Several years ago, during the trend-obsessed Web 2.0 generation, subdomains saw a huge rise in popularity for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that large corporations like Yahoo.com and Google.com started offering various services like Yahoo Answers, Gmail, and likewise via their subdomains for “better” organization. (Sidenote: there are many times that emulating large corporations is a good idea; website optimization is usually not one of them.)
As the industry of SEO caught on to Web 2.0 trends, subdomains and something called “micro-sites” also grew extremely popular for one very specific reason: Google’s search algorithm had an easily manipulated fault where websites could greatly increase their position in search results by linking to themselves via their own subdomains (or alternatively, by launching a handful of junk websites a.k.a. micro-sites). In fact, when I was just out of college and living in Orange County, California, one of the top lawyers in Newport Beach wanted to hire me on to assist his (sole) SEO director in pumping out this spam-ridden marketing method… (but in any regard, the job opportunity didn’t end up working out for me… >_<)When Google drastically updated their search algorithms in what are now (in)famously known as the Panda and Penguin updates a few years back, thousands upon thousands of “SEO experts” – not to mention small businesses riding the wave of internet spam – suddenly found themselves out of business. And, in short, while these updates ultimately brought about massive changes in the way that online marketing (and web design, etc, etc) now functions, there are still several poor “holdover habits” from Web 2.0 SEO tactics that seemingly refuse to die. Like… subdomains.
“It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” — Albert Einstein
Now before you panic (or feel offended) because your website is currently using a subdomain, allow me to clarify something: subdomains are NOT ALWAYS BAD. Like most issues in the world of web development and digital marketing, things are constantly changing and there are generally many exceptions to every rule.
For example, I have several web hosting clients who require having multiple databases, and therefore subdomains, because of their business model. Often times, this is for a customer login panel, such as members.example.com or perhaps crm.example.com. Other times, there is a need for a special app, API or otherwise, such as app.example.com or cdn.example.com or api.example.com, especially for large or complex websites. But the key difference here should be obvious: all of these are “backend” cases that perform a specific function and are not indexed by search engines.
Allow me to take things even farther. I propose that anytime you are considering launching a subdomain, you should ask yourself a simple question: is this something that I could easily integrate into my main domain (and/or database)?
As LittleBizzy focuses entirely on managed WordPress hosting, we often see clients who are using a membership plugin for WordPress, such as Wishlist, on a subdomain, which requires a 2nd WordPress/database installation and therefore a 2nd DNS record in CloudFlare, a 2nd zone in MaxCDN, and so forth. This not only costs our clients more money in the end, but causes more headaches in regard to security, maintenance, updates, and so forth. Not only so, but when website visitors want to bookmark or share your URL they are potentially helping your company achieve more “authority” in the eyes of Google and other measurement tools like social network metrics. However, all of that potential is lost because your customers are promoting a subdomain rather than your main domain, which adds zero new authority to your website.
In conclusion, instead of maintaining blog.example.com or squeeze.example.com or reviews.example.com you should consider importing these instances into your main WordPress installation for better clarity among users, robots, and beyond.
Merging databases or WordPress installs can be a headache, but ultimately managing a single domain is not only smarter marketing (whenever possible) but will surely save you tons of time and expense in the long-term. (Stay tuned for my next blog post on why “subdomain services” like HubSpot are a complete waste of money…)