Subdomain: Meaning, Examples & When to Use




Updated 2/26/2024

Learn about subdomains, a key part of the Domain Name System (DNS) and URLs. Understand them with simple examples and how-to instructions.

subdomain cover - globe icon and plants

Subdomains are an important part of the Domain Name System (DNS) and they can be a useful method for organizing websites. Like with any site structure factor, subdomains can have a large effect on your site’s SEO and how well your content can be found in search engines like Google.

This guide covers the basics of subdomains and how to use them with your site.

What is a Subdomain?

A subdomain is the part of the URL that comes before the domain, such as “help” in ““. Subdomains are a way to organize different functions of a website under the same domain name.

Each subdomain can host a separate website or a different section of the main website, and search engines tend to treat them like separate entities. Subdomains often have their own distinct content, design, and even hosting environments.

Metaphor Time!

Imagine you have a big house with many rooms. The main entrance to this house is like your main website address, which people use to visit you.

Now, each room in your house can have its own special entrance directly from the outside. These entrances are like subdomains.

They let visitors go directly to a specific part of your house (website) without walking through the main entrance.

So, if you wanted to show someone your garden, instead of them coming through the main door and walking through the house to get there, they could use garden gate.

With websites, this helps organize different sections or functions, making it easier for visitors to access what they seek. ?

When to Use a Subdomain

Using a subdomain depends on specific needs related to your website’s structure, content strategy, and SEO considerations. Subdomains are particularly useful in the following scenarios.

Specialized Content or Services

When you have content or services that differ significantly from your main site, a subdomain can provide a distinct space.

Examples include separate areas for e-commerce (, support (, or a community forum (

Geographic or Language Targeting

Subdomains can offer customized experiences for different regions or languages, such as for the United States or for French-speaking visitors.

This approach can improve user experience and International SEO for specific audiences. Subdomains are particularly useful when you want to create distinct experiences like multi-lingual sites.

Brand or Campaign Specific Sites

For marketing campaigns, events, or sub-brands that require a unique identity, subdomains can serve as a dedicated platform.

However, this isn’t recommended for most purposes. If you want to drive attention and engagement to your site, it’s best to do it on the main domain so it can earn quality backlinks and authority signals.

Development and Testing

Subdomains are ideal for creating development, testing, or staging environments ( that are separate from the production site.

This allows experimentation and development without affecting the live site’s performance or user experience. It also lets developers keep the same subfolder structure without changing how pages are related.

Technical Limitations or Requirements

When technical constraints or specific platform requirements aren’t compatible with the main website, a subdomain can act as a workaround.

For example, if the main site works on a platform like WordPress, but you want to install a different platform for customer service support, you can host it on the subdomain without conflicting with WordPress.

In each of these cases, subdomains offer a level of organization, flexibility, and targeting that can enhance user experience and SEO when used thoughtfully.

However, it’s crucial to weigh these benefits against the potential for diluted domain authority and to ensure that each subdomain has a clear purpose and is fully optimized for search engines.

Subdomains vs. Subfolders

Subdomains ( and subfolders ( offer different advantages depending on your goals.

SEO Considerations

Google treats subdomains like separate sites. If you would like to build organic traffic and authority to your website, you should try to put your content in a subfolder.

However, it’s better to use a subdomain when you want search engines to treat your sites differently. This is best when your subdomain’s content and functionality are so distinct from your main site’s offerings that it’s better to present them differently.

Check out this video with recommendations from Google for more:

Choosing between subdomains and subfolders should be based on strategic considerations, including SEO goals, user experience, content organization, and technical requirements.

While subfolders are often preferred for SEO and simplicity, subdomains offer valuable flexibility for specialized needs or organizational clarity. Below are further breakdowns.

When to Use Subdomains

  • Specialized Content or Services: For content or services vastly different from the main site, subdomains can help organize and separate them clearly.
  • Geographic or Language Targeting: Subdomains are helpful for creating customized experiences for specific countries or languages.
  • Technical or Platform Requirements: When certain technical constraints or platform-specific requirements exist, subdomains can offer a practical solution.
  • Testing and Development Environments: Subdomains are ideal for creating safe testing, development, or staging environments without affecting the main site.

When to Use Subfolders

  • Single Domain Organization: Subfolders consolidate domain authority and simplify link equity distribution, centralizing backlink power and SEO signals.
  • Streamlining User Experience: Subfolders offer a clear and hierarchical structure, making navigation and understanding the site’s layout easier for users.
  • Simplifying Site Management: Managing a single domain with multiple subfolders is more straightforward than managing multiple subdomains.

Making the Decision

The choice between using subdomains or subfolders should be informed by your specific needs, considering the nature of the content, your SEO strategy, and how you want users to interact with your site.

If SEO is a priority, subfolders generally offer the advantage of consolidating domain authority and simplifying content management.

However, subdomains can be the right choice for separating distinct areas of your business or targeting different regions or languages, provided you’re prepared to manage them effectively.

Here’s a table with further considerations to help you decide:

SEO ImpactConsolidate site authority, often improving SEO performance as all content benefits from the main domain’s authority.Consolidate site authority, often leading to improved SEO performance as all content benefits from the main domain’s authority.
Use CasesIdeal for content that warrants a separate entity or requires distinct branding, such as e-commerce platforms, international versions, or support sites.Best for organizing content that is closely related to the main site’s theme, enhancing the site’s structure without splitting authority, such as blogs or service sections.
User ExperienceCan offer a custom experience for specific functions or audiences, potentially improving engagement for segmented parts of your audience.Provides a cohesive and streamlined user experience under a single domain, making navigation and brand consistency easier for users.
Management & CostsRequires separate SEO strategies and management, which can increase complexity and costs.Simplifies site management and SEO efforts under a single domain, potentially reducing costs and administrative overhead.
Technical SetupMay require additional setup for DNS and server configuration, especially for SSL certificates and security measures.Easier to set up and manage, with a single SSL certificate covering all subfolders.

Prioritize clear, strategic planning and consider the long-term SEO implications to ensure you make the best choice for your site’s structure and audience’s needs.

How to Set Up a Subdomain

Setting up a subdomain should be a straightforward process you can accomplish through your web hosting control panel. While this will differ for each hosting provider, the process should be similar. Here’s an overview of the general steps involved:

  1. Access Control Panel: Log in to your web hosting account and navigate to the control panel, often called “cPanel”.
  2. Find Subdomain Option: Look for a section labeled “Domains” or “Subdomains” and select the option to create a new subdomain.
  3. Specify Subdomain Details: Enter the name you want for your subdomain (e.g., “help” for and, if prompted, choose the main domain to which it will be attached.
  4. Directory Assignment: Assign a directory for the subdomain. This is where the subdomain’s files will be located. Often, this step is automatically filled or suggested based on the subdomain name.
  5. Create the Subdomain: Confirm your details and submit to create the subdomain. The process is usually instant, but the subdomain may take some time to become accessible due to DNS propagation.

After creation, you can develop your subdomain’s content or redirect pages as needed.

Bottom Line

Understanding subdomains is helpful for anyone planning their website’s structure for long-term growth. Subdomains allow you to segment significant portions of your site for specific functions. It’s essential to weigh these benefits against the potential SEO advantages of using subfolders to consolidate domain authority.

The ultimate goal is to provide an effective and efficient visitor experience while maximizing your site’s visibility and ranking potential in search engines. If you design your site accordingly, you should be on track for success. ?

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