Subdomains vs Domains

24 May 2024

Subdomain vs Domain: The Differences

Ed Robinson, Lead Software Engineer

Understanding the Basics: Subdomain vs Domain

When it comes to creating and managing a website, it's essential to understand the difference between a domain and a subdomain. These two concepts play a crucial role in how your website is structured and accessed by users. In this section, we'll dive into the basics of domains and subdomains, highlighting their key differences and common uses.

What is a Domain?

A domain is a unique name that identifies a website on the internet. It serves as the main address for your website, allowing users to easily find and access your content. For example, "" is a domain name. Domains consist of two main parts: the root domain (e.g., "example") and the top-level domain (e.g., ".com").

When choosing a domain for your website, it's important to select a name that is memorable, relevant to your brand or business, and easy to type. A well-chosen domain can help improve your website's visibility and make it easier for users to find you online.

What is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is an additional domain component that is added to the beginning of your main domain name. It allows you to create separate sections or entities within your main website. For example, "" is a subdomain of the main domain "".

Subdomains are often used to organize and manage different aspects of a website. They can be used to create distinct areas for specific purposes, such as an online store, a blog, a support section, or a resource center. By using subdomains, you can effectively structure your website and provide a clear hierarchy for your content.

Key Differences Between Subdomains and Domains

While subdomains and domains are related concepts, there are some key differences between them:

  1. Purpose: Domains serve as the main address for a website, while subdomains are used to create separate sections or entities within that website.

  2. Hierarchy: Domains are at the top level of a website's structure, while subdomains are subordinate to the main domain.

  3. SEO Impact: Search engines treat subdomains as separate entities from the main domain. This means that the SEO efforts and rankings of a subdomain may not directly impact the main domain, and vice versa.

  4. Management: Managing subdomains requires additional configuration, such as setting up DNS records and configuring server settings, compared to managing a single domain.

Common Uses of Subdomains

Subdomains are widely used for various purposes, depending on the needs and goals of a website. Some common uses of subdomains include:

  • eCommerce Stores: Many websites use subdomains to create separate online stores, such as "".

  • Blogs: Subdomains are often used to host a website's blog, such as "", to keep it distinct from the main content.

  • Resource Sections: Subdomains can be used to create resource centers or knowledge bases, such as "".

  • Support Sections: Websites often use subdomains for their support or help sections, such as "".

  • Testing and Development: Subdomains can be used to create staging or testing environments, such as "", to try out new features or designs without affecting the main website.

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Pros and Cons of Using Subdomains

When it comes to organizing and structuring a website, marketers and editors have several options to consider. One key decision is whether to use subdomains or create entirely new domains for different sections or products. In this section, we'll explore the advantages and disadvantages of using subdomains and provide guidance on when to choose a subdomain over a new domain.

Advantages of Using Subdomains

  1. Brand Consistency: Subdomains allow you to maintain brand consistency by keeping all related content under the same primary domain. This helps reinforce brand recognition and makes it easier for users to associate different sections of your website with your main brand.

  2. SEO Benefits: Search engines treat subdomains as separate entities, which means they can be optimized independently. This allows you to target specific keywords and improve the search engine rankings of individual subdomains without affecting the main domain's SEO strategy.

  3. Organizational Structure: Subdomains provide a clear organizational structure for your website. By segmenting content into distinct subdomains, you can make it easier for users to navigate and find the information they're looking for. This is particularly useful for large websites with diverse content or multiple product lines.

Disadvantages of Using Subdomains

  1. Dilution of Domain Authority: While subdomains can have their own SEO strategy, they don't inherently inherit the domain authority of the main domain. This means that you'll need to put in extra effort to build the authority and credibility of each subdomain separately.

  2. Potential for Confusion: If not implemented carefully, using subdomains can sometimes lead to confusion among users. They may not immediately realize that the subdomain is part of the main website, which can impact user experience and navigation.

  3. Maintenance and Management: Managing multiple subdomains requires additional effort and resources. Each subdomain needs to be maintained, updated, and optimized separately, which can be time-consuming and require dedicated resources.

