Domain vs Subdomain: What’s Best for SEO?

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Your website’s structure makes an important difference in search engine optimization (SEO) and the user experience. The conventional layout of category pages has been in use for so long that it’s practically automatic, but it’s not the only option for web design. Major brands — including Walmart, Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn — use subdomains. Discover the benefits of domains vs. subdomains for SEO efforts.

What are Domains and Subdomains?

Domains are short website descriptors, such as “” or “” In practice, they’re your site’s URL or internet address. For example, the primary domain for Toyota is “” This home page branches into many subdirectories, such as “/vehicles/” and “/dealers/.”

 A subdomain is a part of a larger domain name that helps organize and navigate to different sections of a website. It’s like a specific section within the main website. As an example, Wikipedia maintains a different subdomain for each supported language, such as “” for English and “” for French.

What Is the Difference Between a Domain Vs. a Subdomain?

Subdomains are one way to organize a digital marketing strategy. They keep certain types of content separate.

Visually, the main difference between a domain and a subdomain is what the URL looks like. Users would see “” instead of “”

In practice, SEOs manage subdomains as independent websites. Everything from keyword tracking to advertising campaigns stays detached.

Subdomain Examples

Some real examples of subdomains include:

  • “”: The developer-oriented portal for Amazon Web Services
  • “”: The site for Walt Disney World Resort in Florida
  • “”: The official PlayStation Store
  • “”: The support portal for EA Games
  • “”: The American Airlines newsroom

A big difference between domains vs. subdomains comes down to the content on the page.

Domains With Subdirectories

Subdirectories are a common way to organize website content. They divide websites into categories. Look at a few examples from our website:

One category can lead to many subdirectories. Consider an example layout with nested categories:


Like a family tree, the parent pages branch out into countless subdirectories and eventually to specific products.

Which Is Better for SEO — Domains or Subdomains?

For the majority of websites, domains are a better option for SEO management and digital marketing. Using a subdirectory layout for your domain allows each subcategory to benefit from the relevance and link equity of the main website. Everything you do to strengthen your website’s online reputation contributes to SEO success, and you get a good return on investment.

Do Subdomains Have Any Benefits for SEO?

Depending on your organization’s size and focus, there are times when the domain vs. subdomain battle favors subdomains for web development.

Streamlined Structure for Large Websites

The more subcategories a website needs to efficiently organize its products, the greater the benefits of switching to a subdomain layout. Instead of making sweeping changes every time a category update is necessary, teams can keep subdomains separate and manage a smaller number of subdirectories. This segmented structure can make life easier for web development teams, marketing managers, e-commerce businesses, and customers.

Focused Marketing for Different Audiences

Subdomains can help businesses that serve widely different target audiences, such as teens and senior adults. Your SEO efforts are better off with the right traffic going to the right pages.

The main “” site offers a wide array of consumer products. On the other hand, “” has content geared toward software developers and businesses looking for cloud hosting.

Why Do Many SEOs Use Domains Instead of Subdomains?

Even though subdomains have their uses, they also have some important downsides to keep in mind.

Google Indexes Subdomains as Separate Websites

To search engines, subdomains appear as unique websites instead of offshoots of your main domain. This means that “” wouldn’t automatically benefit from your root domain’s link juice. A format such as “” would have more value for SEO purposes.

The reverse is also true. A high-ranking subdomain doesn’t have an effect on your main site’s reputation. The main point of blogs is usually to drive traffic to your website, so choosing the wrong structure can lower your ROI.

Some professionals insist that good internal linking is what matters most, not the domain vs. subdomain argument. While it’s true that Google constantly updates search algorithms, in our experience, getting SEO results is easier with a domain/subdirectory layout.

Subdomains Require Additional Investment in Backlink Management and Site Reputation

The uncertainty around how Google ranks subdomain content is especially concerning when you consider the significant investment required for backlink management. Developing a high-quality backlink profile with inbound traffic from respected sites is worth the effort — it’s one of the main factors determining your search rankings — but the process takes time and money. Having to repeat it again for a new subdomain is cost-prohibitive for many organizations.

Website Management Is More Complicated

Subdomains also appear as separate entries in Google Search Console, Google Analytics, Ahrefs, HubSpot, SEMrush, and other tools for SEO. You would need to track SEO metrics for multiple websites instead of viewing unified data across your profile.

Not surprisingly, some larger enterprises assign a separate team to manage digital marketing strategy, keyword research, content planning, metrics tracking, and SEO audits for their subdomains.

Of course, if you outsource SEO management to our team, this point doesn’t affect your organization. Our capabilities scale smoothly, and we can coordinate SEO for as many websites or subdomains as you require. 

Subdomain Layouts Can Lead to Duplicate Content or SEO Ranking Mistakes

Last but not least, subdomains are more technical to implement. More can go wrong in terms of search rankings, website organization, and mobile optimization.

If you’re not careful, you may accidentally end up with identical blogs or web pages on your main site and subdomains. One way this can happen is by adding the same how-to post on “” and “” 

Duplicate content is harmful to SEO. First, it risks a penalty from search engines, which can significantly hurt your site’s reputation. Second, it forces you to compete against yourself for the same traffic! 

Domain Vs. Subdomain: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Large websites, especially those dedicated to e-commerce, are more likely to use subdomains. They have such a large volume of products that creating and managing subdirectory folders for distinct applications, audiences, and marketing campaigns can be overwhelming.

Some general contractors, electricians, HVAC technicians, and plumbers use subdomains to differentiate content for residential and commercial sectors. Blogs, FAQs, and friendly tips attract homeowners, while technical SEO and PPC campaigns are more important for B2B.

By and large, small businesses are better off with a domain/subdirectory layout. The limited numbers of individual pages and posts aren’t a problem for organizations, and SEO management is much easier.

When Should You Use a Subdomain?

The following situations merit weighing the pros and cons of domains vs. subdomains.

Regional Websites

Use broad SEO for your national or global site and local SEO for regional audiences. This should look like “” or “”

E-Commerce Stores

Track the activity of shoppers by making the entire e-commerce portion of your site independent, such as “” This helps you qualify high-value leads with purchase intent compared to people higher up the funnel.

Support Services and Q&A Forums

Keep your main website’s key performance indicators separate from support traffic or forums. Put those on “” or “” instead.

Niche Offerings

Appeal to your target audience effectively by employing the right marketing strategy for niches that are strikingly different from your everyday business. An example would be a well-known construction company offering online CAD software courses. A “” subdomain would be appropriate.

Knowledge Bases

Similarly, if your organization has a large volume of video content, you may want to keep it organized with a subdomain. Make sure to use SEO links wisely to drive as many qualified leads to your main site, however.

Testing Environments

Use subdomains as staging and development environments, such as “” This structure allows for comprehensive testing and planning before pushing changes live.

Web Apps

Manage web apps and mobile-friendly website layouts smoothly with a subdomain. Restaurants can create a fully functional booking app that lives at “” This maintains branding and allows for the vastly different UX needed for apps versus web pages. 

Choose an SEO Team With Experience in Domain and Subdomain Websites

At Digital Neighbor, we’re experts in website development, content marketing, and SEO. Our team can help you analyze your target audience and branding to choose domain vs. subdomain site layouts. Learn more about our customized web design services today.

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