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Are Subdomains Hurting Your Website’s Search Rankings? (SEO Expert Advice)

When it comes to building a website for your new online business or clients, you may assume that you need to register a separate domain for each site. However, subdomains offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative. Not to be confused with subdirectories, they are part of the Domain Name System (DNS) tree structure. You can create a subdomain on any conventional domain, and you can use it as the address for a new website.

Unless you’ve used them to build websites in the past, though, you may assume subdomains are bad for search engine rankings.

So, what is the truth? Are subdomains bad for SEO? Can subdomains rank in Google? How can a subdomain affect your website’s search rankings? Let’s take a closer look.

Overview of Subdomains and How They Work

Subdomains are website domains that precede a second-level domain. Conventional domains typically consist of a protocol, followed by a second-level domain and then a top-level domain, such as https://example.com. The protocol is “https.” the second-level domain is “example.” The top-level domain is the “.com” extension.

When you create a subdomain on a conventional domain, it will appear between the protocol and the second-level domain. All subdomains come after the protocol and before the second-level domain, such as https://subdomain.example.com.

The DNS tree structure features a hierarchy. Top-level domains are at the top of this hierarchy, followed by second-level domains. Below second-level domains are subdomains. Subdomains are low-level DNS elements that are part of a conventional domain.

Google Treats Subdomains Like Separate Domains

While they are connected to a conventional, parent domain, subdomains are treated like separate domains by Google. Google doesn’t view them as an extension of the parent domain to which they are connected. Instead, Google views subdomains as entirely separate domains.

You can create subdomains on low-ranking parent domains without fear of Google restricting the former websites’ search rankings. For organic rankings and indexing, Google will view the subdomains as separate domains. Search engine optimization (SEO) factors of the parent domains won’t affect how Google indexes or ranks the subdomains.

Many hosted content management systems (CMSs) offer plans that come with a subdomain. The hosted versions of WordPress and Shopify, for instance, allow their users to create subdomains on their own official domains. You can create a subdomain on wordpress.com or shopify.com. Thousands of websites use CMS-based subdomains. If they were bad for SEO, they wouldn’t be so popular.

Less Direct Traffic

Your website may generate less direct traffic, however, if you build it on a subdomain. Direct traffic refers to visitors who type your website’s address in a web browser. Visitors can access your website in different ways. They can click a link to it, or they can type the address in a web browser like Chrome. Link clicks are classified as referral traffic, whereas type-in visits are classified as direct traffic.

Subdomains have longer addresses than conventional domains. After all, the address of a subdomain includes that of the parent domain to which it’s connected. Subdomain addresses simply contain an additional DNS element — the subdomain — sandwiched between the protocol and the second-level domain.

Because they are longer than conventional domain addresses, visitors may struggle to remember or correctly type subdomain addresses. Many visitors don’t expect addresses to feature a subdomain. Unless they are familiar with your website, they may not remember the address if it uses a subdomain, or they may fail to type the address correctly. The end result is less direct website traffic.

Fewer Backlinks

Subdomains can affect your website’s ability to acquire organic backlinks. Google has never disclosed the formula to its ranking algorithm. It keeps this information confidential to prevent spammers from manipulating their rankings. But Google’s Andrey Lipattsev confirmed the use of backlinks as a Google ranking factor. 

According to the Search Quality Strategist, backlinks and website content are the top two Google ranking factors. Backlinks, of course, involve another website linking to your site’s address. Backlinks can come in the form of text, or they can come in the form of images. Regardless, other websites must edit the text snippet or image to include your site’s address.

A subdomain will result in a longer and more complicated address for your website. Other websites may struggle to link to it. They may accidentally link to the parent domain (aka main site or root domain), or they may mistype the subdomain part of the address.

When to Use a Subdomain

There are still instances in which you may want to use a subdomain. They are helpful when launching a new website that’s part of an existing site’s brand. You can use a subdomain to launch a blog, for example.

Some blogs are standalone and feature their own unique brand. Other blogs, such as business-related blogs, are part of another website’s brand. If you’re going to launch a business-related blog, you may want to publish it on a subdomain of your business website and add an inbound link from your main domain.

You can also use a subdomain for an e-commerce store. Both e-commerce stores and blogs typically require a CMS. On the DNS tree structure, subdomains are separate elements, so they support their own CMS. With a subdomain, you can use one CMS for your website and a different CMS for your e-commerce store or blog.

Using a subdomain can lead to faster, more thorough crawling from search engines. Google’s spidering bots must crawl your website to analyze its content and, thus, assign your site rankings. If your website contains too many pages, Google may not crawl it completely. It may crawl some of your most popular and frequently updated pages while ignoring other pages.

Google’s spidering bots have limitations. They have a limited number of pages they can crawl on a particular domain at any given time. You can overcome these crawling limits by using a subdomain. The subdomain and the parent domain will have their own crawling limits. Don’t just move a large portion of your website to a subdomain for the sake of crawling. Instead, consider using a subdomain when launching new, separate parts of your website, such as a blog, e-commerce store or even a web app.

Conclusion

So, does subdomain affect Google ranking? While many people assume that subdomains can harm a website’s search engine optimization, the truth is they can actually be advantageous in certain situations. For instance, Google typically views them as separate domains and may even find it easier to crawl their pages.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that there may be drawbacks as well. One potential downside is that subdomains tend to receive less direct traffic and may have difficulty accumulating backlinks from external sources.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to use a subdomain or not should depend on the specific goals and needs of your website. But don’t let fear of potential SEO harm prevent you from considering this option if it might benefit your overall online presence.

Keep improving your SEO efforts, check your domain authority, and use Google Analytics and other SEO tools regularly. It’s always best to carefully evaluate your options before making a decision.

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