When to Use a Subdomain vs a New Domain

The decision to use a subdomain or create a new domain depends on your specific goals and the nature of your content. Here are some scenarios where using a subdomain might be preferable:

  • Distinct Content Categories: If your website covers distinct content categories that are still related to your main brand, using subdomains can help organize and separate that content effectively.

  • Geographic Targeting: If you have a presence in multiple countries or regions, using subdomains for each location (e.g.,, can help with geotargeting and localizing content.

On the other hand, creating a new domain might be a better choice in the following situations:

  • Unrelated Products or Services: If you're launching a completely new product or service that is unrelated to your main brand, a separate domain can help establish a distinct identity.

  • Targeting Different Audiences: If you're targeting a significantly different audience or market segment, a new domain can help create a tailored experience and avoid confusion with your main brand.

Subdomains vs Subdirectories: Another Consideration

In addition to subdomains, another option for organizing website content is using subdirectories (also known as subfolders). Subdirectories are created within the main domain (e.g., and are often used for smaller sections or categories of a website.

Subdirectories are generally easier to set up and maintain compared to subdomains. They also inherently benefit from the main domain's authority and don't require separate SEO efforts. However, subdirectories may not be suitable for larger websites or cases where a clear separation between content sections is necessary.

SEO Impact: Subdomains vs Domains

When it comes to the SEO impact of subdomains versus domains, there are several factors to consider. In this section, we'll explore how search engines treat subdomains and domains, the potential benefits and drawbacks of using subdomains, and best practices for optimizing subdomains for SEO.

How Search Engines Treat Subdomains and Domains

Search engines, such as Google, treat subdomains and domains similarly in terms of crawling, indexing, and ranking. However, it's important to note that subdomains are considered separate entities from the main domain. This means that the authority and ranking power of the main domain may not fully transfer to the subdomain.

Potential SEO Benefits of Using Subdomains

Despite the potential limitations, there are some SEO benefits to using subdomains:

  • Targeting specific keywords: Subdomains allow you to create keyword-rich URLs, which can help improve visibility for specific search queries.

  • Focusing on niche markets: Subdomains can be used to create dedicated sections of your website that cater to specific niches or target audiences.

  • Improving user experience: By separating distinct content or functionality into subdomains, you can provide a better user experience and navigation for your visitors.

Potential SEO Drawbacks of Using Subdomains

While subdomains offer some benefits, there are also potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Diluted domain authority: Since subdomains are treated as separate entities, they may not inherit the full authority of the main domain. This can make it more challenging for subdomains to rank well in search results.

  • Increased management complexity: Managing multiple subdomains can be more complex than managing content within a single domain. It requires additional effort to ensure proper linking, navigation, and consistency across all subdomains.

  • Potential confusion for users: If not implemented carefully, using subdomains can potentially confuse users who may not understand the relationship between the subdomain and the main domain.

Best Practices for Optimizing Subdomains for SEO

If you decide to use subdomains for your website, follow these best practices to optimize them for SEO:

  1. Ensure consistent branding and design across all subdomains to maintain a cohesive user experience.

  2. Implement proper internal linking between the main domain and subdomains to facilitate easy navigation and transfer of link equity.

  3. Optimize each subdomain individually, including title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, and content, to target relevant keywords and improve visibility.

  4. Consider using subfolders (e.g., instead of subdomains if the content or functionality closely relates to the main domain. Subfolders inherently share the authority of the main domain.

Remember, the decision to use subdomains or domains depends on your specific business needs, target audience, and overall website strategy. Carefully weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before making a decision, and always prioritize user experience and SEO best practices.

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Factors Contributing to Successful Website Structure

When determining the optimal website structure, several factors come into play:

  • SEO considerations: Subdirectories tend to have an advantage in terms of SEO, as they inherit the domain authority and benefit from internal linking. Subdomains, on the other hand, may face challenges such as SEO cannibalization and potential brand dilution.

  • Branding and user experience: Subdomains can be effective for creating distinct brand identities for different products or services, while subdirectories provide a more cohesive user experience.

  • Website size and complexity: Large websites with multiple distinct sections may benefit from using subdomains to organize their content, while smaller websites may find subdirectories more manageable.

