Category

SEO

How Does Google Treat Subdomains For SEO?

By | SEO, Technical SEO | 14 Comments

Time and time again, Google has shown that they treat subdomains very differently from root domains, in some cases treating them as completely different sites. For SEO purposes, it’s generally recommended to use a subfolder instead of a subdomain.

Subdomain vs. Subfolder

A subdomain is a string of characters that precedes the root domain and uses a period to separate them. A subfolder comes after the domain suffix and is separated by a forward slash. You can have multiple subdomains or subfolders, and you’ll frequently see them combined.

Examples:

  • Blog.chrisberkley.com is a subdomain
  • Chrisberkley.com/posts/ is a subfolder
  • Blog.chrisberkley.com/posts/ is a subdomain with a subfolder.
  • First.blog.chrisberkley.com is two subdomains (“first” and “blog”)
  • First.blog.chrisberkley.com/posts/recent/ is two subdomains (“first” and “blog”) with two subfolders (“posts” and “recent”).

Did You Know?

In the URL www.chrisberkley.com, “www” is technically a subdomain. It’s true!

Why Use Subdomains?

There are legitimate reasons that necessitate the use of subdomains and subdomains are not completely unavoidable.

Technical Limitations

Sometimes there are technical infrastructure limitations that prevent the use of a subdomain. In large organizations with big sites, it’s common for access to the root domain to be limited, instead using subdomains for ease of use.

This may include piecing together multiple CMSs. If the core site is hosted on one CMS like Magento or Sitecore, but the blog is hosted on WordPress, it can be difficult (or impossible) to make them work together on the root domain.

Organizational Control

Large organizations often have multiple divisions that operate independently. Such is the case with universities, where individual colleges need to have edit access to their own sites (School of Nursing, School of Engineering, etc.). The same is true for other national organizations like banking institutions.

It’s a lot easier to spool up a separate site on a subdomain and grant a team of people edit access to that particular subdomain. You wouldn’t want the School of Nursing making edits that ended up taking down the entire root domain for the whole college.

International

Sometimes organizations will create international subdomains like fr.chrisberkley.com or en.chrisberkley.com. There’s no inherent SEO benefit to including a country code in the subdomain, but it may comeback to organizational structure or technical limitations. In a perfect world, you’d place those in subfolders (chrisberkley.com/fr/ or chrisberkley.com/en/) and implement hreflang. Alas, we  don’t live in a vacuum and that isn’t always possible.

How Google Treats Subdomains

Working with subdomain-heavy clients, my firsthand experience is that Google treats subdomains as separate sites. A client of mine who had two divisions of their company had one set up on subdomain and another on the root domain. They had some content overlap and we sometimes saw their pages swap places in search results.

It’s my belief that subdomains don’t inherit domain authority or site equity from the root domain. WordPress.com has a domain authority of 94. If subdomains inherited that value, wouldn’t it make sense to setup free blogs on their platform (which uses subdomains) and immediately benefit from the SEO value?

Secondly, Google’s own Search Console requires you to set up separate profiles for subdomains. That’s another good indicator that they value subdomains differently.

That doesn’t mean subdomains inherit ZERO equity from their root domains. They may inherit a greatly reduced amount. OR, Google may adjust the amount of equity they inherit on a case-by-case basis. Since WordPress.com has thousands of low-authority blogs on subdomains, Google may devalue their subdomains more than other sites that only have a handful.

Google has stated that their search engine is indifferent to subdomains vs. subfolders, but the SEO community has repeatedly found that to be false. Industry thought-leader Moz moved their content from a subdomain to a subfolder and saw measurable increases just as a result of that move.

Questions? Comments? Leave them here or reach out to me on Twitter: @BerkleyBikes.

How Long For Content To Rank?

By | Content Marketing, SEO | One Comment

The number one struggle I face with pitching clients and showing them the value of SEO, is that it takes time. Whereas pay-per-click advertising and social media can be spun up relatively quickly and provide a return on investment rather quickly, SEO is an annuity investment.

To make a relevant analogy: you can’t invest money in the stock market today and expect dividends tomorrow. The money you invest today is done so with the understanding that it will provide value later. SEO is similar.

Nevertheless, that’s a real problem because when clients are making a significant investment in SEO, they want to see results. That’s why I prepare clients by telling them “some of the work we do isn’t going to yield results right away. It’s going to take 6-12 months.”

This is especially true with publishing new content. Ahrefs did a study about how long it takes to rank in Google. They looked at the average age of pages ranking in positions 1-10, and the overall takeaway was that higher positions typically featured pages that have been live for several years. They also noted that higher authority sites took less time to rank well, which is a no-brainer. If there’s one single graph that shows their findings best, it’s this one:

That’s helpful, but does their large scale study align with actual first hand findings? Sure there’s value in a larger data sample, but having actual anecdotal data would certainly help reinforce those findings.

Fortunately I have that data. Across multiple clients in multiple industries, I can highlight examples of pages that rank well for target keywords, but didn’t reach full potential until months after they were published. I’m sharing these examples so that both consultants and clients can form realistic expectations for SEO campaigns, which is something I believe this industry can and should do a much better job at.

Example #1

Client Industry: Construction

Type of page: WordPress blog post

This particular page targeted “rental cost” keywords which are fairly low volume but highly relevant in the client’s industry. The client was hesitant to discuss pricing, but competitors were doing it, so we pushed them to create their own page. Not only does it drive meaningful traffic, but it has resulted in ~3 leads per month since it was published 16 months ago.

Example #2

Client Industry: Web hosting

Type of page: Resource center pages

These two pages were both created as part of a large content initiative – more than 120 pages of long form content over a one year period. Notably, they both saw steady growth and then marked increases in January 2018, possibly as a result of an algorithm update.

 

Example #3

Client Industry: Healthcare

Type of page: Core site page

This page saw long periods of inactivity in the very competitive healthcare space, before eventually moving into ranking positions that drive meaningful amounts of traffic (this is also a result of other improvements made to the site during that time).

Example #4

Client Industry: Local retail

Type of page: WordPress blog post

This example comes from a mom & pop retail store. A blog post that I wrote eventually moved into top ranking positions for some industry head terms, outranking even the brands that the retailer sold in their store. Unfortunately, the business owners did not continue digital marketing efforts after I left my position there, and the content did not retain its visibility in search results.

Example #5

Client Industry: Digital marketing

Type of page: WordPress blog post

The last example comes from my own website (which has lower site authority than any of my clients). While not initially a large traffic source, an analytics blog post I wrote moved into top positions (including the answer box) over a period of one year.

Summary

The key takeaway here is that firsthand data supports the study that Ahrefs did – that content may take months or more to move into top ranking positions, especially for competitive keywords. Site authority absolutely helps – two of the sites included here had domain authority ratings between 50 and 80, which is a rough indicator that they’re authoritative, especially in their respective industries.

With some of the examples, we did employ other tactics like building internal and external links. All pages were submitted to Google Search Console after publishing to make sure they got crawled as soon as possible. Also obvious is the fact that none of these pages were in a vacuum meaning that there were other marketing (and SEO) initiatives that could’ve contributed to better rankings. Nevertheless, there is a clear pattern showing that even highly optimized content on authoritative sites doesn’t always achieve top rankings immediately, and SEO continues to require patience.