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I am working on a website project and the client has requested (for reasons of hosting convenience) that the new website be located in a specific folder. This means that all pages will be in www.domain.com/folder instead of just www.domain.com, and they will have a meta instant redirect on the default page for www.domain.com which will redirect to www.domain.com/folder.

I am wondering from a SEO perspective if this is a good idea?

I believe that the meta instant refresh will be treated as a 301 (permanent) redirect by the important search engines so I presume that www.domain.com and www.domain.com/folder will be treated as the same page, and also be considered the same page for link popularity too. Is this correct?

Is there any arguments (preferably with some sort of proof I can give them) that I can use to argue against them doing this?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The problem you're facing is two sided:

  • SEO-wise: pages that are closest to the root are generally seen by search engines as most important. Therefor I would strongly suggest you use the full domainname (e.g. www.domainname.com) as the homepage. If the website has a lot of subdirectories these are placed one level down in the website by default. You would want to keep the amount of subsequent directories to a minimum. On top of that: as Lese states: if you want to change the folder in the future and everyone has linked to www.domainname.com/folder instead of www.domainname.com you need to create 301-redirects for those links to save the link juice.
  • User experience: it's kind of shady, especially for a large educational institution to open in a folder. Back in 2000 it wouldn't be a problem, but with the current user's expectations and experience I would strongly suggest to open the homepage at the root from a user perspective as well.
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An other argument (albeit a small one) is that if you want to offer opensearch on your site. I've found that for example chrome adds your site automatically if the homepage is without a sub directory.

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Apache has a mod_alias feature which I think you could use to get around this problem:-

The directives contained in this module allow for manipulation and control of URLs as requests arrive at the server. The Alias and ScriptAlias directives are used to map between URLs and filesystem paths. This allows for content which is not directly under the DocumentRoot served as part of the web document tree. The ScriptAlias directive has the additional effect of marking the target directory as containing only CGI scripts.

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SEO-wise, there isn't really any problem here. Many sites are configured to use a non-wwwroot path as their homepage. However, using a non-standard homepage URI may have repercussions in the future, because this is the URL that will be bookmarked by visitors. If you ever decide to change the site architecture, you'll have to keep an extra redirect for the homepage.

Additionally, I would avoid using a meta refresh for the redirect. Google and Bing may know to treat it as a 301, but it's not a 301. As such, other services, e.g. social bookmarking sites or link sharing sites, aren't guaranteed to treat it as a 301.

There's also the problem of meta refresh returning a blank referrer from most browsers, which will make it difficult to set up proper analytics. It's much better to just use a proper 301 redirect.

Most shared hosting providers allow you to set your docroot to whatever you want and rewrite/redirect URLs server-side. If your client doesn't have access to these features, then they're very likely using a substandard web host. It'd be better to nip the problem in the bud and just choose a new web host rather than seeking a band-aid solution to these abnormal restrictions. Otherwise, your client is likely to encounter more serious problems in the future by using a shoddy web host.

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My client is a large educational institution and the hosting situation cannot be changed. However, they can change to not use a folder, they just don't want to. Thanks for the advice. –  John Feb 16 '12 at 4:12

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