Subfolders, Subdomains, Microsites and SEO – Everything You Need to Know

Subfolders, Subdomains, Microsites and SEO – Everything You Need to Know pixelwork

Subfolders, Subdomains, Microsites and SEO – Everything You Need to Know


It is not always clear what is the best route to structure a website from an SEO point of view.

For example, you may need to restructure the content of an existing site, or you may have new content or a new business strategy, and you're wondering: Should I create a new domain, subdomain, subfolder, or Microsite?

Where to place your web content: The options

When discussing the various types of web structures in which we can organize our web content, we can group them into three, essentially.

1.- Root domains / Second level domains

A root domain is your main domain, for example, Although “root domain” is a commonly used term, the proper technical term is second-level domain. This is the site that registers and points the DNS (domain name service) setting back to the registrar where it was purchased.


2.- Subdomains / Third level domains

A subdomain is also known as a third level domain, and it looks something like this: It's common for people to put a blog on a subdomain, for example, but I'll later say why this may not necessarily be the best option from an SEO perspective.


3.- Subfolders

The subfolders are “file folders” of your website that contain files from your website or documents. These file folders can exist on either a root domain or a subdomain. From the website user's perspective, these are typically the navigation sections of a site.

For example, an “About” folder can have the following web page files:

  • (“about” landing web page)
  • Https:// (team website)
  • Https:// (service website)

As long as they are an integral part of the crawl URL, these subfolders help integrate the site's information architecture: how to organize the content of your web pages to create thematic themes.


When to use a subfolder

Let's start with when to use a subfolder, because it's usually the best choice for almost any scenario when deciding where to place web content.

Remember that you already have a root domain ( and the subfolder will exist as part of that main domain (like

Subfolders that are a critical part of the crawl path will directly contribute to how search engines understand and rank the main domain as a whole. And they help create a great user experience when they are well organized.


When to use a subdomain

One scenario where a business may feel the need to use a subdomain is if they need to create a separation from the main domain. due to the nature of the content of the subdomain or to facilitate its management.

An example is if a company has a company member training section, and the marketing team wants to market a unique URL, such as Google Maps is another example of a subdomain in action (

Note that subdomains may not fully benefit from link equity, the positive metrics or rankings of the main domain that are associated with them and vice versa, if Google thinks of them as a separate property. For example, a blog on ( does not benefit from the authority of

That said, if you already have content on a subdomain, it's worth noting that the effort and consequences of moving that content to a root domain is typically not worth it unless you spot an issue that forces you to do so.

(If you decides Moving content from a subdomain to your main domain, a short-term loss in traffic is typical.)


When to use a standalone root domain, such as a microsite

I rarely advise clients to put web content that would be useful to their business and root domain on a separate domain entirely, although there are some scenarios where businesses may choose to do this.

When people choose to do this, it can lead to the creation of a microsite. A Microsite typically focuses on a particular initiative or issue of marketing. An example could be if a company has a weekly podcast, and wants a dedicated microsite for that company and its content.

Because a microsite is a completely different domain, for example,, you should only consider this option if you are willing to put the time and effort into marketing and SEO for a completely separate site to drive traffic.

The overall reputation and credibility of the main domain does not inherently affect the microsite. And all the authority and credibility of the microsite does not inherently benefit the main domain.

In other words, you'll need to have separate marketing and SEO programs for both the main domain and the microsite, and I honestly can't understand how this couldn't be extra work. For now, you can get the idea that I normally don't recommend creating a microsite, and you are correct.

As I like to say, every domain you own requires a different marketing and promotion campaign to support it, and is that really what you want?


Here are some other scenarios that might lead you to use a microsite:

1.- When you own a domain that matches a highly trafficked keyword search query, such as In this case, it might make sense to have a microsite that targets the keyword “dog sweaters.” Be careful with exact match domains, as this is a tactic that has been abused by many SEOs in the past, so make sure anything you do about this is completely white hack.

2.- If you plan to build a website and then eventually sell it. This is an alternative because you cannot sell a subdomain or subfolder.

3.- When you are looking to build a brand around an idea/product/service. These types of microsites can work well as targets for your marketing efforts, but you'll want to implement 301 redirects to the main domain when the campaign is finished to continue benefiting from it.


Reasons not to use a standalone root domain or Microsite

Now that I've outlined some of the scenarios for using a microsite or standalone domain, let's look at some of the reasons why you should consider not doing so:

1.- Search algorithms favor larger, older authoritative domains.

2.- When you have multiple sites, you divide the benefits of the links, so having content that could benefit your main domain in other places is counterintuitive.

3.- Niche websites, such as microsites, do not offer the possibility of directing a broader focus on topics (and keywords) that may be important to your business.

Bonus: When to use top-level domains

Many people wonder when it is appropriate to choose another type of top-level domain (TLD) other than a .com. Here are some scenarios where you can use a TLD other than .com:

  • When you are a government agency, nonprofit organization, or university, you can choose to use .gov, .org or .edurespectively
  • If you provide service to a geographic location non-US, such as the United Kingdom, and want to use a TLD for that country, such as
  • If you serve multiple countries, you may want to have multiple TLDs. This is a case where having multiple domains is perfectly fine with little downside, but make sure you link them all together with hreflang tags.

Does any TLD have the ability to rank better than another purely based on type? The answer here is no.

Many believe that there is an advantage to having a .edu domain, but in reality there is not. University and college sites tend to have a lot of authority because they can attract a lot of links, so that is the source of their authority, not the simple fact that their TLD is a .edu.

While there are plenty of TLDs other than those mentioned above, and while some are quite creative, they have no inherent impact on rankings. In other words, having a .lawyer TLD as a lawyer does not mean you will have an additional ranking benefit over a .com.

Likewise, having a TLD other than .com doesn't put you at a disadvantage either. This was confirmed in a tweet exchange I had with Google's Gary Illyes:

Me: My hypothesis is that there is no inherent disadvantage based on the TLD being used. For example, a .shop has the same chance of ranking as a .com. I am right?

Gary: Right.

Finding the perfect home for your web content

While you definitely have options in archiving your web content, it's almost always a good idea to have a root domain that is the recipient of all your marketing and SEO efforts, except in some of the cases I've described in this post (like Serving multiple international markets).

While some marketing and business decisions may require you to explore a subdomain or microsite, you should carefully weigh the long-term benefits and risks of doing so before making a decision.