no good higher level domain to take advantage of

Cons

  • Valuable links may be created pointing to the micro-sites. This value is probably better suited to point to the top site. The top site can accumulate rank and distribute it throughout pages according to which pages are more important.
  • Not much link juice will pass from the micro-sites to the top site for two reasons. First, there will be several links going to the microsites and only a few going from the micro-sites to the top site. This creates sort of a bottle-neck effect where some of the juice will not make it through. Second, the link juice will be weakened by the fact that the sites are owned by one entity.

Subdomains pros and cons

Subdomains pointing to micro-sites that may or may not have the same design as the top site or

Subdomains pointing to subfolders of the top site

Pros

  • “aesthetic” URLs
  • Easier organization of a massive amount of content

Cons

  • Less rank passing through to subdomains and root domains and less control over the flow of rank

Subfolders pros and cons

My recommendation for this kind of project

As Rand Fishkin says in his SEOMOZ blog, “Root Domains, Subdomains vs. Subfolders and The Microsite Debate”, (paraphrasing): Search engines have metrics that apply to pages and metrics that apply to subdomains and root domains. Pages will benefit from being on a powerful subdomain or root domain. The flow of page rank can be controlled throughout the site by using internal linking

So, I am going to recommend that we use subfolders within a large website. In this case, our URLs will look something like this: www.Example.com/TX/Austin/SpecificNiche/ and www.Example.com/TopLevelNiche/TX/Austin/LowerLevelNiche/.

Final Word on Microsites vs. subdomains vs. subfolders

It really depends on your industry, your niches, and your project. The general rule of thumb these days for SEO projects is that it has to make sense for the consumer.

By Scott True

I believe people who own their ideas inspire the world
  • fiona anderson

    still a good article…