Note: When I mention things like the main website, primary website, primary version, and similar, I am referencing to the preferred subdomain or an existing version of the site.
Are subdomains bad for SEO? Technically speaking, no. Google has also stated that they treat them equally. However, a lot of SEOs don’t prefer the use of subdomains — unless absolutely necessary. Not because search engines are biased, but because of how subdomains are evaluated for SEO. So, the real question is, does it make sense for you?
To answer that, let’s understand three vital SEO aspects that this entails.
Every subdomain is considered an entirely new website, so to speak. The biggest subdomain that’s probably used globally is www. So let’s say if you were to have www.example.com, or blog.example.com, or just example.com, all three would be considered different websites — each fighting for its own ranking and search visibility.
Google has come out with a domain level property access, where it can aggregate data from all subdomains. Another option is to individually add each subdomain property to Google Search Console. It should be noted that the domain level property access can only be verified using a DNS record. Personally, I don’t have experience with this kind of access level, but there are other headaches involved in terms of hosting, and maintenance, and rankings.
It’s necessary to clarify that links are to pages and not domains. So if you’re under the impression that the backlinks to subdomains will end up benefiting the main website, and maybe it will, it’s not the same as a backlink to an equivalent sub-folder.
In What Scenarios Does It Make Sense to Use Subdomains?
Ideally, unless business critical, like many SEOs, I’d recommend avoiding subdomains. It creates redundancies, dilutes SEO efforts to the primary version (because of the reason that subdomains are seen as separate sites), and other maintenance & ongoing optimization headaches. However, there might be situations and scenarios where one might make sense. See below for some of those possibilities.
Scenario 1: You Are a BIG Organization, With Separate Departments and Divisions — Each Responsible for Its Success and Failure
What I mean here is that if you’re a big company, say like Amazon, it might make sense to create subdomains for each division — where each is responsible for its success and failures, and aren’t competing with other divisions in terms of search visibility. This might turn out better for other marketing & monetization channels too, such as Social, Paid Search, partnerships, etc.
For instance, say you’re Company X with $100 Billion in annual revenue. Also, say that you’re involved in banking, construction, and more. In this type of situation, it may make sense to have the following two subdomains:
Chances are, you’re going to end up with two different teams entirely for each division (banking + construction). This way, it’s easier for the management to oversee all the efforts involved, keeps things separate, and in terms of search visibility, they’re likely not going to compete with each other.
The same could apply if your organization has a global presence with offices in multiple countries. There are some technical items you can incorporate to further distinguish your main website from a country-specific subdomain.
Scenario 2: The Legal Team Asked So
No argument here! I’d say it’s probably wise to follow their advice because I am sure they’d have a reason for it. Their primary job is to cover you/your organization from liabilities, so a subdomain (separate) from your main site might be one of the ways to do so.
Scenario 3: There Are Networking, Server, and Bandwidth, etc. Types of Reasons
One cool advantage of a subdomain is that you can choose to host on a different server, amongst other hosting & networking details. I am not suggesting creating a subdomain for this reason explicitly, but if such a need presented itself (for whatever reason), you could always take the subdomain route.
Scenario 4: You Attract, or Want to Attract Way Different Kinds of Audiences
Let’s say your main website or your primary business is about shoes. But you want to blog about 3D printers. I have no worldly clue why, but let’s just go with it. In that case, it may be best to create a subdomain for the 3D printer, as it would allow you to keep your main site separate from the other. Plus if anything goes wrong, your content ends up being thin, etc., chances are only your subdomain gets affected. Your main website would likely be insulated from the negative effects of SEO.
Point to be noted here is that I am not deliberately suggesting to do this, just to avoid harmful effects of SEO to your main website (it’s not that straightforward), but it’s something to be considered.
Scenario 5: You Have Limitations in Terms of Site Access, and What You Can and Cannot Do
Basically, if you’re facing a lot of red-tape in gaining access to the primary site, and you really need to get going on your content initiatives and projects, creating a subdomain where you have full control might be an option. You’d still need to think about what it could mean for the main website, but you could likely get started this way.
Corporate politics & policies can slow progress on good ideas. If you don’t want to let that stop you from creating unique opportunities through new content and blogs, a subdomain might be the right candidate.
You May Also Want to Check Out:
- Google Disavow Tool: Everything You Need to Know
- Understanding the Core Fundamental Relationships Between Links and SEO
- How You Can Find Out Exactly How Many URLs Has Google Indexed From Your Sitemap Files
- 3 Basic URL Structure Best Practices for Avoiding Negative SEO Performance
- What Is the Importance of H1 Tag in SEO?
What Are the Benefits of Not Having a Subdomain?
- It removes rankings ambiguity: While search engines have become more sophisticated in comprehending the relationships between different subdomains of the same domain, the truth still remains that subdomains become its own entity. In theory, your subdomain is competing with your main website. Not having one makes things a lot easier in terms of link equity, and ranking potential.
- Easy to manage: Subdomains require more maintenance in terms of hosting, server, redirects, global settings, etc. In other words, each subdomain is almost equivalent to a separate website altogether. Not having an extra subdomain reduces the man-hours, and resource allocation for something as simple as site maintenance.
- It takes out the additional CRO optimization efforts: At the end of the day, you need users to convert. Having a subdomain can potentially add the time it needs for your organization to optimize for CRO. It could get worse if branding, colors, design, layout, etc. are very different than your main website.
So, are subdomains bad for SEO? Not really, in theory.
But whether to use subdomains is a choice you’d have to make for yourself or your organization. In the sense of SEO, it’s not necessarily bad. Just know that it requires more maintenance, strategy, uniqueness, and avoidance of direct competition to your main website.