What Is a Subdomain and Do You Need One?

Getting a Subdomain
Getting a Subdomain

by Homerun Nievera, Negosentro.com

A subdomain is an optional part of a website’s domain name that can sometimes help to improve navigation. Whether or not you need one will depend on a few factors.

Before we get too far ahead in our discussion of subdomains, let’s breakdown an example URL, such as: blog.example.com.

It is composed of three parts, separated by periods:

  • A Top Level Domain, sometimes abbreviated as TLD or referred to as a domain extension. In the example above, the top level domain is .com. There are also country code top level domains, like .au (Australia), .uk (United Kingdom) or .ca (Canada), and new generic top level domains (gTLDs) like .play or .sport.
  • A Second Level Domain, which in the example above is the word “example.” Second level domains are usually just called “domain names.” Choosing a domain name can be a little tricky if your ideal name is already spoken for. There are also guidelines to keep in mind, such as making a user-friendly domain name that is easy to spell and remember.  

 

  • A Subdomain, which is entirely optional but has some practical uses. “Blog” is the subdomain in the example above. It represents a subsection of the website, and can sometimes be as short as a single letter long. “M” is a common subdomain that represents the mobile version of a website, for example.

 

When to Use Subdomains

Subdomains are particularly useful in a handful of situations, such as:

 

  • To target specific locations. Craigslist is an excellent example of this type of subdomain. Each major city or region is given their own version of the site, and to access it you simply type cityname.craigslist.com. Depending on the nature of your site, this might make sense for your audience too. Does the content of your site vary depending on the user’s geographic location? Are there different versions of the site in different languages? Then a location-specific subdomain may be appropriate.
  • For adaptive mobile sites. There are two types of mobile sites: responsive and adaptive. Responsive sites rearrange their formatting to fit any size screen, whereas adaptive sites recognize which device they are being displayed on and show an optimized version of the site. These adaptive sites often have “m” or “mobile” subdomains in order to have a convenient place to store the mobile version.
  • For specific users. Are there different groups of people who visit your website for very different reasons? If so, you might consider setting up a subdomain for each. “Admin” is a common subdomain for various websites. Testers, contributors, developers and members might all see different versions of the site, and a subdomain also gives them an easy “portal” to use.

 

Why Subdomains Are Not Always Necessary or Recommended

Subdomains are simply another option for organizing the navigation of your site. Subfolders are the default way to set up a site’s pages. Instead of blog.example.com, a subfolder would appear as example.com/blog.

Subfolders get the job done, and if your only motivation for using a subdomain is to look trendy or sophisticated, you might as well use subfolders. They are typically free to set up, whereas subdomains sometimes cost an extra fee.

Subfolders are also more likely to be indexed correctly be search engines than subdomains, which might be treated as completely separate websites. Because of this, any marketing efforts you put toward the main domain may completely bypass the subdomains. For best results, each subdomain should have its own marketing strategy, including SEO and PPC.  

Some marketers will see this as an advantage, because you can theoretically create a network of backlinks to support the main website and boost its search engine rankings. But in many situations, it simply doesn’t make sense to spend time and money duplicating marketing efforts for a subdomain when subfolders work just as well.

Getting a Subdomain

Various web hosts approach subdomains in different ways. Some treat them as separate websites, just like search engines, whereas others will allow you to add a limited number of subdomains to a website for free.

Either way, to get a subdomain, consult your web host. Remember that if you don’t like your current host’s subdomain services or deals, you can always switch hosts.

In short, you can ask 10 different marketers for an opinion on subdomains and get 10 different answers. When in doubt, take a look at what your competitors are doing. Do they use subdomains? Is it messy or helpful? How much would it cost you to do the same?

Let us know which side of the subdomain debate you fall on in the comments below.

Homer Nievera caricature

Homerun Nievera

Homerun Nievera is the publisher of Negosentro.com and WorldExecutivesDigest.com. He has interests in several tech and digital businesses as director and chief strategist.

Homerun is a digital evangelistcontent marketer and lifelong learning advocate. Homerun is the “He Said” in the popular Facebook Page He Said, She Said.

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