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What is a Subdomain and why use one?

A website subdomain is an additional part to your main domain name that can be used for various purposes. It’s a great way to have multiple websites under the same domain name. For example, let’s say you own the domain “example.com” and want to create a new site for selling books. You could set up a subdomain called “books.example.com” that would be reachable from anywhere on the internet.

A subdomain could also be created to differentiate websites in other languages/regions, staging or test sites and even mobile-specific designs. In this article, we will look at the benefits of using a website subdomain and when it makes sense to use one.

Subdomain Definition

Formally, a subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain. It’s essentially an additional “layer” to your domain name. Subdomains are created to organize and navigate to different sections of your website. They can be used for marketing, branding, or even just organizing content in a logical way.

Subdomains for membership content

Everyone and their cat will have a different reason for using a subdomain, my main purpose for creating subdomains stems from NOT wanting to be found online. Yes, you heard that right – creating a subdomain is an effective way to keep certain site content away from the search engines, especially if it wouldn’t rank well anyways.

Most websites are created to be found by search engines, but there are certain cases where you may want to keep something hidden, perhaps membership content. This is exactly the reason that I will typically create a subdomain. The most recent subdomain I create was to ‘protect’ (hide) an online video series that I didn’t want it to show up in Google or other search engines but still want it associated with my domain.

My main domain name is JonmGomes.com and I wanted to create a learning series that solely hosts video content. It’s a website built on a similar foundation to my main site and is set up in almost the same way, a WordPress base along with a popular page building software for aesthetics.

Sparse Content Hurts SEO Efforts, one of the main drivers of traffic to my main site, and that’s exactly why I’ve built a subdomain to house the online video series. Without getting too far into the weeds of SEO, websites with pages that contain little to no written content can be seen as spammy or low-quality. Additionally, search engines may not crawl and index sparse content as often as they would a page with more content.

Since video content has no text associated, unless of course you’re writing articles to combine with the video, there really isn’t a way to help boost your organic google rankings through there. Of course the subdomain needs to be set to ‘no index’ (more SEO jargon) for Google to hide it but that’s really the main different between most of my subdomains and primary domains.

subdomains for staging content

Creating a staging site is another one of the most popular reasons for initially creating a subdomain. Many times the staging site is a copy of the live website but with no public access. It is used for testing and development; this means that any changes made to the staging site don’t affect the live version.

You can use a subdomain for this purpose, since it’s easier to set up than an entirely separate domain. Creating a testing or staging site allows developers to work on the sites’ content without anyone else seeing it, making sure that any bugs are found and fixed before the live version goes public.

setting up a subdomain

The hosting platform that I use is Siteground, however the process is much the same regardless of provider (menu items may be labeled differently). Here’s a walkthrough of the process for Siteground:

Step 1. Navigate To Your Websites

Start by clicking on the menu item that brings you to the list of all your websites. Find the site that you’d like to create a subdomain for. Select the ‘site tools’ option (circled below) and continue on.

navigate to primary website

Step 2. Navigate to domains

Along the left side of the new screen (after selecting site tools), you will find the option of domains, select this and then select ‘subdomains’ from the dropdown

select siteground site tools

Step 3. Name your subdomain

The new screen that appears will give you the option to name your subdomain. This can be whatever you’d like but keep in mind the new name will appear before your domain name. So for example, in my case I wanted learn as the subdomain name. My primary domain name jonmgomes.com will now have a learn.jonmgomes.com as the subdomain.

select subdomains

My advice is to name it something that makes sense for whatever purposes you are using it for and that it isn’t too long of a name. Quite often new visitors might not even realize they are on a subdomain when navigating between the two.

name your subdomain

creating menus between primary and secondary (subdomains) websites

Before we wrap up here let’s briefly chat about navigation between your subdomains and primary domains. Even though these domains (the primary and subdomain) share a common name, they are technically considered two different sites. This means that one menu won’t actually work between them.

However, you can create menu links between the two domains so that visitors can move back and forth from either side. What ends up being needed in this instance is actually two menus, one on each site that mirror the appearance of each other. Technically, they don’t need to look the same but for continuity and allowing site visitors to not be confused, it’s likely best to just make them look the same.

If you’re using WordPress, which I highly recommend, there are options in the menu for ‘custom links.’ This is where you’d mix in items from the outside site. So for instance, if you’re creating the menu on your primary domain (jonmgomes.com) this is where you’d create custom links for your subdomain and vice versa.

And that’s it! You now have a subdomain, a staging site, and can navigate between the two. I hope this was helpful in understanding creating subdomains and why they are beneficial for so many different reasons. As always if you want to chat about anything related to web development feel free to reach out!

wp custom menu items


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