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I'm curious if it's considered better practice to use a subdomain (e.g. store.website.com) or a directory (e.g. www.website.com/store) when linking to separate sections of a site.

Assuming both choices are equally easy to implement, which is better practice or more user-friendly?

My inclination is to have both implemented and then choose one style to redirect to the other. But will this be confusing? And if both are implemented, what type of link should be used in promotional or informational materials?

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Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/12408/… –  Ben Brocka Dec 15 '11 at 16:06

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Few years ago I would say that it heavily depends on the level of autonomy of different sections of a site, what is a measure of being separate. If user most often enter the site through typing main url, it can be better to prefer pathnames instead of subdomains.

But today modern browsers autocomplete url from any kind of substring, so this issue is mitigated.

The rule of thumb is nevertheless relying on degree of separation. Say http://site.com/mysettings is almost always better then http://mysettings.site.com

On the other hand, http://site.com/mymail and http://site.com/myrssreader are worse compare to mymail.site.com and myrssreader.site.com

Just because mail app and rss app are sO different that they would need one additional level of pages and http://site.com/mymail/settings is hardly better than http://mymail.site.com/settings.

And one more thing we should keep in mind before making final decision. It is not a big deal, but different subdomains treated as different resources by javascript. It means that if you want to intercommunicate using iframes or XMLHttpRequest directly, without proxy-ing request, you should provide some additional steps. Moreover, not all issues are resolvable (or, at least, super easily resolvable). Modern Opera, for example, still don't support cross-domain ajax requests.

As for redirecting from subdomains to pathnames or vice versa, I'd rather not.

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It makes no difference.

This question has been asked a lot on other SE sites - webmasters, programmers, stackoverflow so I won't delve into the technical aspects of which is better other than to say: There is no difference, other than cookies being specific to subdomains, which might be something to consider.

From a user experience standpoint - I would use http://site.com/section for sections of a particular website pertaining a particular topic and http://part.site.com/ for a substantial sub-site that features different functionality to the main site. Just a few examples of how I would go about it:

http://mail.site.com

http://forum.site.com

http://dev.site.com

http://site.com/contact-us

http://site.com/<content-page>

As far as redirects go, the main decision you have to make is www or non-www.

Hope this helps.

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It does make a difference when it comes to search engine link weight. –  JohnGB Dec 15 '11 at 17:56

Both have their advantages and pitfalls. This is an old discussion among SEO guys, and so far there is no RIGHT answer, just some recommendations. I would recommend these links for your reading:

http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories/ http://www.searchenginejournal.com/subdomains-or-subfolders-which-are-better-for-seo/

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I have a preference for a directory structure, simply because the URL is more readable, acts as a breadcrumb and can be 'hacked' by the user for navigation.

Unless your store is a microsite with it's own navigation, I would avoid subdomains. I certainly wouldn't do both, that is confusing and could cause issues with SEO etc

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