Back in the late eighties and early nineties, the basics of the internet were being taught at schools across the United States. It required a phone line and a complex understanding of various search engines. All websites needed the world wide web before the name. Since this time, technology has advanced and websites are no longer tied down by the old school rules. In modern times, it’s important to understand the concept of subdomains and when it’s appropriate for your business to use them.

Domain names

What is a Subdomain?

Every website URL is broken into different parts. In order to understand subdomains, all parts of the website name need to be clear. Looking at our site name: www.firestarterseo.com, you can see three parts, each separated by a period (or dot).  The top level of the domain name or TLD is the .com. On other sites, the TLD might be .net, .gov, .org, or a number of other names. The next part is the SLD (second level domain) on our site and most websites are the name of the company or website. The TLD follows the dot right after the SLD. It is often called the extension.

The part of the website that comes before the SLD is called the subdomain. In the case of our site, and many others, the www is the subdomain. So you can see that the general structure of the URL is as follows: subdomain.SLD.TLD.

You may have been taught all websites need to start with www (world wide web) to be accessible, but that isn’t true. SLD’s can proceed with almost any word. Using a subdomain can save you from having to purchase a new domain name.

When Should You Use a Subdomain?

Now that you know that you don’t need that standard www in front of every website address, it’s tempting to toss out all the www in your site and replace them with snazzy new names like dinosaurs.firestarterseo.com or bananas.firestarterseo.com. Subdomains can take the place of the subdirectory (that would be the part that comes after the TLD to direct you to the specific part of the site, like the word “blog” in  www.firestarterseo.com/blog. Subdomains give a cleaner look to the web address (blog.firestarterseo.com vs.www.firestarterseo.com/blog).

However, just because you have the power to change your subdomain doesn’t mean you always should. Subdomains are best used when setting up a parallel site to your main site. If you’re running a store, it makes sense to add “store” as your subdomain rather than running it as your subdirectory. This will leave you with shorter subdirectories in the future too.  In the made-up site store.bananasanddinosaurs.com/monkeyfood the subdirectory will focus on the items rather than the longer www.bananasanddinosaurs.com/store/monkeyfood.

Another reason to use a unique subdomain name is to cater to different regions. If your company has different locations across the country or even globally, you can utilize subdomains for those various locations like such as colorado.bananasanddinosaurs.com or sacramento.bananasanddinosaurs.com to differentiate between location sites.

Is a Domain Name Important for SEO?

It seems that there is an eternal argument about how subdomains affect SEO. Many people argue that the subdomain name helps SEO because you can use keywords as your subdomain, leading to search engines pulling your site up more. Many others have argued that it does the opposite and it will hurt your SEO. Both sides have evidence to support their views, but how do you know which one to listen to?

The Pros of a Subdomain

Subdomains can work with SEO to increase your traffic if used properly. With proper use, subdomains can help your SEO by inserting keywords into URLs, improving user experience, and growing a niche authority.

  • Improving User Experience: Sometimes large sites are hard to use and confusing to those trying to access them. Subdomains organize the chaos and make it easier for users to find what they are looking for. If they can find what they need, it’s easier and more enticing for them to come back.
  • Growing Niche Authority: A niche market is less work than building a large-scale authority. Using subdomains builds smaller and smaller markets, resulting in you building your “grand authority” without as much work.
  • Pump Up Search Results: If you’ve watched the Olympics, you’ll see that the countries that have more athletes in each competition have a greater chance of going home with medals. Subdomains can help you in that same way. The more subdomains you have, the more likely you are to appear in the search results.

The Cons of a Subdomain

The pros may have sold you, but hold off on changing all your domain names. There is a downside to subdomains that must be considered.

  • Viewed as separate sites: When using a subdomain, you basically create a separate website, yes, you went from one website to two. This can limit your SEO for both sites. Rather than working together, the sites are now fighting for rankings and hurting each other and in the end hurting you. This is a significant problem because your SEO isn’t cumulative. PageRank is an algorithm that assesses a website’s merit based on its topical relevance and its authority as measured through links and citations, and by splitting your domains, you’re also dividing your PageRank, devaluing your own site. For example, if your homepage has a PageRank of 8 and your blog has a PageRank of four, putting the blog on a separate domain would give it a PageRank of 0 + whatever value is passed from the linking page AND if you have a 301 redirect from the old blog page. The PageRank would not be shared the same way as before.
  • Doesn’t add to your total pages: The more pages your site has, the more opportunities your site has to rank. Using a subdomain shares your page count across the two sites, this could potentially lower your rankings.
  • Subdomains don’t help internal linking: All those beautiful internal links you’ve added to boost your SEO could be viewed as external links, hurting your SEO. Google relies heavily on link metrics, so it’s vital to use them in a way that benefits you.

What is the Solution?

While subdomains are appealing, incorporating them into your site is not a risk-free proposition. If you’re a newbie, then using subdomains can hurt. Just taking a portion of your website and turning into a subdomain won’t suddenly make you a Google sensation.

Google is improving its systems all the time. As it improves, many of the cons surrounding subdomains are disappearing. As Google improves and the cons surrounding subdomains decrease, the pros increase. However, it’s still important to be aware of how subdomains work and what you’re doing so you don’t get caught by surprise with an unpleasant SEO drop.

If you’re interested in exploring subdomains, you don’t need to go alone. An SEO specialist can advise you on the pros and cons of subdomains and help you proceed without ruining your SEO.

You don’t need to stumble around in the dark. We can light a fire and show you the way.