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I'm working on a services type web application and I have to choose how to set up the URLs for the customers. Which solution is better, as a subdomain (e.g.: client.myservice.com) or as a folder (e.g.: myservice.com/client/) ?

I'm not interested in the SEO value (for the SEO it's better to choose the folders), but the tech/scale/admin aspects.

Thanks!

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6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Do both...

Sub domains are great in that they are easier to type and easier to remember but the extra level of complexity and maintenance required to use them may be more work than you're willing to do.

Instead of setting up 'proper' subdomains just use URLRewrite to fake it.

See this answer on stackoverflow.com to see what I mean.

As an example, look at Google analytics. If you type in analytics.google.com it pushes you to http://www.google.com/analytics/.

The only time I would suggest using subdomains would be if:

  • you're running separate servers under the same domain name (Ex. mail.yourwebsite.com, ftp.yourwebsite.com, etc).
  • your site is a network portal for a bunch of other websites (Ex. blogger where each users blog resides in a sub-domain of blogger).
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The Google Guidelines says, that they handle every subdomain as an "other site". So you have to get good Backlinks for all subs. The PR of the main domain doesn't count for subdomains. So i would prefer Folders.

Each modern httpd can work with aliases and/or apache with mod_proxy. So folders are also scalable, but it's a little more complex.

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I believe subdomains were concocted by marketing types so they didn't have to print (slightly) longer URLs in their expensive print campaigns. They used their vast budgets to pay off a core group of techies who made it technically possible. I say technically, because while we all know it can be done, it certainly isn't a fun task to setup on a large scale basis.

SHH! Don't tell the marketing types that non-techie users can't figure out that you drop the www...so by the time they add it on, you've just made your address longer.....and you've cost yourself extra man-hours doing workarounds to handle those non-techie types.

I shudder to think about the day when my company's Marketing guy comes to us with a "GREAT IDEA!" about switching all our relevant folders over to subdomains. Maybe that'll be a sign that it's time to wander across the street to the post office to inquire about a job delivering all the mail their print campaigns create....

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What @MetalShark said. I would go with subdomains 100%.

Subdomains is a more scalable solutions because you can load balance and segregate customers more easily.

Also, I think many non-tech savvy people don't understand that www.theircompanyname.yourcompanyname.com is actually hosted by you and not them. That means they are more willing to trust a subdomain that looks like their sites URL with yours tacked on to the end. It also disassociates your site which is about selling your product from their subdomain which is about them using your product.

I think beyond scalability using subdomains will make your customers feel more comfortable with using your software and that is a huge plus.

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In our experience here (which is mostly UK-only) users will type in a sub-domain, however they will leave off anything after the domain (like folders). The forward-slash is cumbersome in use as general site visitors get confused with back slashes and just visit the main site to try and find what they want - completely ignoring the rest of the URL.

Having said that though - we also have a glut of users who, despite instruction to the contrary, will always type in www. before any domain that is given.

Our simple advice would be to use sub-domains but also create www. sub-domains hanging off each entry.

Just using folders gives off the false impression that there is little isolation between customers. Also sub-domains will allow you to vary by IP address so that if certain customers demand more resources they can be given isolated servers, etc.

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ugh! Yeah, I saw that the www confuses a lot of users and I'm really annoyed by it. –  Alex Jul 30 '10 at 8:30
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From a maintenance aspect, folders are much easier to handle than subdomains. But most app like highrise or basecamp have their own subdomains per client. Seems like that looks a bit sexier.

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