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Domain vs Subdomain: What Is the Difference?

Root Domain vs Subdomain

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If you’re creating a website for the first time or even have an existing one, you’ll likely come across many new tech terms, such as “domains” and “subdomains.”

Understanding these concepts is crucial to establishing a solid structure for your website.

Think of your website as your virtual storefront; just as the location and layout of a physical store are crucial for attracting customers, so is your choice of domain and use of subdomains for your online business.

So, what is the difference between a domain and a subdomain? What should you go for? When is one better than the other?

In this post, I will answer all your questions about domain vs subdomain to help you make the right decision.

What is a domain?

A domain is a unique name or virtual address people enter into the browser to visit a website. It serves as a site’s identity that helps users distinguish it from the others.

A domain name tells browsers what content to show on a specific page when someone enters it.

Domain names allow you to save your website’s IP address (a string of numbers that computers use to identify a site) in an easily readable and memorable form. For instance, instead of typing 173.321.3.176 in the browser, you can simply enter “xyz.com” and access your website.

For instance, my domain name is “weignitegrowth.com.”

Domain Name

Some other examples include:

  • Google.com
  • Yahoo.com
  • nih.gov
  • wordpress.org

A domain name can be one word or multiple words. If your domain name has multiple words, it’s up to you to use the words in a long string or divide them using hyphens.

For example, we opt for the first option and use a long string as the domain name. If we used hyphens, our domain name would look like “we-ignite-growth.com.”

However, it’s best to use domain names without hyphens, as they are easier to remember.

All domain names are registered under the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It assigns IP addresses, authorizes domain registrars, and records registered domain names with their IP addresses.

Parts of a domain name

A domain name has two primary parts:

Top-level Domain (TLD)

TLDs appear at the end of a web address and are the highest level of domain extension in a website’s hierarchy. They are also known as domain extensions, representing the type of entity you registered your website as on the web.

Some common extensions are:

  • .org: Used for organizations
  • .com: Suitable for commercial businesses and individuals
  • .edu: Ideal for educational institutions
  • .gov: Best for governmental agencies and institutions
  • .net: Recommended for network-oriented websites
  • .co: Ideal globally for businesses, entrepreneurs, and online communities

Top-level domain (TLD)

Second-level domain (SLD)

Second-level domains (SLDs) are website names that appear before TLDs or extensions. You can include anything, as your SLD associated with your website reflects your brand and is easily memorable.

A SLD is typically the name you registered with a registrar. It can include alphabets, numbers, and hyphens, but no symbols. The bold part in the below domain names are SLDs:

  • .wikipedia.org
  • weignitegrowth.com
  • .medicine.net

Second-level domain (SLD)

What is a subdomain?

A subdomain is a prefix added to your existing domain name to create a separate web address for specific content or areas of your website. It helps organize and manage various sections of your site under the same main domain, allowing for a structured and efficient way to categorize and navigate different functions or services.

Think of a domain as a main address for your website and subdomains as individual departments or areas within that space. For example, if your main domain is “example.com,” a subdomain could be “blog.example.com,” where you host your blog, or “shop.example.com” for your online store.

Subdomains direct users to a specific part of your website that’s different from your main site. They are like a small part of its parent website, allowing you to manage sections that need unique content without having to create new domains for each.

Companies with extensive databases and web pages usually add subdomains in their domain names.

Suppose your website’s domain is “salesenabler.com,” and you want to add a blog section to it. In that case, your subdomain can be “blog.salesenabler.com.” Blog sections usually have different layouts than the main website. So, subdomains simplify things for users and allow them to navigate your website easily.

The bold parts in these examples are subdomains:

  • blog.hubspot.com
  • store.playstation.com
  • support.google.com

Subdomain

Subdomains require extensive resources for effective content, SEO, and site infrastructure management. When done right, subdomains can boost your site’s authority in the industry, elevate customer experience, and boost SERP positioning.

Domain vs Subdomain: What are the Differences

Understanding the distinctions between a domain and a subdomain is crucial for managing your website effectively. Here, we delve into their primary differences to clarify their roles and uses in web architecture.

1. The Basic Definition

Domain

A domain is a fundamental part of a website’s URL and serves as the actual address of your website on the internet. It is the core identifier that users enter into their web browsers to access your site. Without a domain, a website cannot establish its presence online, as it wouldn’t have a recognizable address for users to visit.

