The Reality of Subdomains Vs. Subfolders

Chris K Leslie
So we always hear the argument of Subfolders vs. Subdomains. The majority of folks out there (myself included) like to argue as to why Subfolders are always the better idea. After today I am not so sure. I decided today to pick a car and pull up the various VDP's i have of that same on 2 sites that have it as a sub-folder and 2 sites that I own that have the vehicle in a subdomain. The reason why I wanted to look at this is because I am sick and tired of the amount of errors in my google webmaster tools due to the inventory management systems the CMS's use to show inventory. If you aren't aware of the amount of vehicles/pages/posts you have that have duplicate meta information, title tags and zero alt image tags. You might want to educate yourself as to why that is crushing your seo efforts and also shows why you and your competition are consistently sucking and not seeing any local search growth. So i asked myself, if I could place my inventory on a sub-domain and built my internal back links could that be better for my overall SEO strategy. Could it possibly clean up the thousands of errors I have and let me see my sites as something better than a steaming pile. The quick and dirty is yes. The Page Authority of my sub-domain VDP's were actually fairly higher than the VDP's in sub-folders. So don't let your CMS person fool you when they say that your URL is seo friendly. Because it isn't. If it was your URL would look like this.. http://dealerwebsite.com/inventory/new/2014/make/model/vin The reason the above is SEO friendly is because each marker or forward slash is searchable so If I were to remove the Vin and Model as a consumer from the URL. I would still be able to find New 2014 Make's Instead your URL's look like this http://dealerwebsite.com/vehicledetails/gobblygooktolongnoread So basically the so called "seo" friendly part is everything past the vehicle details. The reason why this is a big deal is because of the time decay of your inventory. The idea of sub-folders is to categorize posts and pages. Posts and pages that typically are going to be attached to the root domain for a long time. The problem happens when we sell a car and that page goes away. Now the once indexed page offers back a 404 not found error in webmaster tools. At any point and time you could have hundreds of links out on the web that should be linking back to a certain car That can no longer link to that car because it sold. Not such a big deal on a sub-domain because you don't really get penalized for that for SEO. However as sub-folders and pages without re-directs it most certainly has an impact on your SEO efforts. So i'm curious if anyone out there is running inventory as sub-domains and not sub-folders and have you seen. Please don't reply with your ideals of why sub-folders are way awesomer than sub-domains because in most cases I agree with you completely. Note: I typed all of that really fast and didn't proof.
Cody Jerry
"At any point and time you could have hundreds of links out on the web that should be linking back to a certain car That can no longer link to that car because it sold." Wouldn't that problem exist regardless of subdomain or subfolder? As for the 404's, 404ing a product that will no longer be in stock is an acceptable practice. You won't get penalized/dinged for that. It's smarter to redirect, to harness any authority that was there, but no need to worry about the 404s dragging you down. Page Authority, if you are using Moz's stat, is a measurement of potential ranking ability irregardless of keyword. Meaning, it is just looking at trust signals. It's also just a best guess since the Moz index doesn't scan the whole internet. Other vendors have seen the weak SEO that VDPs bring, though. Autotrader noindexed their VDPs right after the first Panda update. Dealerfire noindexed their VDPs. E-commerce companies around the world have implemented canonicals to remove poor and duplicate pages. A better scenario would be to implement canonicals on your VDPs back to designated Make/Model landing pages that you create with substantial unique content. Then, once that VDP is sold you can implement a 301 redirect back to your landing pages to harness the majority of link authority that was there. I've talked to some Vendors who claim that they implement 301s on solds. Haven't talked to any that implemented canonicals on their VDPs. This should solve your problems: - No more concern about the weak VDPs dragging you down - Retaining all link authority that existed - Don't have to worry about 404s If you are really set on using subdomains, though, it isn't as bad as it once was. Too many black hat SEOs were using Subdomains as cushions for money sites, so Google has changed things around to make them more inclusive for the main domain. That means that your subdomain pages would still get some legacy authority from your main domain. No one has tested how much authority travels over, as far as I've seen, but some of the trust still passes.
Chris K Leslie
Thanks Jerry. Canonical to Landing Page is a great idea. Would you think that a VDP is even up long enough to garner any authority at all?
Cody Jerry
There are lots of variables involved, but as a blanket statement I would say no. I've only examined link profiles of around 200 automotive sites, so a sample size of less than 1%, but I've only ever found a handful of links pointing at VDPs. The majority of the ones I found appear to be manually created, and not natural. That would mean that any authority it would build would be through internal links, which would be removed once the vehicle sold. Rather than take a blanket statement, though, I would suggest pulling server logs, and seeing how often an individual VDP gets crawled by Google Bot in relation to your home page. This should give you an idea about how important a search engine believes that page is. I don't want to get Vendors bombarded with questions about server logs, so send me a message if you want more info about finding crawl rates.

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