What is a Subdomain and How Does it Affect Your Site’s SEO?

By Neil Patel

Neil Patel portrait
Neil Patel

Article from Neil Patel’s Website…you can read it in its entirety HERE

When navigating the internet you may notice the URL changing as you click from site to site. Sometimes you have a simple URL like www.mysite.com. Or, you might see words added before the site like this, www.shop.mysite.com.

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The word “shop” in this case, is a subdomain and it’s used to differentiate the two websites from each other.

In this guide, you’ll learn what subdomains are, how you can use them, and whether or not they impact SEO.

What Is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is an addition made to a URL string to separate and organize content on a website.

Using a subdomain allows you to partition areas of the site, such as a blog or store, from the main areas of your website.

Each time you see a URL, there are essentially three main parts:

An image of Neil Patel's website, with an arrow pointing to the top-level domain of the URL.
The top-level domain of a URL.

1. Top-Level Domain or TLD: This is the extension at the end. Examples would be, .com, .org, or .io.

An image of Neil Patel's website, with an arrow pointing to the second-level domain of the URL.
The second-level domain of a URL

2. Second-Level Domain or SLD: This is the creative portion of the domain. In Neilpatel.com, Neilpatel would be the second-level domain.

An image of Neil Patel's website, with an arrow pointing to the subdomain part of the URL.
The subdomain of a URL.

3. Subdomain: The subdomain in this scenario would be anything that comes before “neilpatel.” For example, if you go to app.neilpatel.com, the “app” part of the URL is what leads you to the keyword research tool, Ubersuggest. In this case, “app” would be the subdomain and it helps separate the tool from the rest of the site.

Many sites use this to create different sections for organization and user experience purposes.

An image of a Wikipedia page.
An example of Wikipedia uses a subdomain to create different sections of their website.

If we look at the example above from Wikipedia, you’ll see they use one to differentiate the languages across their site. There are many purposes for subdomains, but they’re all used to make the experience easier and faster for the user.

Now you have an answer to “what is a subdomain.” Let’s learn how to create a subdomain.

How to Create a Subdomain

Learning how to create a subdomain is very simple and something you’ll do through your web hosting provider.

Let’s use HostGator as an example.

Step 1: Login to Your account

You’ll first login to your backend and scroll down a little until you find the section for domains.

An image of the backend of Hostgator, showcasing where to find the domain section.
Step one of creating a subdomain.

Step 2: Create a Subdomain

Here you’ll enter the name of your subdomain and the domain you want to attach it to. In this case, I used a tennis site as an example.

An image of the backend of Hostgator, showcasing the subdomain creation page.
Step two of creating a subdomain.

Step 3: Update DNS Records

Once you’ve created the subdomain, you’ll need to add a new domain name system record or DNS. It can take anywhere from an hour to 24 hours for the changes to update and be implemented on your site so don’t expect to jump back in right away.

Subdomain vs. Subdirectory

The biggest misunderstanding is the difference between a subdomain and a subdirectory. Here is an example of a subdomain:

  • App.neilpatel.com

Now, here is an example of a subdirectory:

In the case of a subdirectory, the addition to your URL is still part of the main domain. It’s a part of the website as a whole and doesn’t tell Google that it’s anything different.

Subdomains, on the other hand, intend to stand alone, and want Google to treat them as a separate site.

Subdirectories always come after and subdomains always come before.

The big question of the subdomain vs. subdirectory debate is, which is better for SEO?

The most important thing to understand is that Google treats a subdomain as a separate entity—which means everything you do isn’t associated with the main site. All links and content are not factored into the overall domain rating of your primary domain.

This could be a good or bad thing, depending on your goal.

If you’re doing something completely different on the subdomain that could hurt the reputation of the parent domain, then it could be a good thing. If your subdomain is entirely related to the parent domain and you’re getting all your links and content on that area of the site, then it could be a bad thing.

With customer experience being one of the most important driving factors for businesses this year, I can understand why subdomains seem desirable, but Mr. Google himself has said it:

We do have to learn how to crawl[subdomains] separately, but for the most part, that’s just a formality for the first few days. – John Mueller, Google

In most cases, the difference between the two is extremely minimal, so you’re better off focusing on something else like content audits and mobile optimization.

When Should You Use a Subdomain on Your Website?

Now that you understand some of the differences between subdomains and subdirectories, here’s when you should use one over the other.

Detach From Your Main Site

In some cases, you want to create content or do something on your site but you don’t want it associated with the main page.

Adding a store to your site is a great example of this.

An image of NASCAR's shops homepage, used as an example of when to use subdomains.
An example of when to use a subdomain.

If we look at the image above from Nascar, we’ll see they use a subdomain for their store. This makes sense if you think about the actual purpose of Nascar.com when compared to a Nascar-related e-commerce store.

Nascar.com is trying to rank for time-sensitive news about races and drivers, while the store targets people who want to buy Nascar gear and apparel.

While they’re similar, each URL has its own purpose and should be treated separately for SEO purposes.

Improve Organization

Google tells us that on-page experience is important and so do consumers. If your site is not well organized and is difficult to navigate, people will leave, it’s as simple as that.

Subdomains help you organize your site by…

Article continues…CLICK HERE to read the rest on Neil Patel’s Website.

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