What is a subdomain? This is a question frequently asked by newcomers to computing, or those planning to launch their first website but are unsure of how web hosting actually works. Type “What is a subdomain” into Google and almost eight million results are displayed. And while it’s doubtful many people will reach page 784,000 of Google’s results, subdomains are clearly causing a degree of confusion.
So what is a subdomain?
As its name suggests, a subdomain is a division of a domain name – the unique identifier for a website. It appears after the transfer protocol, but before the domain name itself. So for example, a bicycle store’s blog might have a web address of https://blog.bicyclestore.com. The ‘blog’ part is a subdomain of the main bicyclestore domain, while .com is the top level domain, or TLD. This takes one of two forms:
- A country code TLD (.uk for the United Kingdom, .fr for France, etc.)
- A generic TLD, like the three-letter abbreviations for a company or an organization.
It’s important not to confuse subdomains and subdirectories. Continuing the bicycle store example, bicyclestore.com/blog would be a subdirectory. It is regarded as part of the main root domain rather than a separate entity since it’s clearly a subsidiary of the root address.
Why would I use a subdomain?
There are various reasons why subdomains are useful:
#1. They create different subsites within a single hosting.
Imagine you trade in America and Canada. Launching usa.bicyclestore.com and canada.bicyclestore.com provides a clear demarcation between the countries. Each site can have bespoke subpages, with unique content on usa.bicyclestore.com/blog and canada.bicyclestore.com/blog. You could even launch quebec.bicyclestore.com, written in French rather than English.
#2. They’re ideal for individual accounts or profiles.
When creating a Blogger page, its address appears as blognamehere.blogspot.com. A company could easily host a thousand user accounts within one location, giving each one its own identity and search engine appeal. Providing none of these accounts are associated with spam, the root domain will benefit from association with a thriving ecosystem of subdomains.
#3. They segregate traffic intended for different purposes.
Subdomains may be treated as separate entities by search engines, achieving their own ranking results. This is useful when attempting to separate the homepage (usually a designated landing page) with more niche content like a blog. Directing traffic to blog.bicyclestore.com creates a distinct destination for Google and Bing, instead of sending visitors to bicyclestore.com/blog, which is clearly part of the root website.
#4. Some parts of a site outgrow their host.
We mentioned blogs in the last point, which frequently outgrow parent sites. Web analytics specialist Kissmetrics has launched a dedicated subdomain for its blog, with posts alone occupying 203 pages of results. That would bog down the primary site if it was all hosted at kissmetrics.com/blog. But having it located at blog.kissmetrics.com ensures the parent site runs as smoothly as you’d expect from the gurus of online marketing and testing.
#5. They’re good for hosting mobile sites.
This is less of an issue now responsive websites are becoming the norm, but there are still circumstances where a dedicated mobile site is recommended. Facebook remains a high-profile advocate of redirecting tablet and smartphone traffic to an m. subdomain. Some firms argue a dedicated mobile site provides a better mobile experience for consumers than resizing a desktop site.
It’s clear that subdomains and subdirectories serve different roles, though both perform equally well in search engine ranking results. And speaking of Google, you won’t need its assistance next time someone asks “so what is a subdomain, exactly?”
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