Subdomains have been around for a long time, but it’s only quite recently that internet marketers learned how invaluable they can be. In fact, there had been a time when using subdomains were thought to be ultimately bad for SEO.
However, with search engines constantly changes with every cat, dog and bird update, many small business owners and internet marketers are clamoring at anything that can even remotely increase views and ranking.
This has given birth to loads of white-hat, grey-hat and black-hat SEO marketing tactics.
One of those marketing tactics used by many to boost their rankings is using subdomains.
Once considered gray-hat, making use of subdomains for the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings for specific keyword or keyword phrases is now considered black-hat SEO.
But don’t lose hope just yet as subdomains can be ethically and effectively used via white-hat SEO tactics and strategies.
These are popular mainstream websites that offer services that allow for users to create their very own websites using subdomains instead of subdirectories.
So to take a step back before we venture to far down the path of subdomain SEO. Let’s take a moment to define domains, subdomains and subdirectories.
Domains, subdomains and subdirectories
We’ll take a real quick and dirty overview here for the novice just venturing into domains, subdomains and subdirectories.
First, let’s start with domains. Your domain is what you host your website on.
For example, let’s say you’re name is Tom Kendrick and you’re a real estate agent in Houston, Texas with a specialization in selling high-end or luxury lofts.
As most real estate agents tend to do when it involves their website, you decide to build a website using your name, TomKendrick.com.
TomKendrick is the domain and the extension of the domain is .com.
Now if you wanted you could create a subdirectory using TomKendrick.com and name it “houston-luxury-lofts”.
Therefore, search engines and visitors could find more information about your Houston luxury loft specialization at the following address: TomKendrick.com/houston-luxury-lofts.
So now you have a basic understanding of domains and subdirectories. Now, onto subdomains.
Subdomains are just the reverse of subdirectories. Instead of adding keywords to the right of the extension (.i.e, .com, .net, .org, .co, etc.), you’re able to add keywords to the left of the domain and the extension.
So, instead of TomKendrick.com/houston-luxury-lofts as your page url, you could simply create a subdomain url like the following: Houston-Luxury-Lofts.TomKendrick.com.
Now this may not appear to be a benefit to Tom’s business or even your own business. But let’s make it make sense.
Owning your SEO destiny and value
Let’s say you owned the premium domain name LuxuryLofts.com and wanted a SEO advantage for the hottest locations on earth for luxury lofts.
You could simply create subdirectories for countries, states, provinces, cities, etc.
However, the SEO value would be attributed to LuxuryLofts.com which would be great for you but could spell SEO disaster if you leased or rented subdirectories on a domain to other companies or real estate agents.
In short, their SEO value for the subdirectory created would become yours instead of their own.
This is where subdomains are quite different than subdirectories.
Subdomains have their own distinct SEO value unlike subdirectories.
So, Austin.LuxuryLofts.com and LuxuryLofts.com/Austin are two different animals with two different SEO values for domain authority.
So, what does this mean? Well, for starters, it is you that needs to own the domain name.
However, if you are unable to own the domain name and run across a company or person leasing or renting a premium domain name, then you want to make sure you get a subdomain and not a subdirectory for the sole sake of owning your SEO destiny and value.
Why you should and should not use subdomains
There’s kind of a love-hate relationship between online marketers and subdomains.
Many still use them this very day, but some have sworn them off for life due to their website being severely penalized or de-indexed by search engines due to their deceptive SEO use to garner page one rankings.
Subdomains increase rankings and website traffic
There are reasons why subdomains may not be the best option but it’s generally worth a try.
Some search engines treat subdomains as different websites from one another, so each and every top-level page can rank on a keyword without affecting other pages unlike subdirectories.
This could be huge for your website’s SEO and search rankings. Why?
Most search engines disregard any page more than two clicks away from the site’s homepage, making it quite difficult to get a higher rank and a more targeted audience with subdirectories.
Yahoo! and some other search engines may refuse submissions if the URL belongs in the same domain, but will gladly accept subdomains.
As a side note, Google uses subdomains, but has not shared this preference over subdirectories since 2007, and so search engine results are not affected by subdomains.
Subdomains brings targeted audience to your website’s front door
Does your business target local customers or focus on a general location, city or group of cities, or geographic region?
Well, you may want to consider using subdomains.
A website’s subdomain can be replaced with a location, so that the content of the website can be changed based on the area.
This gives you, the website owner, a SEO edge when it comes to relating more to readers from a part of the country, city or geographic region.
This type of use of subdomains is perfect for businesses that offer different services based on location.
An even more practical application can be used for websites that use different languages.
Bring effective separation and organization to a domain name using subdomains
The most important purpose of using subdomains is the ability to present different products and product lines from a variety of departments or subsidiaries from the same company across multiple websites.
This allows your to know that they’re still on the same website managed by the same company, yet it’s just on a different page.
What’s even more interesting is the fact that each and every subdomain is most of the time free to create, and can be maintained just like every other page on your website.
Instead of incurring the cost of additional domain names and their annual registration fees, you can create as many subdomains as you want at no cost.
Of course, there are downfalls to using subdomains too.
Since subdomains are considered separate websites, managing them can go from easy to downright nightmarish and in short order.
It’s also necessary that each subdomain’s content is different to avoid the duplicate content penalty.
So, if you’re thinking that all you have to do is write content, place images on a page and then dynamically change the city name or whatever other variable(s) you’re thinking of, don’t try it.
You can and will get penalized for having duplicate content across multiple subdomains.
It happens all of the time. Managing subdomains that share the same content is something you can easily overlook when managing multiple sites at the same time.
In addition, marketing efforts can easily double or triple depending on how many subdomains you have, and the results can come slow especially if you’re looking at each subdomain separately.
In short, if and when improperly used, these subdomains can easily do you more harm than good.
Are subdomains right for my business?
So, the better question is, what is your intent of use for subdomains?
To answer this question, as always, it all boils down to whether website and page content are valuable enough for the readers and unique enough for the search engines to be viewed as value-add content.
If you’re only use of the subdomain is to provide less than stellar, non value-add content that is scraped, spun or just a keyword salad or keyword-laden content, then you will be wasting your time using subdomains and your efforts will be considered just another black-hat SEO tactic when used in a clumsy or irresponsible manner as mentioned.
But when used in a search-safe manner, subdomains can prove to be the one sound strategy that effectively increases traffic and search value for a website, generating more targeted customers and sales.