Subdomain

A subdomain, on the other hand, is an extension of the domain. It is used to organize and navigate different sections of a website efficiently. Subdomains function under the umbrella of the primary domain, meaning they cannot exist without a predefined domain. They direct users not to the main homepage but to specific pages or sections like blogs, stores, or contact pages.

2. Usage and Purpose

Domain

The domain’s primary purpose is identification. It acts as a digital address that users can type into their browsers to access your website directly. The domain is essential for establishing your website’s identity on the web and making it accessible to users worldwide.

Subdomain

Subdomains serve a slightly different purpose. They are utilized to segregate and manage various parts of a website, enhancing the overall user experience. By using subdomains, website owners can create distinct sections within their site, each with a direct link. This structure is particularly beneficial for organizing content like blogs, forums, or e-commerce platforms without affecting the main website’s layout.

3. Importance and Necessity

Domain

Every website must have a domain to be registered and recognized on the internet. The domain is indispensable because it links your website’s name to an IP address, allowing computers and users to find and identify your site among the billions of others online.

Subdomain

In contrast, subdomains are not a necessity for every website. They become important and valuable when a site has a vast amount of content to manage or wishes to offer a varied user experience across different sections. Subdomains allow for experimentation and flexibility within the site’s overall structure without impacting the primary user interface.

Aspect

Domain

Subdomain

What is it

Main part of a website address

A prefix added to the domain

Structure

Includes your chosen name and an extension like .com or .net.

Added before your domain name, like "shop.yourbusiness.com".

Example

yourbusiness.com

blog.yourbusiness.com

Purpose

Serves as the primary gateway to your online presence.

Organizes your site and can target different user needs or services.

Ownership

Must be purchased and is owned exclusively by you.

Created and managed by you under your main domain, at no extra cost.

Ideal Use

Establishing your business’s online identity.

Expanding your website’s offerings, like adding a store or a blog.

Domain vs subdomain: When should you use each

Domain and subdomain are both important for improving a website’s structure and making it easily accessible. However, using both at the same time isn’t necessary. You’ll usually be good with only the domain name, especially if you’re a small business owner.

When to use a domain

Domain names are vital for any website, whether it’s a commercial, governmental, or educational institution, that requires visitors. The domain name is the actual thing that a visitor remembers when finding a brand.

So, the best time to use a domain is when creating a new website. But what if you own two different types of brands in different industries?

Suppose you run an online jewelry store and want to start a new travel blog. In that case, you should opt for two different domain names to distinguish the two brands and allow your visitors to easily differentiate between them.

However, if you want to start a jewelry blog, the best option would be to add a subdomain to your main jewelry store, as both are in the same niche.

When to use a subdomain

You should use subdomains only when your website has many sections, and you want to organize them under one domain so they are easily navigable for users. They make your website appear decluttered and only include relevant information on the web pages.

For instance, subdomains are ideal when:

  • You start an online store – (store.xyzdomain.com)
  • You want to provide resources to the users related to your business through blogs – (blog.xyzdomain.com)
  • You want to create a support section – (support.xyzdomain.com)
  • You add policies to your website (policies.xyzdomain.com)
  • You offer FAQs on your website related to your products and services – (faq.xyzdomain.com)
  • You want to keep your regular clients or users separate from those who have your product’s subscription or membership – (login.xyzdomain.com), (members.xyzdomain.com) or (subscribers.xyzdomain.com)

Subdomains are also helpful when experimenting with new website elements or features. You can easily conduct your testing in a subdomain without causing any changes to your parent website.

Domain vs subdomain: Should I use a subdomain?

When your domain name is registered, you can decide if you want to add subdomains to it or not. Generally, it’s not essential, but many large and even some small businesses use subdomains.

A subdomain is just an additional layer to your primary domain. Creating one isn’t necessary unless your website has lots of data, and you fear it can make it look cluttered.

One thing to remember is that search engines treat your subdomains as separate entities, so you will have to manage each of them separately for SEO. Most search engines, including Google, index and rank subdomains by crawling and discovering their content.

