Where and how you host your blog is as important to your search engine rankings as what plugins you use and how you optimize your blog posts. I have previously discussed the best WordPress SEO plugins, but here I want to discuss the importance of how you set up your blog’s hosting: 1) separate domain; 2) subdomain; 3) external hosted solution (WordPress.com, Typepad, Blogger); 4) subdirectory.
I won’t go into the separate-domain issue, but you can read Mark Jackson’s Search Engine Watch post about this option. Needless to say, the benefits to your primary domain in this case would be nil, except for backlinking from the new, blog domain to your primary domain. But because this blog domain will have likely been recently activated, you will have to wait at least a year before Google assigns it any meaningful TrustRank to the new domain.
As all SEOs know, a business should almost always host their blog under their own domain, rather than the other options mentioned above. When other websites link back to your posts or other pages of your blog, you want the backlinking credit to go to your domain, not to Blogger.com or Typepad.com.
Recently, a client asked us about setting up a blog for them and we told them what we tell all our clients:
- Use WordPress as the blogging platform: We love the incredible number of plugins and themes that are developed by the very large and active WordPress community. And we really like WordPress as a blogging platform (and Dan Cederholm agrees!);
- Install WordPress in a subdirectory: Install the blog under your own domain, in a subdirectory that has a keyword-rich name, eg /widget-sales-usa/) rather than “blog” (we actually use “blog”, but there’s a reason…) or “wordpress.”
HubSpot Business Blogging?
Not long after this conversation, our client informed us that they had purchased the HubSpot “Business Blogging” package, and they asked if this would be as beneficial to their SEO as having a WordPress blog. I decided to do some research.
I called HubSpot to have them explain how they integrate a customer’s blog into the customer’s domain (the examples on their site are all customers who opted for the full website+blog hosting, not just the blog package). They explained that they have the customer create a subdomain for their domain (eg hubspotblog.mydomain.com) and, via a CNAME record, the subdomain points to a HubSpot URL. The subdomain is where the blog is installed.
Because my client was going to use HubSpot only for their blog and not their entire website (another tier of service HubSpot offers), having the blog on a subdomain is the only way to have the blog’s URL under the primary domain in any sense.
Blog Hosting: Subdomain or Subdirectory
But is using a subdomain for your blog the most effective hosting solution, from an SEO standpoint? For their customers who opt for the entire package (website & blog hosting), HubSpot installs the blog in a keyword-rich subdirectory — which tells me that even HubSpot believes this to be the preferable choice between subdomain and subdirectory.
So what is the consensus among respected SEOs around this issue of subdomain v. subdirectory?
Google’s Subdomain/Primary Domain Algorithm
In the past, Google viewed subdomains as completely separate entities from the primary domain. Because Google uses what it calls “host crowding” to return up to two results from a single domain on a search engine results page (SERP) (with the second one indented), with subdomains treated as totally separate, a single domain could get more than two listings on a Google SERP, through its subdomains. Because Google prefers to offer their users a varied selection of search results rather than multiple results from a single entity, they made a change in December 2007, announcing that subdomains would be more closely associated with the primary domain — not to the point of being viewed as a subdirectory, but not so completely separate — and Matt Cutts wrote about this on his blog.
Although Google now more closely associates subdomains and primary domains, it still views them as separate entities. Thus, when another site links to your blog or individual posts, that “link love” flows back to the subdomain rather than to your primary domain.
If your blog tends to have content similar to that on your main website — and content relevant to your core offering — then having your blog in subdirectory of your primary domain creates a larger website with more related content. And any external linking credits to your blog flow back to your primary domain. The content of your primary domain is associated by Google with the content of your blog. If the blog is in a subdomain, although there apparently is some association, it appears that it’s not nearly as strong as having the blog content in your primary domain.
This post entitled “21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic” from Rand Fishkin (aka randfish), CEO and founder of SEOmoz, a very authoritative and respected SEO blog, addresses this topic:
Hosting your blog on a different domain from your primary site is one of the worst mistakes you can make. A blog on your domain can attract links, attention, publicity, trust and search rankings — by keeping the blog on a separate domain, you shoot yourself in the foot. From worst to best, your options are — Hosted (on a solution like Blogspot or WordpPress), on a unique domain (at least you can 301 it in the future), on a subdomain (these can be treated as unique from the primary domain by the engines) and as a sub-section of the primary domain (in a subfolder or page – this is the best solution).
and in a separate post, Root Domains, Subdomains vs. Subfolders and The Microsite Debate, Rand states:
Starting a blog? I almost always recommend yoursite.com/blog over blog.yoursite.com. Want to launch a new section of content? Use yoursite.com/newstuff rather than newstuff.yoursite.com.
Mark Jackson, of Search Engine Watch, writes in his post about how to host your blog:
Many of my company’s clients need to add content to the root of their domain to build up the authority necessary to compete for keywords. So, more often than not, we recommend that our clients add their blog to a subdirectory.
Adding the blog to the subdirectory shows the search engines that you regularly add fresh content to the root of the Web site, and you can feed (via RSS) the most recent posts to the home page and then promote this content through StumbleUpon, Digg, Mixx, Propeller, etc., and get folks to link (deep link) to the content, so long as you created linkable (i.e., quality) content.
Mark observes that most of the reasons you would want your blog under a subdomain of your website would be technical, eg your primary domain’s hosting environment isn’t friendly to the blogging platform you’d like to use (and Mark prefers WordPress, BTW…).
It appears that the overwhelming consensus among the experts in SEO is that to achieve the optimal SEO benefits from your blog, you should host it in a subdirectory rather than a subdomain.
So how did I advise my client? I told them that the HubSpot solution was a one-size-fits-all solution that wouldn’t provide them the bang for their SEO buck that hosting a WordPress blog in a subdirectory would. And I explained to them that HubSpot is a product that you pay for, like Microsoft Office. So you can’t add any features you hear about, or really much change the look and feel of it. All HubSpot customer blogs look pretty much the same, and rather plain and, um, “unbloglike.” WordPress is open-source and there are literally thousands of developers creating new plugins that expand the features and functionality of WordPress, and there are literally thousands of themes, free and commercial, available to give your blog a distinct appearance.
I’d be interested to hear what others have to say about this.
Other conversations around this topic: