What Are Subdomains?

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This article answers the question, what are subdomains? The quick answer is a smaller part or subset (child) of the main (parent) domain? Their purpose is to help organise different sections of your WordPress website. Confused? Don’t worry; all will be clear by the end of this page.

Subdomains Place in a Domain Name

Let’s use an example to show the subdomains place in a domain name. To do this, we need a full web address known as the Uniform Resource Locator or URL.

Example: https://www.mysite.com

From right to left, the .com is the Top-Level Domain (TLD). The site name is the Second-Level Domain (SLD). SLDs are a unique part of any URL. And the WWW prefix is the subdomain.

WWW doesn’t have to be the site’s only subdomain. You can create new ones using any appropriate text. It’s like having a new web address without having to buy a new one. The site content of your new subdomain can be related or unrelated to the primary domain. You can have many subdomains working as extensions to the registered domain name.

Below are three examples to illustrate the point using our sample URL above.

  • buy.mysite.com
  • sell.mysite.com
  • trade.mysite.com

Rules for Subdomains

Your WordPress website can have 100s of subdomains and even more if you add extra levels. The character limit for a subdomain is 255, though it’s unlikely that anyone would need that. If you have multiple levels, though, each level has a 63-character restriction.

Here’s an example of what a multi-level domain name:

info.store.mysite.com

Typical Uses for Subdomains

WordPress users exploit subdomains to organise and categorise site content into sections. Subdomains are especially useful when a site starts to get lots of content and visitors. It makes sense to have separate areas under subdomains for content unrelated to the parent site.

Another idea is to separate a community forum or blog belonging to an eCommerce website. Separating content using subdomains is better for visitors and site maintenance. 

Why Subdomains Matter in 2020

Any WordPress website is only as good as its content and user experience. Too many projects fail because the content is poor, muddled up, or the site is confusing to navigate. Let’s use a fictitious website ‘www.languages.study’ as an example of a well-organised project.

It’s a large business site that sells multiple eLearning courses around the world.

  • Main (parent) domain: www.languages.study promotes and sells language services
  • Child subdomain 1: french.languages.study
  • Subdomain 2: english.languages.study
  • Subdomain 3: german.languages.study
  • Subdomain 4: spanish.languages.study

Each of the language courses has its own specific subdomain, which is like a separate dedicated website. None of the content spills over into the other subdomains. In this example, the project has the equivalent of four language websites under its primary domain. Note also that the SLD doesn’t change and stays relevant. It’s the same for the TLD, in this case, .study.

Search Engines and Subdomains

Search engines treat subdomains as separate entities. That’s fantastic news for webmasters and web searchers. It means the text snippets in the search results pages stay relevant. In other words, search engine algorithms see and rank subdomains separate from the primary domain. That’s better for you, your visitors, and search engine optimisation (SEO).

When Not to Use a Subdomain

Some experts think subdomains are a bad idea in certain instances. The main criticism is if the content under the child domain closely relates to that of the parent. I tend to agree. Subfolders—in this case—would be a better choice for SEO purposes. Keeping with SEO, subdomains can prove harder to rank and take more time to build backlinks.

Setting Up a Subdomain in cPanel

Creating a subdomain in cPanel is fast and easy with a registered primary domain. In this example, we’ll set up a subdomain on a fictitious website called mysite.com. The cPanel style used for this short tutorial is the Basic theme.

Step 1. Login to your hosting cPanel account.

Step 2. Scroll down to the cPanel Domains section and click the subdomains icon.

Step 3. In the Create a Subdomain screen, add a name for your subdomain, then click Create.

You should see the following cPanel message after a couple of seconds:

That’s it, you now have a subdomain called fish, which is a totally separate area of mysite.com. You can redirect visitors to the new subdomain who have an interest in the subject. All content on the fish subdomain is on-topic and different from the main site. You can choose to add extra layers if you want them, e.g., carp.mysite.com, perch.mysite.com, chub.mysite.com, and so on.

Summing Up

There are more pros than cons with subdomains if the content is different from that of the root domain. They give you new websites at no additional cost. Google treats and ranks subdomains separate from your primary site. Lastly, new WP installs for subdomains don’t risk content conflicts as they might do with subfolders.

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