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Besides the SEO issues, are there any legit long term benefits from having one type of URL vs the other from the following list:

example.com/learning-how-to-fish.html - Page name only

learning.example.com/fishing.html - Sub-domain

example.com/learning/how-to-fish.html - Folder use

Google's policies on trivial things link this seem to change often, which makes me only slightly interested in the SEO perspective. But is there any other good reason of one vs the next? I've seen info on using subdomains, but it's all several years old and usually only compares them to folders instead of the other option, which is to not use folders at all.

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I want to mention some factors that may help better decide what you need and be comfortable with it.

When I started my website I had same kind of dilemma (you want everything to be ideally organized), so now I'll explain how my taste changed toward this:

First I liked the idea to split different subjects on subdomains like:

  • users.site.com
  • poets.site.com
  • music.site.com etc..

but somehow there may be some trouble managing subdomains (especially when using shared-hosting, they not always let you manage this kind of things as you wish), also subdomains have different system of ranking. Moving website also may have some troubles etc..

Having directory structure is nice, I used this too and I love it, but some says that you should not go too deep with it and it's better to have 2 or max 3 branches (for readability, for seo and just to be flexible).

Having extensions is redundant like: .html. I started with .htm because I liked that idea, every page was able to download pdf and doc versions and in my url I would just change extension for different that purpose:

  • site.com/poets/poems/poem-name.htm
  • site.com/poets/poems/poem-name.pdf

like that, I liked that first time but next I thought it was redundant for .htm and would make url a bit less readable. but it's matter of taste.

Finally I prefered: site.com/poets/poems/dsa-poem-name

What about dsa I created number masking tool with letters using all the latin alphabet symbols, doing is good for some reason, even long ids look smaller in size. I mean having ids in url is good for some reason: if you somehow misspell the words in your url you can change later and do 301 redirects by depending on id, for example:

  • if u had ../dsa-poem-neme and change later with ../dsa-poem-name the url ../dsa-poem-neme will still work by redirecting to correct form, and you identify entry by converting dsa in number ex: 13412, and check if urls does not match redirect to correct one, without showing the 404 (this case you don't lose users visiting old version of incorrect urls).

most use ids itself but it does not look nice for eyes with my opinion, and letter better fit in.

So finally I recommend to do:

  • folder structure, with 2 or 3 max branches
  • having identifier in url (at the beginning or at the end of it)
  • don't use redundant fake file extensions like: .html
  • extra tip: don't allow slashes at the end of url like: ../dsa-poem-name/, it's more beautiful without it.
  • Thank you for this detailed answer. However, I'm still a little confused as to why you're wanting this dsa ID in your site exactly, and why that's better than just having well formulated URLs to begin with? Also, why do you consider .html a 'fake' file extension? Finally, all sites inherently have the trailing / at the end of the URL, how is that we can make it not allowed for display at the end of our URL? – Tony DiNitto Aug 4 '16 at 17:40
  • 1. having identifier may be good for some reason: dont need to index url name in db, also be able to modify url if somehow needed (in my experience it's important for my case - I run literature website.), in changing I mean if someone has old url still be able to access the page. – George Garchagudashvili Aug 4 '16 at 18:18
  • 2. .html I meant that indeed it's not real existing file but rewritten url, that's all, but sure it's up to you to add it, I liked it at first also, but removed later, and it feels better. – George Garchagudashvili Aug 4 '16 at 18:19
  • 3. how you can remove trailing slashes can be seen here: stackoverflow.com/questions/21417263/… personally I prefer without it, anyway fr seo as I heard before is good to always choose one, if u prefer slashes always to be redirected urls with ending slashes, or removed – George Garchagudashvili Aug 4 '16 at 18:21
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A lot of it is vanity related.

The benefit of using folder names instead of file names is that you can ditch file extensions on the URL, so if you put an index.html file inside of the example.com/learning/how-to-fish/directory, that index file is displayed. This gets some more intuitive site folder architecture for you and your visitors. So instead of:

example.com/learning-how-to-fish.html
example.com/learning-how-to-drive.html
example.com/learning-excel.html

you could get:

example.com/learning/how-to-fish/
example.com/learning/how-to-drive/
example.com/learning/excel/

Folders vs. subdomains is basically up to your overall design/architecture strategy. Lots of folks use subdomains for sites/microsites/landing pages that different greatly in content and/or design to keep things organized.

So ultimately it is definitely a good idea to use folders over just files, but subdomain use is up to you and your content creators.

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    Except sub-domains might be treated as as a separate web site from example.com for a while. Matt Cutts from Google: youtube.com/watch?v=_MswMYk05tk – Rob Aug 3 '16 at 18:31
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To avoid confusion you can have this approach

  1. example.com/Fishing/how-to-catch-cat-fish
  2. example.com/Driving/how-to-drive-a-4x4
  3. example.com/Biking/how-to-ride-a-bike

the thing about subdomain is that your subdomain might outrank your main domain and you don't want that to happen.

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