When you’re searching for a new domain name or your very first one, you’ve probably come across the term subdomain.
To those just getting started, this can be a little confusing. But, chances are, you’ve already come across a subdomain or two during your time online, especially if you’ve ever used a site like Craigslist. So, they’re more common than you might think.
By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll have a thorough understanding of what a subdomain is, how they work, and why they’re used for. Then, you’ll be able to decide if using a subdomain is right for your website.
What Is a Subdomain?
A subdomain is an entirely separate part of our website that still operates under the same main domain. For example, your primary domain could be “catlover.com,” while your blog could be on a subdomain at “blog.catlover.com.”
You can think of your subdomain as an additional aspect to your primary domain name.
By using a subdomain vs. a domain name, you give yourself the ability to create an entirely separate portion of your website without the hassle of having to set up a brand new site or deal with confusing domain redirections.
For example, let’s say you’re building a massive resource directory that’s going to be filled with helpful tutorials, user guides, and all kinds of other goodies. Chances are the structure of this, and the overall layout will be different than the core of your website.
So, instead of trying to make it work within the existing scope of your website, you’ll rely on a subdomain to give you the freedom of a new website, while still retaining the original main domain name. Typically, subdomains are used for a specific purpose that allows you to address the needs of your visitors.
Subdomains can also be used for creating a separate company blog page. You’ll see this a lot with online startups and eCommerce shops.
Still, there are a lot more uses for subdomains, which we’ll cover in greater detail below.
When Should I Use a Website Subdomain?
Whenever you’re thinking of using a subdomain, you should do so with serious thought.
Although it’s pretty easy to create a subdomain, they don’t offer the best user experience for your visitors without the proper planning.
Here are the most common reasons for deciding to use a subdomain under your root domain.
1. Cater to Different Product Lines or Markets
Subdomains can be very helpful when you have a large and expansive business that caters to multiple markets.
For example, maybe you have a main site that caters to different markets and languages across the globe. Or, you target different niches that are entirely unrelated to one another. If so, then using a subdomain will help to differentiate each group of users you’re targeting, so there’s no cross-pollination.
For example, we can look at Disney. They have a multitude of different subdomains that all cater to an entirely different aspect of their business. Just take a look at “cars.disney.com” and “princess.disney.com”. Both sites look and operate very differently and they cater to different types of people as well.
If your business is large enough, each subdomain will effectively act as its own unique entity, operating under the umbrella of your primary domain name.
Essentially, a subdomain gives you the ability to speak to the unique needs of different markets while not having to create an entirely new website every time you want to do so.
2. Separate Dedicated Site Resource Sections
Like we mentioned above, you might be running a website that requires an extensive resource or tutorial section. Usually, these are content heavy, so you’ll need a way to present this content in a way that’s organized and intuitive to navigate.
So, here you’ll be using a subdomain to create a separate part of your website that looks and functions differently. The overarching goal isn’t to generate traffic but instead, to help and support your visitors.
People who will be using this resource section will already be familiar with you and your main site, so the subtle domain change will seem natural and won’t have a negative impact on your overall user experience.
3. Host Your Company Blog
Some website owners might even want to isolate their company blog, so it’s separate from the rest of the site. This isn’t the most common approach, but it can have certain advantages depending on the type of site you’re running.
This is a common approach that’s taken in the eCommerce niche. When you’re running an eCommerce store, you’ll need a high level of security and specific software in place to safely and effectively process transactions. Since this might require a different software setup, it doesn’t make sense to run this configuration on your blog as well.
So, you create your company blog on your subdomain. You can even install a CMS like WordPress to help you more easily manage your blog.
Or, the opposite can be true as well, where you host your eCommerce shop on a “shop.mydomain.com” subdomain, and run the rest of your site on your primary domain.
You also see this approach across the startup space as well. Companies may place a higher value on their web app, or SaaS tool, so they host their blogs on the “blog.startupname.com” subdomain and market their service on the main “www.startupname.com” site.
Generally, if you are going to be hosting your blog on a subdomain you’ll want to do so because it makes organizational sense when you’re building out your site.
Advantages to Using a Subdomain
As you’ve learned by now subdomains are a very common way to organize your website. They aren’t as common as sites that only use a primary domain name, but they still have applicable use cases.
Here are the most common advantages to using a subdomain.
1. Create Test Campaigns/Content
Let’s say you’re thinking about adding new sections to your site, but you’re not sure if your audience will be receptive.
All you have to do is create a subdomain, and then create your new landing page, opt-in page, or whatever else your campaign requires.
