Like everything in SEO, the value of subdomains has been up for debate for many years. (Just Google “use of subdomains for SEO” and scroll the millions of results to get a slew of varying opinions.)
Since Google’s 2011 Panda update, impacted sites have been scrambling to uncover the method behind the madness and gain insight into the algorithm changes. This week, HubPages.com, a site that was heavily impacted by Panda, announced it may have found a piece to the algorithm puzzle with the use of subdomains to break out content.
HubPages reported seeing a 50% drop in traffic after the Google Panda updates this year and during preliminary tests some newly created subdomains returned to pre-Panda traffic in a few short weeks. After discovering the subdomain difference on accident, HubPages reached out to Google and received a response from search engineer, Matt Cutts, which affirmed HubPages’ discovery to try subdomains as one way to improve rankings.
Some are looking at this successful as the first “work around” to Panda, but to me it seems to reiterate Google’s long-time algorithm goal to provide the most relevant, quality content to its users. I think it may be a helpful fix for good-quality content that was wrongfully hurt by the Panda update, but not a work around for sites that still struggle with poor content.
Through HubPages’ recent tests, the subdomain switch has reportedly helped those authors with high-quality content and not improved authors with low-quality content. (You can read about the varying results in the comment section of a recent HubPages blog post.) So whether this is a universal fix is unknown.
How this information translates to helping ecommerce, retail and standard business sites is also up for discussion. Most sites should not disregard previous best practices on subdomains based on HubPages’ initial success. Restructuring a site to include subdomains is not a small switch for most, and shouldn’t be done without considering its impacts across your site. Subdomains are a powerful tool for topics of importance to your company but can also dilute the strength of main domain content.
I recommend – as with anything related to SEO – sites looking to set up subdomains for SEO purposes should do their research and make the best decision based on their own site, goals and past experience.