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A Final Thought on Subdirectories and SEO

SEO urlSo last week, I wrote two (lengthy) posts about why subdirectories are (usually) better than subdomains for your SEO efforts and why subdirectories are (usually) better than subdomains for your brand efforts. Then, yesterday, I go ahead and announce my new travel vertical blog, “TravelStuff” by using—wait for it—a subdomain instead of a subdirectory (“travelstuff.timpeter.com” instead of “timpeter.com/travelstuff”).

Now, if you were like me, it probably drove you nuts as as kid when your mom and dad said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” (Sorry, Dad, if you’re reading this. And you know you are.)

Anyway, what gives? Why am I telling you to do as I say, not as I do?

Well, ignoring for a moment that I’m not your mom or dad (unless my kids are reading this… yeah, that will happen), I’m going to point out a weasel clause from the branding piece:

“Some services—usually social sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flickr, and Slideshare—can help you build your brand and require using their URL with your brand and/or a generic identifier appended to it. Obviously, if the service helps you meet the needs of your customers and doesn’t offer you a better URL option, then go with their URL scheme.”

As it happens, I’ve used WordPress to host TravelStuff since I started it a little over 5 years ago. At the time, it was a convenient way of capturing notes and links and thoughts. Now, I could move all that content over to my Dreamhost-powered blogging platform (i.e., the one that “Thinks” sits on), create a new “Travel Stuff” category for each of the blog posts, incorporate the category scheme on “TravelStuff” into the “Thinks” categories, setup a 301-redirect from WordPress to timpeter.com and pray that all the lovely link juice continued to flow.

Or I could hit myself in the head with a hammer.

The second one sounds like more fun.

Happily, WordPress provides an alternative (as do most other blogging platforms): You can set up a redirect to WordPress from your primary domain (timpeter.com, in this case), but only as a subdomain. In other words, I can continue to host “TravelStuff” on WordPress and send traffic to it as though it’s part of the timpeter.com network. What I can’t do is redirect that traffic using timpeter.com/insert-blog-name-here, only insert-blog-name-here.timpeter.com.

“Wait-a-minnit,” you say. “Can’t I just use ‘Insert-Blog-Name-Here.com’ and skip the subdomain troubles? Doesn’t WordPress support that, too?”

Yes, they do.

But it brings me to the second point of the weasel clause:

“My rule of thumb is always optimize for customers first, search engines second. There’s also an argument that having your brand appear on multiple sites as either a subdomain or subdirectory can help you dominate the search results page for your brand. It’s a great idea and worth exploring if you’ve got the bandwidth to support it. But put the focus first on what helps your customers.”

As I’d mentioned in the branding piece, cutting through the clutter requires a.) cash, and b.) consistency. Wherever possible, I put all my work on the timpeter.com domain. My brand is Tim Peter & Associates. The blog is called “Tim Peter Thinks.” I’m Tim Peter on LinkedIn. And so on.

In this case, it was more important for me to keep brand consistency and reduce clutter for customers by using travelstuff.timpeter.com than to try and grow another brand. In other words, I chose the best available option for my customers and for my business.

By which I mean to underscore both of my prior posts. In the real world, SEO is one consideration. A major consideration, sure. But only one of them. Ultimately, in the real world, we make our decisions based on a number of factors. If I could go back in time and set up TravelStuff from scratch, would I choose to do it differently? Probably. But if I could go back in time, where I hosted a blog focused on a customer vertical still wouldn’t be the first thing I worried about.

Maybe somewhere down the road I’ll move TravelStuff to a subdirectory and do everything all right and proper.

But, in the meantime, I will focus on creating the right content to meet the needs of my readers, regardless of where it’s hosted. And I continue to recommend the same to you.


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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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