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What is a subdomain?

A subdomain is a part of a primary domain that comes before the main domain and the top-level domain. Subdomains help you differentiate between your main site and a separate blog or eCommerce store related to your main website. 

For example, zyro.com is a primary domain, and support.zyro.com is a subdomain for Zyro’s Knowledge Base. Domains usually have two parts: the top-level domain name (TLD for short) and the second-level domain (usually referred to as the SLD). Most often, the SLD is the primary domain name – your business or brand name, for example. The TLD, on the other hand, is the last part of the main domain. Common TLDs include .com, .org., .net., and country-specific TLDs like .de., .co.uk., and .br. 

Subdomains are located before the SLD and the TLD. Depending on how you organize your web content, you could create subdomains for various different functions on your website. Usually, intranets and other internal websites that are part of public sites exist under different subdomains, but most often wikis, blogs, online stores, and even sister brands use their own subdomain. 

Let’s examine the anatomy of a domain name in detail: 

  • https – This is the protocol or a set of guidelines that a web browser uses to send requests to the server. 
  • support – This is the subdomain, indicating that the content created under this section of the website is related to supporting the users and providing how-to guides.
  • zyro – This is the second-level domain (SLD), that you can choose yourself and buy from a domain registrar. 
  • .com – This is the top-level domain (TLD) that can also be chosen during the domain purchasing process.

Fun fact –  Did you know that the www-part of the URL address, which stands for the world wide web, is technically a subdomain? Nowadays, most companies have dropped the www-subdomain, but it was used to let users know that the domain and IP address they were trying to reach was part of the world wide web. 

Why use a subdomain?

Creating subdomains might seem like something only big multinational companies can do, but that’s not the whole truth. 

Most businesses and brands can benefit from using multiple subdomains. By clearly identifying the different functions of the different, separate sites, you’re able to make your website content easier to categorize and browse. 

A subdomain helps a user navigate from the brand’s online store to the careers page, for example, making the overall user experience effortless and pleasant. The user is also able to make well-informed decisions by knowing where they are on a website at any given time. 

You could think of your website as your apartment online and your domain as the address you give out to people you invite to visit your online home. Your TLD (.com or .org, for example) identifies the particular city you’re living in, while the SLD (zyro or google, for example) tells visitors the exact street name and number. 

Your subdomain, in turn, acts like the apartment number and helps to tell visitors which individual apartments you’re living in. 

Many websites have a particular subdomain for a mobile version of their site, making it easier for users to access their web content on smaller screens. Many brands create separate sections on their websites for their blog, career pages, and support and help content. 

This way, all unique content is neatly organized in different sections of the main website, and users don’t accidentally find themselves shifting through how-to-guides when they were looking for the contact details of customer support instead. 

Subdomain and primary domain examples

You’re probably typing up dozens of primary domains every day without even realizing it. Most primary domain names have a simple URL structure and are easy to remember: google.com or facebook.com are both examples of a main domain and take you to the main site of Google or Facebook.  

When it comes to subdomain examples, some of the most common subdomains include mail.google.com for Google’s email service Gmail, en.wikipedia.org for the English version of Wikipedia, and m.facebook.com for the mobile version of Facebook. 

As you can see, compared to the primary domain name, subdomains usually point the user to a new website that’s a separate entity operating under the main domain. 

When you create a website with Zyro, you can opt for a free subdomain instead of paying for your own domain extension. This way, you’ll publish your website under the zyrosite.com root domain (yourstore.zyrosite.com) rather than under your own master domain (yourstore.com). 

Subdomains allow you to not just create different sections to your main website, but they also allow you to save when creating a new website on a budget. 

Subdomains vs. subdirectories

Subdomains and subdirectories can sound confusing similar, but they’re not exactly the same. 

A subdirectory is a subsection of a domain and appears after the / in the URL. For example, zyro.com/blog is a subdirectory for the main domain zyro.com. Subdomains are always situated before the main domain name, like in support.zyro.com

While it usually comes down to personal preference whether you use subdomains or subdirectories, there are a few things to consider overall:

  • Hosting fees. Most often, your hosting provider or domain registrar will cap the total number of subdomains you can create under one domain. Subdirectories, on the other hand, are often included, as they are essentially treated as web pages part of your main domain name. Usually, you can have an unlimited number of subdirectories, but a limited number of subdomains. 
  • Customization. When you create a subdomain, you have more control over how the URL structure will look like, compared to subdirectories. A subdomain also allows you to have more freedom over the customization of the content that you’re planning to publish under your new subdomain. 
  • SEO. If you’re wanting to localize your content for different countries and audiences, subdomains work better for achieving top positions in search engine results. 

