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Emma-Jane Shaw   |   03 Nov 2021   |   HubSpot

Subdomains vs subdirectories in HubSpot: It's an SEO Thing

If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve already been a part of the many conversations had around subdomains vs subdirectories. It’s good, it’s bad and it can all be very confusing to a business looking to get started with HubSpot’s suite of tools.

SEOs continue to debate the negative organic impacts a subdomain can have on a website. Google argues this is not the case. Yet the debate continues (and perhaps for good reason).

Your website structure, of course, affects organic performance, so ultimately the debate comes down to implementing the best solution to aid consistent and steady growth in alignment with your business’s goals.

In this blog, I plan to give you the low-down on subdomains vs subdirectories in HubSpot and how it can affect your overall website performance.

But let’s take a quick step back before we get started:


Subdomains vs. Subdirectories: What’s the difference?

To understand this contested topic, we need to understand the difference between the two:


What is a subdomain?

According to GoDaddy, “Subdomains act as an extension of your domain name to help organize and navigate to different sections of your website.”

It looks something like this:

subdomains vs subdirectories
Image Source: HubSpot

A subdomain effectively acts independently of the main website; it’s great for organising your website content to meet different needs and goals.


When are subdomains primarily used?

Subdomains have many uses but it’s important to know when you might need one for your business. Specifically:

  • Blog hosting. If you’re looking to use a separate platform to house lots of content and run regular large campaigns that require individual landing pages.
  • eCommerce. Subdomains are great for productisation, shopping and so much more.
  • Internationalisation of marketing efforts. If you’re looking to expand your business into new territories, a subdomain makes a lot of sense to do this, for example, multiple language sites.


What is a subdirectory?

According to HubSpot, “A subdirectory is a type of website hierarchy under a root domain that uses folders to organize content on a website.

It looks something like this:

subdomains vs subdirectories
Image Source: HubSpot

Subdirectories are the preferred route for blog hosting as they are known to maintain the root domain's authority, traffic and keywords.


What’s HubSpot got to do with this?

Well, HubSpot’s tools can only be hosted on a subdomain.


You are hosting your entire website inside of HubSpot, then you have the ability to introduce a subdirectory structure to your website.


The HubSpot CMS

It's a great platform to house your website and your marketing all in one central place. It offers end-to-end data management, allowing you the flexibility, freedom and insight to significantly inform your digital marketing efforts.

But (as with anything) there are some top considerations to bear in mind:

  1. Cost - The cost of the HubSpot CMS is tiered based on different features and functionalities and certainly isn’t cheap. An annual subscription to CMS Pro is approximately R68 500. You can find out more about the pricing and the different tiers here.
  2. HubL (pronounced Hubble) - The CMS uses HubSpot Markup Language (HubL), making the coding environment quite restrictive - developers not well versed in HubL will have to do some learning to understand this environment.

What if your website is not in HubSpot?

External websites (websites outside of HubSpot) will need to adopt a subdomain structure.

If you’re opting to sign up for HubSpot or already have a HubSpot account, then subdomains are the route you will need to go. There is no workaround or loophole to this.

If you’re looking for a HubSpot solutions partner to help you unpack this a little more, then click 👉 here to get in touch with us, we’d love to chat with you.


The problem with only having subdomains in HubSpot

There are a few things to be aware of before considering hosting your subdomain in HubSpot.

  • Domain Authority (DA) starts at zero. Your main domain DA does not pass onto your subdomain. This means you need a content strategy that regularly and consistently publishes high-quality content on your subdomain.
  • Keyword density. Subdomains by their independent nature tend to rank for keywords separately to that of your main domain.


Here’s what we recommend:
  • Develop a robust content strategy. Regularly publishing high-quality content is the best way to start ranking for content and keywords organically.

We have a content marketing strategy template that can help you do this. Click 👉 here to download it now.

  • Double down on your link building. Since you’re effectively starting from ground zero, a great always-on strategy should be link building. The faster you begin to build out quality content along with high-quality backlinks, the quicker you will be able to see your growth.


What about organic growth, SEO and overall website performance?

John Mueller, a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, has been referenced by thousands of blogs on the topic; Google treats both subdirectories and subdomains in the same way. Yet the debate is one still hotly contested by SEOs the world over.

There have been studies done to prove that subdomain hosting negatively impacts keyword and organic growth. Rand Fishkin most popularly comes to mind with this, he’s published numerous articles proving that subdomain hosting hinders website growth.

If you’d like to read more, you can find those here, here and here.

There have been blogs that tested this theory and the results were huge increases in traffic when a blog was shifted to a subdirectory. Conversely, one blog reported a 40% drop in traffic when it moved over to a subdomain. It is worth noting that switching domains is likely to always see some sort of traffic drops.

Here’s what we do know:

A robust content strategy that regularly publishes high-quality content and that actively builds high-quality links will reap the benefits of domain, organic and keyword growth.

Take the graph below for example.

Organic traffic increase of 500%.

In 10 months of setting up the blog on a subdomain hosted in HubSpot, they saw a 500% increase in organic traffic which continues to grow today! You can read more about that here.

Subdomains vs subdirectories: What’s the verdict?

As this is a conversation we will certainly have again and again. And with so little known about how Google actually works this is what we’d have to say:

The verdict is as it always should be:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What are your business goals?
  • And, how are you going to achieve your business goals?

Then, how does the above debate fit into your overall plan?

The question comes down to where your business is in your digital journey. If your company has an existing blog that’s growing in organic traffic ranking and Domain Authority, then perhaps moving over to a subdomain doesn’t necessarily make sense for where you are.

But, if you’re just starting a blog or don’t have one yet then a subdomain could make a lot of sense for your business.

If you’re looking to chat about HubSpot and what it can do for your business, then please click 👉 here we’d love to see how we can help you.

Emma-Jane Shaw

"A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men" - Roald Dahl