So, if you have an SEO team available, you should use subdomains with the domain name. Doing so will distribute your website’s content in easily navigable sections, allowing search engine bots to read and understand each section’s content better. Meanwhile, it also enhances overall user experiences with your website.

Cost of domains and subdomains

As I discussed, you must register a domain name first to set up a subdomain.

A domain name generally costs around $2 to $20 per year. You may get further discounts on special occasions or if you buy at an introductory price. With web hosting like Siteground and Hostinger, a domain name is included for free in the first year.

Moreover, the cost of a domain also varies depending on your chosen extension. Popular or widely used extensions, such as .com and .org, are more expensive than unpopular ones, like .biz, .info, and .site.

You can buy domain names from any reputable domain hosting service, including:

  • GoDaddy: Introductory prices start from $0.99.
  • Bluehost: The Basic plan starts at $2.95 per month.
  • Namecheap: Costs start from $5.98 per month
  • HostGator: Introductory costs start from $0.95 per month
  • DreamHost: .com domains starting from $7.99 per year.

Remember, your domain name registration cost may increase if you add more features to the plan, like email hosting, SSL certifications, DNS management, or VPS hosting.

Your cost may also increase when you renew your domain ownership at the end of the first year.

Meanwhile, subdomains are free from your web hosting provider. Most renowned and authentic platforms, like Hostinger, Bluehost, GoDaddy, and Siteground, allow users to create subdomains at no additional cost.

So, choose a good hosting provider when buying your domain.

Domain vs subdomain: Takeaway

Domain and subdomain are two crucial components of a website. They improve your website’s structure, enhance visibility on the SERPs, and boost user experiences.

While a domain name is an essential part of a website, a subdomain is just an add-on. A domain name is the address that users type into the browser of your website. A subdomain is just a part of the domain that divides your website content into different sections.

If you have just established your business website and have not planned the sections yet, you should start with just the domain. If you own different brands, it’s best to create multiple domains instead of subdomains to let your users distinguish between them.

As your business grows and you have more content to include in your website, you can move on to subdomains and divide the content into different sections. This could be blogs, support, resources, and FAQ sections.

Subdomains will help your users easily navigate your website, enhancing user experience. At the same time, they will also facilitate search engine bots to understand your website’s content and rank it higher on the SERPs.

That’s my opinion about domain vs subdomain. What do you think? Is it wise to add subdomains right after registering a domain name, or should you do it later on? Tell me in the comments section below!

But before you go, check out the FAQs below!

Domain vs subdomain: Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a domain and a subdomain?

A domain is a part of the URL that you enter in the browser to visit a website. It is a unique virtual address of a website that helps users identify and recognize a website and associate it with a brand (xyzdomain.com). On the other hand, a subdomain is a part of the domain that’s used as a prefix (support.xyzdomain.com).

What are subdomains used for?

A subdomain is an additional layer that’s used as a prefix for the domain to separate different sections of a website. It helps website owners divide their content into various sections and manage them easily. Subdomains work separately from the main website.

What are examples of domain and subdomain names?

Some examples of domain names are (example.net), (Google.com), (Facebook.com), (wikipedia.org), (usa.gov), (american.edu), and (weignitegrowth.com). Subdomain name examples include (blog.hubspot.com), (support.google.com), (help.yahoo.com), and (faq.whatsapp.com).

Do hyphens in domain names affect SEO?

No, hyphens in a domain don’t affect SEO, but they can make the domain name challenging to remember. For instance, remembering iloveclothes.com is easier than i-love-clothes.com.

Do I own a subdomain if I own a domain?

No, subdomains don’t come along with a domain; you have to create and add them to your primary domain. They function separately from the main website but under the same domain name. With subdomains, you don’t have to purchase new domains for different types of content. You can create unlimited subdomains with a single domain.

What’s the difference between a subdomain and a subdirectory?

A subdomain works separately from its domain, while a subdirectory or a subfolder is present inside the domain. A subdirectory is a website organizational folder containing content with a common keyword intent but with elements (menu) similar to those of the main website. Search engines see subdomains as separate entities and subdirectories as a part of the primary domain.

Do subdomains need SEO?

Google’s bots track and crawl subdomains as separate entities from the primary domain. This means you need to do separate SEO for each of your subdomains, so search engines can easily understand them for better SERP rankings.

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