The attention of SEOs was driven to subdomains when Matt Cutts himself suggested to HubPages, an online publishing platform that was severely hit by the Google Panda update, to utilize subdomains to remedy the over 50 percent decline in their traffic.

The practice of using subdomains is similar to inserting keywords in website domains. This is even better though because your website won’t be viewed with the same leery regard users often have for keyword-stuffed URLs. What’s more, Google and other search engines will treat your pages with subdomains as entirely new websites and index them separately.

What is a Subdomain?

Simply put, a subdomain is part of a main website. However, unlike with a subfolder or subdirectory, it is considered as a separate domain by search engines.

Note the hierarchy that exists in the illustration for subfolders and the lack thereof for subdomains.

The Domain Name System as one can see, has a hierarchical structure. While a domain name occupies one node of this tree-like structure, a subdomain is part of a larger domain. Thus, if you have a domain that reads ‘sample.com’ then examples of subdomain would be ‘mail.sample.com’ and ‘calendar.sample.com’. If you were to see the domain of an educational institute for instance, then the domain might read as ‘school.edu’, its subdomains would read as ‘department-of-history.school.edu’ or ‘department-of-applied-art.school.edu’.

Benefits and Uses

If you read website management articles and participate in forums, you’ll find that many veterans would discourage people from using subdomains, especially for those who are just new to website management. It’s very similar to managing two or more websites if you do this, and that could be tricky for newbies.

Once you get past that disadvantage though and you successfully carry out the subdomains of your site, the advantages you can get would outweigh the hassles and demands of taking care of more than one site. Consider Matt Cutts’ take on this:

My personal preference on subdomains vs. subdirectories is that I usually prefer the convenience of subdirectories for most of my content. A subdomain can be useful to separate out content that is completely different. Google uses subdomains for distinct products such news.google.com or maps.google.com, for example. If you’re a newer webmaster or SEO, I’d recommend using subdirectories until you start to feel pretty confident with the architecture of your site. At that point, you’ll be better equipped to make the right decision for your own site.

That’s from 2007; Cutts reiterated this stance more recently.

Here are the things you can accomplish by creating subdomains for your website:

  • It actually isn’t that difficult to manage subdomains if you adopt the same formats, styles, and site mapping used in your main website. Besides, any trustworthy SEO company can help you manage subdomains without too much work on your part.
  • By creating subdomains, you can insert keywords into your URL without creating and registering a new website, or committing the blunder of using keyword-rich domain names that are entirely different from your business name.
  • The organized nature of subdomains further improves user experience.
  • As shown in the diagram above, there is no hierarchy between subdomains and main domains, and both are separately ranked by search engines. Say you create a subdomain for a particular portion of your site, like your Products. Should this part rate poorly according to search engine algorithms, only the Products subdomain will suffer the lower page rank, not the entire website. You can therefore isolate a poorly-performing part of your website (which, for any reason, you cannot remove), you can assign it under a subdomain. Likewise, if there is a very promising are in your website that you want capitalize on, assign it under a subdomain and let it rank separately in the SERPs.
  • You can minimize the impact of A/B testing on SEO, by placing the tested content into a subdirectory
  • Subdomains will help boost the authority of your site. In as much as subdomains are treated as separate entities, the accomplishments of each will also reinforce the ranking of the main domain.

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  • You can assign different IPs for each of your subdomains. If there’s a need to host content in different servers, it will be easier for you to do it on these pages.
  • You can maximize your geo-targeted pages by creating them as subdomains instead of subfolders (ex: ” uk.yourbusiness.com” instead of “www.yourbusiness.com/uk/”).
  • Information on a website can be organized in a better manner. Each “department” of the website can be assigned a specific name and the user is left with compartmentalized information that is easy to assimilate. This is even more useful when you have a rather popular or well-visited website. The load balancing feature of using subdomains will help in sorting out the information.
  • Using subdomains also helps assign each computer a specific IP address. Taking the example of the school.edu domain. There could be two separate servers for department-of-history.school.edu’ and ‘department-of-applied-art.school.edu’ and each of these servers can have a separate IP address and contain all the information that is relevant to that department.
  • Subdomains can also be created rather flexibly. A domain can have as many subdomains as needed and you do not have to pay annual fees or other fees for the same.

About The Author: Emma-Julie Fox blogs on online marketing, web design and social media marketing best practices. She writes for Pitstop Media Inc, Vancouver – a company that provides SEO services to businesses across North America.