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Sitelinks on Subdomains and Subdirectories

Posted by Melanie Phung on Friday, January 16, 2009 at 11:16 am

A while back there was a lot of talk of subdomains being abused for SEO and how people thought Google was going to start treating subdomains more like site folders (aka subdirectories), instead of separate web sites. That didn’t make a ton of sense to me; after all, if a site is using subdomains to spam the SERPs, shouldn’t Google discount those subdomains? Treating them like folders doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

The truth is, some subdomains ARE completely separate sites — just look at sites hosted on blogging platforms. Google understands that, and in the examples below is even showing Sitelinks on subdomains.

notlarrysabato SiteLinks 081215

I have yet to see subfolders on a site get their own Sitelinks.

For more info on Google sitelinks, check out my older post on what factors influence Sitelinks and how anchor text is chosen, as well as Eric Lander’s excellent Sitelinks research.

Anyone have examples of Sitelinks for subdirectories? Or know something specific about how Google may treat blog hosts differently?

UPDATE: Okay, that’s what happens when I blog from the hip. Just got tipped off on examples of each. Big thanks to @rishil and @streko for these examples.  Screenshots up momentarily.

Sitelinks for a subdomain (on a site that’s not an obvious authority site, e.g.

Sitelinks for subdirectories:


Comments (12)

Category: Blogging,Google,Indexing,Social Media


Comment by Web Templates

Made Saturday, 17 of January , 2009 at 11:37 am

Interesting read, I wonder if subdomains are more effective for internal linking….

Comment by sugitha

Made Thursday, 22 of January , 2009 at 7:35 am

Is google penalize subdomain or not?

Comment by SEO Hack

Made Friday, 23 of January , 2009 at 3:46 am

@sugitha – I think the answer is it depends. if you have a sub-domain which functions as another site or has information that likely doesn’t fit into the content of the other site (and there’s plenty of it), Google will likely give you a pass. If it’s a shoddy, obvious attempt to have a sub-domain to eat up SERP space, you’ll likely find it being sifted.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Sunday, 1 of February , 2009 at 8:41 pm

@Webmaster – more effective than what?

@sugitha – if you’re asking simply if Google penalizes the use of subdomains just on principle, the answer is: of course not.

You both might be interested in reading this post by Michael Martinez on subdomain spam for factors that could get your whole site penalized. Basically, if you’re trying to spam the SERPs with subdomains, you probably won’t succeed… unless you have a lot of other trust factors going for you.

My point was that I think it was silly for people to be panicking and talking about moving all their subdomain content into folders because Google said they’d be taking a look at how it returned content from subdomains. If you had valid reasons for putting your content on subdomains, then subdomains can still be very effective at conveying authority. Spam is spam whether you’re putting it at the tertiary domain level or into directories – neither location makes it easier or more difficult for Google to identify as spam.

Comment by Spot Cool Stuff

Made Sunday, 8 of February , 2009 at 12:43 am

If you have a blog with subdomains is there anything specifically you can do to help you get sitelinks?

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Tuesday, 10 of February , 2009 at 11:02 am

Do the same things you would do with the base domain: build authority, create strong internal navigation, etc.

Comment spamming on SEO blogs with keyword-laden “author” fields isn’t going to help, however. I’ve removed some of your keywords and deleted your link, as per my comment policy.

Comment by Jonas Person

Made Thursday, 12 of February , 2009 at 7:03 am

Try “BMW Hamburg” and look at the sitelinks. The come from different subs with other German city names. Any explanation?

Comment by Dave

Made Friday, 13 of February , 2009 at 3:57 pm

Some refreshing common sense here. But at the end of the day, who knows?

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Friday, 13 of February , 2009 at 4:40 pm

Jonas – fantastic example. It doesn’t look deliberate. In fact, there’s a huge duplicate content issue, which seems to be the root of it. If you look at the first Sitelink (for the used car page) and you replace “nl-hamburg” for “nl-muenchen”, you get the exact same landing page, except the München version has a PageRank of 3 where the Hamburg version has no TBPR. The same with the Geschäftswagen page: replace “leipzig” with “hamburg” in the subdomain URL and you get a dupe where the former has TBPR and the latter has a grayed out bar. I just did a search on “BMW Berlin” and the Gebrauchtwagensuche Sitelink also points to the München version of the page instead of the Berlin-specific subdomain.

My guess is that Google has figured out that those pages are dupes and is giving preference to one version as the “canonical” version (in this example, the Munich URL is the canonical page for all versions of…usedvehicles/search…), and that this preferencing/canonicalization is carrying over to the Sitelinks on subdomains; i.e., Google thinks they’re all the same page so it returns the favored version in place of the dupe no matter what (except for a site: operator search, obviously). And/or, perhaps all other versions of the duplicate pages are sitting in the Supplemental Index and supplemental pages don’t get turned into Sitelinks.

Yesterday, all 3 search engines announced support for a new rel=canonical tag … this example could make an interesting case study for how to use this new meta tag (in theory), except that it might only exacerbate the problem (in practice), since then you’d have to get into which version of the site gets to own “real” content.

Comment by Melanie Phung

Made Friday, 13 of February , 2009 at 4:42 pm

Dave – thanks, unfortunately for me refreshing common sense isn’t really monetizable 🙂
But what in particular is it that you don’t think is possible to know?

Comment by steve booth

Made Thursday, 26 of February , 2009 at 11:31 pm

hi Melanie,
Thanks for the info on google giving sitelinks to both subdomains and folders. I’ll file it away as I’m sure it will mean something to me some day. 🙂
Here’s a question if you want to answer it though, relating to subdomains. I think that multiple links on a website to another website get discounted, at least some. That is, links from three pages on three different website would could for more than three from three pages on the same website (all things being equal). If you agree, then my question is would links on three subdomains be like three different websites or all the same… Any thoughts, or should I search your blog because you’ve already covered this? 🙂
Basically, is a subdomain external link seen as from the “mother site” or independent? ~ steve booth

Comment by Hubshout

Made Sunday, 8 of March , 2009 at 10:10 pm

I am totally with you here. If the treatment of a subdomain was changed to be more like a subfolder, that would actually reward anyone using them inappropriately.

I think that the way it is now – subdomains being a completely different site – is appropriate. Just try to rank a subdomain that has no links or authority. You will quickly see that the “seo abuse” is really not much of anything at all. They just don’t rank unless you put the same work into them as if they were a real site..

And as you said, sometimes they really are different sites.

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