Then, you can send traffic to this page to see how it performs. If it does well, then you can add it to a page on your primary campaign. Or, you can simply delete the subdomain without any changes to your primary domain.
This allows you to quickly test and create experiments without having to change the design or interfere with the rest of your existing website.
2. Assist With Brand Growth
Subdomains can be a useful way to grow your brand without having to create an entirely new website. For instance, let’s say you have a generic sports website and you want to expand your reach to every sport under the sun.
Instead of overcomplicating your existing URL structure, you can simply create different subdomains for each sport, so you’ll have URLs like “golf.mysportsite.com”, or “football.mysportsite.com”. This will take more work, but it allows you to create a large online brand without having any crossover between the different sub-sites. For example, visitors looking for the latest football scores might not be interested in who’s leading at the Masters.
This can be an effective way to spread your brand around the web, while organizing your growing database of content at the same time.
This is a similar approach to how sites like Disney and Craigslist organize their websites.
3. Build Separate Sites Under a Single Domain
Usually, when you build out your site you’re basically stuck with your existing design. Sure, there are tools like page builders, and you can always custom code certain site elements, but the overall structure will remain the same.
If you want more flexibility, then you can rely upon subdomains to help you create a section of your site that uses a different design from the ground up.
Maybe you want to create a separate web app, or a web-based tool that will enhance your site? Using a subdomain will give you this unique advantage.
Disadvantages to Using a Subdomain
Although subdomains can serve a variety of purposes, they won’t be perfect for every situation. In fact, they do come with some distinct disadvantages.
Here are the biggest drawbacks you’ll experience when using a subdomain.
1. Requires More Work With Long-Term Assets
When you’re utilizing a subdomain you’re essentially building another asset that you need to maintain. If you’re using a subdomain to build out a support site, then this will be easier.
But, if you’re creating an entirely separate site, then this will be effectively doubling your workload. You’ll need to maintain your subdomain site, create content, build backlinks, and everything else required to help make it a success.
For large teams, this won’t be an issue, but solopreneurs running their own sites might find this additional workload impossible to manage. Instead, you may want to opt for a single domain and use a subfolder like “mysite.com/blog” instead.
2. Can Create an Inconsistent Brand Experience
If you’re planning on hosting your company blog on a subdomain, then you’ll need to think about maintaining a consistent brand experience.
Even if you’re using a CMS or platform that’s different from your main website you’ll still need to think about creating a brand experience that remains the same no matter where your users happen to be across your site.
If you’re using a separate CMS, then it might be difficult to match your existing design. Or, you might have to hire a professional designer to design a theme that matches that of your existing site.
3. Potential SEO Downsides
We’ll dive into this point in greater depth below, but there can be potential SEO issues when using a subdomain.
Generally, Google will view your subdomain and standard domain as a single site. But, this isn’t always the case. As you browse through the search results for any given keyword you’ll probably find that primary domains show up much more frequently than subdomains.
Keep reading to learn more about the SEO implications of using a subdomain.
Subdomains and SEO
The debate surrounding SEO and subdomains still rages on. However, in general, using a subdomain won’t hurt your search results.
In the past, a subdomain was treated entirely separately from the root domain. So, naturally, people would take advantage of this and rank their subdomains and root domains for a given keyword.
Google fixed this by treating subdomains and domains roughly the same way.
However, some SEO pros will disagree with this sentiment. Usually, it’s because it takes much more effort to rank a subdomain for a given keyword, than the standard top-level domain.
Moz actually recommends not using a subdomain for your company blog. Although there shouldn’t be any negative implications from using a subdomain, they found that in a handful of cases it did actually impact rankings.
Generally, building links to a subdomain will require more work, especially if you’re using multiple subdomains that are all directed towards different markets and verticals. Google won’t devalue your site or your rankings for creating subdomains (according to their guidelines), but it won’t give you a boost either.
Is a Subdomain Right for Your Site?
Hopefully, by now you can answer a lot more than the simple question, “What is a subdomain?” Now that you understand what a subdomain is and why they’re used, it’s time to ask yourself if it’s actually beneficial to your website to use a subdomain.
In some scenarios they might actually make sense, but for most website owners sticking with a single primary domain name will probably make more sense—at least in the beginning stages of your site.
As you decide whether or not to add a subdomain to your site make sure you keep the above points in mind. Luckily, most hosts (including HostGator) allow you to add multiple subdomains for free. This gives you the freedom to experiment, before deciding what’s right for your current website.