  • Technical aspects: Site speed, reliability, and ease of maintenance should also be considered when choosing between subdomains and subdirectories. Make sure to learn about URL-mapping, too.

By carefully evaluating these factors and learning from real-world examples, you can make informed decisions about website structure, ultimately driving better results and user engagement.

Technical Aspects of Setting Up Subdomains and Domains

When it comes to setting up subdomains and domains, there are several technical considerations to keep in mind. In this section, we'll dive into the nitty-gritty details of DNS records, name servers, hostnames, and strategies for handling multiple applications on the web. We'll also provide a step-by-step guide to help you set up your own subdomain.

DNS Records and Name Servers

At the core of domain and subdomain setup are DNS (Domain Name System) records and name servers. Every domain should have one or more NS (Name Server) records in the DNS, which specify the name server(s) responsible for serving that domain. These records essentially tell the internet where to find the information associated with your domain or subdomain.

Hostnames and Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDNs)

A hostname is an individual name assigned to a computer or device on a network. When combined with a domain, it creates a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) that uniquely identifies a particular computer in the DNS. The most common hostname is www, which is often used to identify the main web server for a given domain.

Strategies for Handling Multiple Applications on the Web

When it comes to managing multiple applications or sections within a larger website, you have two main strategies to choose from: subdomains and subdirectories. Subdomains can help with code organization and provide increased security, although JavaScript access across subdomains can be tricky. Subdirectories, on the other hand, offer a simpler approach but may not provide the same level of organization or security. Ultimately, the choice between subdomains and subdirectories depends on your specific use case and personal preference.

Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up a Subdomain

  1. Determine whether you want to delegate hosting for your subdomain or keep it on the same server as your main domain.

  2. If delegating hosting, create NS records pointing to the name servers of the hosting provider for your subdomain.

  3. If keeping hosting on the same server, create either an A record (pointing to an IP address) or a CNAME record (pointing to another domain name) for your subdomain.

  4. Configure your web server or hosting platform to recognize and serve content for your new subdomain.

  5. Test your subdomain to ensure it's accessible and functioning as expected.

By following these steps and considering the technical aspects discussed above, you'll be well on your way to successfully setting up and managing your subdomains and domains.

Making the Right Choice: Subdomains vs Domains

When it comes to deciding between using a subdomain or a separate domain for your website, there are several factors to consider. It's essential to align your choice with your business goals and target audience to ensure the best possible outcome.

Factors to Consider When Deciding Between Subdomains and Domains

  • Purpose of the new website section or project

  • Branding and identity considerations

  • SEO implications and potential impact on search rankings

  • Technical aspects and ease of implementation

  • Long-term scalability and flexibility

Aligning Your Choice with Your Business Goals and Target Audience

Before making a decision, take the time to evaluate your business goals and the needs of your target audience. Consider the following questions:

  • Will a subdomain or separate domain better serve your brand identity?

  • Which option will provide a better user experience for your audience?

  • How will your choice impact your SEO strategy and search visibility?

Seeking Expert Advice for Your Specific Situation

Given the complexity of the subdomain vs domain decision, it's often beneficial to seek expert advice tailored to your specific situation. Consider consulting with:

  • SEO professionals who can assess the potential impact on your search rankings

  • Web developers who can guide you through the technical implementation process

  • Marketing experts who can help align your choice with your overall business strategy

Continuously Monitoring and Adapting Your Website Structure

Once you've made your decision and implemented your chosen website structure, it's crucial to continuously monitor its performance and adapt as needed. Regularly assess:

  • User engagement and behavior on your website

  • Search engine rankings and organic traffic

  • Conversion rates and overall business impact

By staying proactive and making data-driven decisions, you can ensure that your website structure continues to serve your business goals and target audience effectively.

In conclusion, the choice between using a subdomain or a separate domain for your website is a significant decision that requires careful consideration of various factors, including branding, SEO, technical aspects, and long-term scalability. By aligning your choice with your business goals and target audience, seeking expert advice, and continuously monitoring and adapting your website structure, you can set your online presence up for success.

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