When discussing whether a new domain or subdomain would be better for you, it is important that we all understand what is being discussed. A new domain is a distinctly different website, while a subdomain is a directory on the main domain that operates independently of the main domain.
Technically, the www in www.yoursite.com is a subdomain, as is the first part of yoursite.co.uk, but we are not discussing such technicalities here. From now on we will be referring to a subdomain in the form of a directory on your root website that acts as a separate website with all its own admin and content files.
For example, you can create a WordPress subdomain site2.MySite.com by creating a ‘site2’ folder in your MySite.com website root directory and installing WordPress into that folder with the site2 name. To name it simply site2.com, you would have to pay for the site2 domain name.
Here are three example URLs for the options available to you:
The top example is your main website, the second is a subdomain with the name ‘example’ and the third is a folder on your main domain with the name ‘example’ – each of these three options offer pros and cons according to how you want to use them. Here, we shall discuss the pros and cons of the top 2: new domain or subdomain?
Which is Best: New Domain or Subdomain?
When deciding between a new domain and a subdomain, you will usually be in one of two situations. It is important to define these because each is different and may have a different solution. The situations are:
- A. You have a brand name or exact match domain name such as MyProduct.com and want to extend the range of products or services you are marketing by promoting each on its own website. In such a case, a main domain MyProducts.com might have been a better choice (think about it) – which is why you should always look ahead when choosing a product-oriented domain name.
- B. You have a specific domain name that is making money, and want to begin promoting other products not connected to your original site.
- C. You have a generic domain name such as MySite.com and want to use that to promote a number of products or services.
OPTION A: Existing Branding You Want to Retain
Let’s look at each of these in turn, beginning with option A: You have a brand name and want to use that to improve or extend the range of products you are marketing. Should you do so by using subdomains on your main domain or creating multiple minisites for each product?
You might have a sports site – nicksports.com – that is focusing on sports apparel or clothing. You are doing well and want to extend that to market sports equipment, or even to offer clothing and equipment in a range of different sports.
Because your website or brand name is doing well, you would be foolish to lose that brand recognition by creating a different domain name for each sport. Examples might be nickgolf, nicktennis and so on. Nobody is going to guess these domain names. Once the ‘Nick’ brand became as famous as, say, Nike, people might seek out nickgolf, but not yet.
Subdomains Support Brand Recognition
Make use of the brand recognition you have. This is best achieved by using subdomains. Set up a subdomain for each distinct sport, and then you can use folders for each subsection of that sport. Let’s take the example of golf. Your subdomain URL would be http://golf.nicksport.com with similar subdomains for other sports. You could define the location of various aspects of each sport with folders, such as golf.nicksports.com/clubs.
You not only get the benefit of a very logical URL structure that retains your branding, but also the ability to generate subdomains and folders to cover just about every sport and different aspect of that sport in a way that your visitors can understand and still retain the branding that attracted these visitors in the first place!
You can extend this example to suit your own brand. If you already have a well-known website, blog or brand, then subdomains is the way to go if you are extending your range of products or services while remaining at least loosely connected with the products for which you are best known.
OPTION B: Specific Domain Name
In this example you still have the domain nicksports.com but have decided to venture into the realm of toys and children’s products. You can easily and cheaply create a subdomain lego.nicksports.com! Looks good, but what visitor to your sports site is going to be looking for Lego? And what person looking for Lego is going to visit Nicksports to find it?
This is a case where you would be best to buy a new domain name and set up a new website. Your two products are not connected in any way, other than if some sports fanatic was looking to build Lego figures of his favorite sports stars or stadium. You don’t get many of these people, so a new domain name is the better of the two options.
OPTION C: A Generic Domain Name
This is the Amazon example. If you have a generic domain name and are doing well with it, then it might make sense to retain it. It is your brand, even if it cannot be linked to a particular type of product such as nicksports.com. You could start by using a subdomain to promote your first ‘off-topic’ product and see how you get on. Ultimately, your site may be branded as ‘provide-all’ domain just as Amazon is.
You could purchase new domain names for each type of product. Initially, this might be better for you, but it would also be more expensive. The advantage of using a subdomain is that you can explain what you are doing on the Homepage of your main domain. Initially, you could also provide a catalog of your products hyperlinked to the appropriate subdomain. Your visitors will then know what to look for.
Guess what!! That’s how Amazon does it! And just like Amazon, your visitors would click to your main domain first before searching for the appropriate subdomain. So why not just use folders, and your visitors could click to these? Search engines, that’s why.
SEO Benefits of Subdomains
You would think that for SEO, it would be best for you to create new domains if you want to optimize each page on your website for highest rankings. “It ain’t necessarily so,” to quote George Gershwin! By using subdomains, you get:
- Branding and niche authority are maintained.
- You can more easily link between your various subdomains.
- Each subdomain will inherit part of the authority and trust of the main domain.
- You do not have start all over again with SEO as would have to with individual sites.
- It easier to manage a website with one main domain and several subdomains than one with several different domain names that may have to be interconnected if you want them all associated with your brand.
What are the pros and cons between using a new domain or subdomain when extending the scope of a brand or product range? Functionally, there is no difference. It makes no difference to a visitor if they click on newproduct.com or newproduct.myproduct.com – in fact mostly, they will be clicking on ‘newproduct’ as anchor text rather than the naked URL. This in spite of Google’s warning to minimize anchor text and replace much of it with naked URLs.
Pros for Subdomains
- Subdomains enable you to promote a variety of products using one domain name. You save on domain name registration.
- You can maintain your branding while offering a range of products (examples: Amazon, ASDA, Target.)
- For SEO and internal linking strategy, subdomains are regarded by Google as internal links. So all subdomains are likely to be crawled when the main domain is visited by Googlebot. You have no need to submit separate sitemaps for each subdomain.
- You might get more links to one domain rather than individual links to separate domains.
- You have less work to do: it is easier to manage a site with several subdomains than several separate domains.
Cons for Subdomains
- Your branding is diluted by associating it with a variety of unconnected products. Unlike Amazon or ASDA your main site may be involved in weight loss, and you want to sell golf balls.
- The URL might appear long, depending on the length of the main domain name and that of the subdomain.
- They may not be regarded as ‘proper’ websites in the eyes of Google users – although Google rankings are full of subdomains and internal web pages and blog posts rather than Home pages.
New Domain or Subdomain – Conclusions
So what’s the conclusion? We suggest you go with the comment of Matt Cutts, Google’s webspam chief. Matt suggests that you use subdomains when you want to ‘separate distinct content’ – meaning our A and C options above. Subdomains can provide an entire main domain with ranking value because they focus the disparate topics of a website into tighter controlled areas rather than present a site with too much disparate content that could confuse Google’s users.
There are many situations where individual domains would be better, but in general, subdomains are preferred where each subdomain is related to the topic or general concept of the main domain. If they are not, then use folders until you are able to purchase appropriate new domain names. Subdomains are regarded in the same way as any other web page with relation to SERPs, but they gain the weighting of the authority of the main domain.