Websites can be confusing businesses. Simply scratch the surface of running a website, and you’ll be hit with all sorts of technical terms…
- What is an SSL and how do I get one?
- How do I deal with Error 404?
- What is the significance of an IP address?
- Why is there a Pixel on my website? What is it doing?
- Can I eat a Cookie?
…the list goes on.
But if you own or run a website, the one question you’ll likely find yourself coming back to is:
What on earth is a domain name?
With domains being made up of various – and sometimes confusing! – sections, this is isn’t the easiest question to answer.
But worry not, we have your back. In this guide, we’re going to help you get to grips with a significant aspect of domains that are both important, yet often overlooked – subdomains.
So, grab a pen and paper…your class on subdomains is about to begin!
Before we dive into defining what we mean by the term ‘subdomain’, let’s first be clear on what we mean by the term ‘domain’ in the context of a website.
Your domain name is basically what you need to type into your internet browser to get to your website. This is usually your website or business name, followed by a domain ending or ‘top-level domain’ such as .com, .org, or .blog. Here are a few examples of domain names:
You can learn more about what a domain name is by reading our guide: What is a Domain Name? A Beginner’s Guide
So, now we’ve cleared up what we mean by the term ‘domain’, what do we mean by the term subdomain?
Here’s a brief definition from website builder platform Wix:
“Subdomains are a prefix added to your domain name in order to help navigate and organize sections of your website. They are primarily used to manage site areas that are extensive enough to require their own hierarchy, such as online stores, blogs or support platforms.”
A subdomain is what differentiates your main domain name from the various sections that make up your website. This usually comes before your domain and shouldn’t be confused with a subdirectory that comes after the domain.
Let’s look at a quick example:
Here we see a subdomain, domain, and subdirectory being used:
- ‘shop.’ = subdomain
- ‘lego.com’ = domain
- ‘/kids’ = subdirectory
You can think of a website a little like a big oak tree, with subdomains being the various roots, then your one domain being the trunk, followed by lots of branches of subdirectories.
So, why bother with subdomains?
The primary purpose of a subdomain is to help organize your website and make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for. They are used to define a section or branch of your website. Again, it’s worth noting that this is not like a subdirectory that is used to define several parts of a section. To illustrate this, here’s a good example:
The subdomain ‘blog’ separates the blog section from the main website. The subdirectory ‘/how-to-write-email-newsletters-actually-want-to-read’ separates a specific page of the blog from the other pieces of content.
Another example of this might be the ‘shop’ subdomain being used to highlight a separate ecommerce function of a website, then the various product pages having their own subdirectory.
The possibilities for subdomains are, quite literally, endless. Here are a few examples of where you may use them to denote parts of your own website:
- An ecommerce store
- A members portal
- Available languages
- A blog
- An app or specific tool
- A specific product or service
- A test site that isn’t yet available for public viewing
Subdomains are particularly helpful when your website has multiple functions. For example, a website such as Amazon.com – whose main function is as a store – is unlikely to have a need for a separate ‘store’ or ‘shop’ subdomain. Whereas a website such as ‘Coldplay.com’, whose main function is to communicate news and information about the band Coldplay, would benefit from separating out their ecommerce section with a ‘shop’ subdomain.
It’s also worth noting that search engines such as Google typically see websites where subdomains are used as separate. This can mean that if you decide to separate out the various sections of your website with subdomains, you may not be able to benefit from the ‘SEO juice’ that you’ve earned from your main domain.
To help you get a grip on subdomains, here are some more examples below:
- blog.hubspot.com – the ‘blog’ subdomain is used to separate Hubspot’s blog from the rest of its website
- forums.moneysavingexpert.com – the ‘forums’ subdomain is used to separate the Money Saving Expert (MSE) community forum from the rest of the ‘official’ MSE website content
- en.wikipedia.org – the ‘en’ subdomain is used to denote that the Wikipedia page is in English. Other language subdomains – such as ‘es’ and ‘fr’ – are used where the page is available in Spanish or French
- shop.lego.com – the ‘shop’ subdomain is used to separate the Lego shop from the rest of the website
- store.playstation.com – the ‘store’ subdomain is used to denote the same function as the ‘shop’ subdomain noted above
Unsurprisingly, Google is a great example of how multiple subdomains can be used to section out the various arms of its business. Here are just a few you may be familiar with:
- maps.google.com – the ‘maps’ subdomain is used for Google Maps
- play.google.com – the ‘play’ subdomain is used for the Google Play store
- translate.google.com – the ‘translate’ subdomain is used for Google Translate
- images.google.com – the ‘images’ subdomain is used for Google Images
- drive.google.com – the ‘drive’ subdomain is used for Google Drive
- earth.google.com – the ‘earth’ subdomain is used for Google Earth
- account.google.com – the ‘accounts’ subdomain is used for logging into and controlling your Google account
Now that we’ve defined the purpose of a subdomain – and offered some great examples of successful websites that use them – let’s talk about how you can actually create them, on your own website.
There are various approaches to how you can do this. Here’s the typical process you might expect to follow when adding subdomains through your web hosting platforms:
- Log into your web hosting platform, such as Bluehost, Hostgator, or GoDaddy
- Select your web hosting section
- Click through to your cPanel
- Select to manage subdomains; this will usually be under a ‘Domains’ section
- In the ‘Subdomain’ section, enter your desired subdomain (e.g. shop, store, tools, app)
- Click ‘Done’ or ‘Create’
Although each platform varies, the steps for creating a subdomain for your site should be similar to those we have outlined above. Yep, it’s that easy!
In this guide, we’ve walked you through everything you need to know about subdomains. We’ve also given you all the information you need to get started with setting up your own subdomains.
For reference, here’s a quick summary of the key takeaways:
How do Subdomains Work: Summary
- A subdomain is a prefix to your main domain
- Subdomains separate out key sections of your website
- Subdomains help website visitors to navigate your site
- Many big businesses use subdomains to help them clearly demarcate sections of their website from one another
- Subdomains are not like subdirectories, which denote individual pages of your website
- Some common subdomains include ‘store’, ‘blog’, ‘forum’, ‘account’, or a specific section for a product or service
- Search engines such as Google typically see subdomains as a separate website
- Setting up subdomains is relatively straightforward, and can be done through your website providers – such as WordPress – or your web hosting platform