How do subdomains and subdirectories affect search engine optimization?

The short answer: it doesn’t matter from an SEO perspective whether you use subdomains or subdirectories. Main search engines like Google can crawl both. Ideally, you should choose a setup that works for your website in the long run, as making changes to a site’s URLs later on can cause some problems with search engines temporarily. 

What’s a wildcard subdomain?

A wildcard subdomain is a wonderful tool for creating plenty of different subdomains without having to go through the trouble of manually setting up each one. 

Wildcard subdomains are sometimes referred to as the ‘catch-all’ subdomain and are represented with an asterisk (*.yoursite.com) under your domain name system (DNS) records. 

How to create a subdomain for your main domain

To create a subdomain is relatively easy – given that your hosting provider allows you to have subdomains for your domain name.

1. Choose your subdomain name

You should treat your subdomain with the same level of professionalism and seriousness as you would your original domain name. 

In general, the perfect domain name is: 

  • Short 
  • Easy to remember, type and spell 
  • Descriptive of your brand or the separate site it will represent 
  • Localized, if you’re using your subdomain for localization purposes 

Draw inspiration from your competitors or use google to find examples of websites with subdomains. 

Since you won’t have to worry about availability, you can go with more common words like ‘blog’, ‘support’, events’, ‘store’, or country codes like ‘en’, ‘es’, ‘and ’de’.  

2. Find a subdomain section in the file manager of your domain registrar

In order to create a subdomain, you need to log into your hosting provider’s file manager (most often referred to as the cPanel). 

The look and feel of your provider’s cPanel will differ from provider to provider, but usually, cPanels have different sections for domains, databases, and file management.  

Head to the domains section and locate the main domain you want to use for your subdomain. 

3. Enter your subdomain and create a new DNS record

Once you’ve located the subdomain section, enter the subdomain you want to create. Make sure your main domain is selected and you’re not accidentally doing changes under the wrong domain.  

After you’ve finished creating your subdomain, you need to add a new DNS record. Head to the DNS settings of your domain. Select where you want to point your new subdomain by adding it to your DNS zone. You might want your subdomain to point to a particular IP address, an IP address connected to a particular destination hostname, a server, or a wildcard domain. 

Once you’ve pointed your subdomain, you probably have to wait from half an hour to a full day for your subdomain to be fully functional. If the process takes longer than 24 hours, it’s worthwhile contacting the support team of your hosting provider. 

Frequently asked questions about subdomains 

It’s normal to run into questions about subdomains when you’re setting them up for the first time. We’ve compiled some of the more technical frequently asked questions about subdomains below. 

How long do you need to wait for subdomains to become active?

When using tools like BasicDNS, BackupDNS, Premium DNS, or FreeDNS, subdomains usually appear online almost instantly. Usually, you only need to wait for around half an hour for the subdomain to propagate.

When you’re setting up your subdomain through your hosting provider’s cPanel, you usually need to wait around 40 minutes for it to be available worldwide. 

What’s subdomain forwarding? 

Subdomain forwarding means that the subdomain you’re trying to access doesn’t load a page, but forwards you elsewhere instead.  

Using wildcard subdomains helps you redirect traffic to your chosen page. This way, you’re not losing users who misspelled or tried to access a subdomain that doesn’t exist. 

Usually, you can set up subdomain forwarding through the settings in your cPanel. Look for a section titled forwarding or redirecting, or get in touch with your service provider for detailed instructions specific to your hosting dashboard.  

So, what is a subdomain?

A subdomain is a secondary domain that exists under your primary domain name. Subdomains are usually used to organize web content properly and help users navigate through separate sections of a website. 

Some of the most commonly used subdomains include ‘blog’, ‘support’, and ‘store’. Using catch-all or wildcard subdomains helps you redirect traffic to your main site when users are misspelling the subdomain or accessing a subdomain that doesn’t exist. 

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Matleena is a seasoned eCommerce writer, with a particular interest in emerging digital marketing trends, dropshipping, and growth hacking. She’s addicted to coming up with new eCommerce business ideas and making them a reality; she deserves her nickname of ‘print on demand business mogul.' In her free time, she enjoys cups of good coffee, tends to her balcony garden, and studies Japanese.

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