SEO: Subdomains vs. Subdirectories

Flying Cork was recently asked to make SEO recommendations for a client on a complex website setup. This client was unsure about how to approach SEO given their business model and asked Flying Cork to recommend the best course of action. The issue struck me as being fairly common for businesses so I’d like to share Flying Cork’s position on the best solution. Allow me to set the stage:

For the sake of this example, we’ll call the client Grant’s Pants (catchy, huh?) and assume they sell clothes. This client has various, independently-owned locations or franchises all over the world. They allow each business owner to create their own website as directory extensions from turn-key templates with pre-populated copy, content, and structure. What this means is that Joe Shmoe can become a Grant’s Pants franchise owner and get his own website for free. This is a great deal for Joe because, while Joe knows a lot about selling pants, he doesn’t know much about building websites.

While this situation is great for Joe and the rest of the franchise owners, it creates a problem for the client. Grant’s Pants now has thousands of franchises, each with websites that may contain duplicate content and a poor URL structure, which would significantly harm their SEO.

Enter Flying Cork

Grant’s Pants knows they are in a tough position and asks us to take a look at the site and provide recommendations. Their main goal is to have as many of the franchise sites show up in local Search Engine Result Postings (SERP’s) as possible. This will obviously give their franchises the best chance at success.

So we do research, discuss internally, fall asleep at our desks, wake up, discuss again and finally decide on a three- step plan of attack for Grant’s Pants:

1. Use Subdomains for the Franchise Websites

We thought a lot about using subdomains vs. directory extensions. Choosing between these two can have a drastic effect on your website’s SEO. Using directory extensions could allow the core site to receive a boost in domain authority from the franchise sites, but would risk heavier fallout from duplicate content. Directory extensions are also throttled by search engines as to how many can appear in the SERPs for the same keyword or phrase, which would inhibit the franchise search rankings. At the end of the day, we chose subdomains over directory extensions because of the larger potential footprint franchises would have in the SERP’s and the reduced risk of duplicate content penalties.

2. Use Webmaster Tools to Geo-Locate Each Subdomain to its Respective Country

This is a very small and easy change, but it allows Grant’s Pants to make it clear where each subdomain is located. This is helpful for increasing rank in local SERP’s.

3. Implement SEO 101 Training for Franchise Website Owners

Flying Cork would develop a SEO training document for franchise website owners to help them implement best practices, optimize for keywords and create custom content. Also included would be basic instructions on creating and maintaining Google Places accounts (a well-kept secret for aiding in SERP ranking). This would help reduce the duplicate content risk and again boost the probability of a bigger franchise footprint in the SERPs. As a bonus, it’s also a great tool to help solidify the relationship between the client and their franchises.

It should be noted that this three-step plan is no magic bullet. Every website and business model is unique and requires its own strategy to be successful. With these changes made however, the client will be in a much better position to make a big SEO impact not only for themselves, but for their franchises, as well.