Redirects and Sub-Directories for SEOs


A subdomain is also sometimes called an “add-on” domain, because it looks like this: An example would be, which is a subdomain of (technically, so is www, but most people don’t refer to it as a subdomain). This is usually treated as a completely different website by search engine, but they won’t normally consider interlinking as much of an issue as completely separate websites, since there is an acknowledgment they are related.
Subsite (aka subweb)
A subsite, also referred to as a subweb is a section of a website that focuses on a particular topic, function or theme. Many subsites coincide with a directory path although this is not required. They will often also have their own local navigation structure -if you create a subweb in FrontPage, for example, the automatic navigation links are restricted to the subweb. It’s not required, but it’s a common distinguishing factor between a subsite and a subdirectory, which is purely organizational in nature.
Nested Domain (aka Domain Forwarding)
A nested domain is a domain name that does not point to the root of an account. Typically, it points to a subdirectory or subsite, but it could also point to a single page. This is the same system as webhost offerings such as “web-forwarding” and so forth, where a domain name is pointed at a long, messy URL. It’s common for people who have sites (usually on free servers) that look like, which by the way was my very first website (now defunct). Rather than making people type that, you would point at it, or whatever. The difference is that it’s pointing to a directory or page, rather than an IP address, so it’s not a “pure” domain (whatever that means). This is achieved using a 301 or 302 (301 is better) redirect.


Sometimes you will have a large site that has discrete sections within it – such as country-specific areas. Sometimes you will want to run an advertising campaign and have a special domain name that resolves directly to a specific area or page within a website.

For example, a local newspaper to me, the Calgary Herald, has a domain called . However, the Calgary Herald was bought a few years ago by Canwest Mediaworks Publications, which also owns newspapers in all the major Canadian cities, and a large number of smaller ones. CanWest owns the very easy to remember domain . Now, when they bought the Calgary Herald, they wanted to keep it’s branding (including the website domain) but bring the newspaper under the super domain – preferably without losing the branding or links that the had acquired. So they created a subdirectory under called and put the newspaper there.

If you are on this page, this is scenario probably similar to one you are thinking about – creating a subdirectory (with it’s own domain) under your main site. There are pros and cons to this.

Cons: It’s not considered to be a separate domain, therefore links will be treated as internal links, rather than cross-domain links. This is good because they “flow” more easily, but bad because they are often worth less. Sometimes it’s better to set up a sub-domain or add-on domain (i.e. in order to maximize the PR benefits of the mini-site.

Pros: This allows you to easily use a common CMS for all the sites, since they are sub-directories, not different domains. You are also able to take advantage of branding from the supersite. Also, if there is a lot of likely cross-linking between the sites, trying to keep them separate is not only usually a waste of time, it can get one or more of the sites penalized because it looks like an artificial attempt at manipulating a linking scheme. Let’s face it, if you are going to be linking heavily between the two because they are related, why are you trying to make it look as if they are not (which is what separate sites looks like)? Another pro is that all the links coming into the nested domains pass PR to the rest of the site easily.

Separate Domain, Subdomain, or Subsite/Nested Domain?

Rule of Thumb:

  • If there will be little or no cross-linking between the domains, then they are basically distinct and should be separate domains.
  • If there will be some to moderate cross-linking, then consider a subdomain.
  • If there will be heavy interlinking, use a subsite.

I know you want to ask me to define “little”, “moderate” and “heavy”, but I can’t. It’s dependent on the site, how big it is, and so forth. If you only link once on a 10 page site, I’d call that “little”, if you linked on every page of a 10 page site, I’d call that “heavy”. After that, it gets a little vague. Worse, if I told you the exact ratio that worked right now, it would probably be different next month. Welcome to SEO.

Just ask yourself, would this link imply to a stranger a relationship between these two sites? If it was just a couple of links, then no. If it was an unusual number of links to one site compared to links to other sites, then it would be clear there was some sort of relationship, and if there were links on almost every page, then it would appear to be a strong relationship (or ownership). That’s what I mean when I say “little”, “moderate” and “heavy” linking – what relationship does there appear to be based on the number of links?

So How Do I Make a Nested Domain?

Easy. First you need to have a place to point it to. It can be a single  page, or a subsite. Then we need to point the domain at that spot.

What to watch for

You want to type in the domain name, but at the end of the day, you want it to resolve and display the subdirectory URL. If you don’t, you will not pass on PR, and you run the risk of duplicate content issues until the search engine figures things out. This indicates a proper redirect.

If you type in:

it will take you to:

AND the new URL will be displayed in the Address bar – not the original domain name. Then you know you’ve done it properly.

If you check the process with a HTTP Header Viewer, you will see a 301 (and often a temporary redirect page). If you see a 302 or 200, then you need to fix that, if possible.

I’ve seen instances where a 302 or even a metarefresh of 0 will work fine (the Calgary Herald site uses the metarefresh) but it’s NOT recommended, for all the reasons I’ve outlined in earlier articles in this series.


At this point, the exact method depends on how you current have the domain set up:

Just bought the domain

Then you go to your domain registrar’s DNS control panel and (if you are lucky) there is an option to do a “web forward” (Bulk Register, et al) or “domain name forwarding” (GoDaddy, et al). What you DO NOT want to do is choose any form of “masking” or “cloaking”.

Then you type in the URL path to where you want to have it resolve. Double check the results with a http header viewer and you are done.

Domain is Pointed at a Separate Account

This is a standard 301 redirect with a twist.

Apache Web Server

You can find detailed help with Apache 301 redirects here.

Instead of putting this in your .htaccess:

Redirect 301 /

You put this:

Redirect 301 /

WARNING: If you do this, ALL domains on that account will be redirected – not just one. If you have multiple domains pointed at an account for redirection, and only want one to be forwarded to the subsite, you need to create a NEW account to do so. One account, one redirect location, as far as domains are concerned.

Internet Information Server – IIS

You can find detailed help with IIS redirects here.

Just as with the Apache server, the rule for domains is one redirect per account. If you want most of your domains redirected to one place, but one redirected to another, you need to create a second account for it.

The process is exactly the same as a normal redirection except that you put in the URL path to the subdomain.

Domain is pointed at root

In this case, you have a domain “parked” on the root, along with the main domain. No problem.

First, remove the park. Either go to the control panel of your domain registrars DNS and do a webforward, as above in the “Just Bought The Domain” section, or if that’s not available to you, create a new account and point the domain there.

Then use the the information in the Domain is Pointed at a Separate Account section.


GeoLocation and Subdirectories

The problem with using a 301 to redirect a ccTLD domain to a subsite dedicated to that country is that the 301 tells the search engine that the old domain (the ccTLD) is no good anymore. That defeats the purpose, in this case.

In this case, you would use a 302 redirect to the appropriate subsite, not a 301. This keeps your original ccTLD active and indexed, allowing the search engine to apply a country to the pages.

Remember to use relative links for this subdirectory, not absolute (or if you use absolute, make sure you use the ccTLD in the URL).

Alternatively, if your DNS control panel allows it, you can “park” the ccTLD on the subdirectory using the CNAME function. Be very careful – it’s easy to set up an infinite loop with a CNAME unless you are careful. Use only one for any given target account unless you really know what you are doing.


Redirecting to a subdirectory is easy – it’s exactly the same as doing a standard redirect, except you define a longer destination URL that includes the final destination.

The difficultly comes before this, when deciding whether to use a subdomain, separate site, or subsite.

Next: Redirects and Error Pages

Main Article

Detailed Technical Information

Specific Scenarios and How To Deal With Them

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