Has your agency, web company or IT staff ever suggested a subdomain for one of your online campaigns? A client of ours was recently encouraged to set up a subdomain for an upcoming microsite. Our contact was told this was a great way to keep the campaign on their website while allowing the vendor to have full control over the campaign (and get monthly hosting fees).
Sounds like a good idea, right? Subdomains are often touted as a good solution for a microsite, blog or landing page. However, they bring a few big disadvantages of which agencies, web companies or IT teams probably aren’t aware. Whatever your online goal may be, using a subdomain is rarely a good choice.
What is a Subdomain?
A subdomain is a subdivision of a website’s top-level domain. You can tell you’re on a subdomain when the beginning of the URL is separated from the main URL by a period. For example, "blog.bluecompass.com" is a subdomain of "bluecompass.com." Subdomains are fairly simple to set up under any root domain that you control. In fact, setting up a subdomain is easier than setting up a subfolder in some cases. This is one of the reasons a technical team will suggest subdomains.
Why Should I Avoid Subdomains?
A subdomain seems innocent enough… so, what’s the big deal? In reality, setting up a subdomain is essentially the same thing as setting up a new website. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo almost always see content on a subdomain as separate from the content on the of your site. When your brand has separate websites, it waters down the effectiveness of your online presence.
Rand Fishkin of Moz recently commented on the value of staying away from subdomains, saying:
“I can't tell you how many times we've seen and we've actually tested ourselves by first putting content on a subdomain and then moving it back over to the main domain with Moz… Each time we've seen a considerable boost in rankings and in search traffic, both long tail and head of the demand curve to these, and we're not alone. Many others have seen it, particularly in the startup world, where it's very popular to put blog.yourwebsite.com, and then eventually people move it over to a subfolder, and they see ranking benefits.”
A Much Better Alternative
There’s a better way to launch that new campaign or microsite! Instead of using a subdomain, use a subfolder. Keep the new content within your current website by creating a new page or series of pages. For example, instead of “campaign.bluecompass.com” try “bluecompass.com/campaign.” The benefits of doing so are numerous.
Search engines favor websites with a great deal of quality content. The more content you put directly on your website, the greater the chances that search engine bots, and then people, will take notice and spend time on your site. Since search engines usually see a subdomain as a separate entity from your website, adding content to a subdomain does little for search engine optimization (SEO).
Additionally, Google watches who is coming to your website, how long they’re there, and what they are doing. If your content is good, visitors will stay for a while. Google takes note of this and can increase your search engine rankings as a result - but only if the content is on your website.
Backlinks mean more when your campaign is in a subfolder within your website. Getting other, relevant sites to link to yours is still one of the best ways to boost SEO. If websites or social media link to a subdomain, your main website will receive no benefit, which also means the boosts of traffic, links or social signals will be negated.
Putting content on a subdomain will bring little to no SEO benefit to your site. Just because the campaign has a different goal or feel than the rest of your website is no reason to separate. Interior pages in subfolders on your website can still have a different design and if needed.
Is there ever a good instance to use a subdomain? Sure, but in our experience they are rare. Subdomains are usually best when the content is not public-facing, such as a demo site.
Has your IT staff, web company or agency been suggesting subdomains? Tell them to use a subfolder instead! It may be a little more work, but the results are well worth it.