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February 2, 2023 (Updated: March 8, 2023)
How is your brand’s website organized? Depending on your industry, company size, and audience, you may have a primary domain with a variety of subcategories in your navigation for browsing. Other companies may use subdomains instead to categorize different information on segmented portions of their sites. Using subdomains adds another layer to a marketing team’s SEO prep, strategies, and analytics work. If you have subdomains, you want to make sure you’re using them to your advantage. Today, we’re looking at everything you need to know about subdomain traffic so that you can check their usefulness on your site:
A subdomain is an addition to your main web domain. These features exist to organize your website and help your visitors navigate it more easily. The subdomain gets more specific about which areas of your site people visit. In a URL structure, the subdomain name comes before your primary and top-level domains. In the URL blog.copypress.com, “blog” indicates the subdomain. You can have multiple subdomains attached to your primary domain. For example, in addition to blog.copypress.com, we could also have a subdomain called library.copypress.com.
Web developers use subdomains for multiple reasons when creating or redesigning a website. Some of the common uses include:
While your audience sees a subdomain as an extension of your primary domain, search engines see subdomains as separate websites. They connect to your primary domain, but if you want to see their individual analytics and search engine positioning, you have to treat subdomains as their own entities. For example, if you want to track a subdomain in Google Search Console, you have to add a URL-prefix property to track that part of your site individually from your primary domain.
For these reasons, using a subdomain when SEO is the number one way you generate traffic for your site might not be the best choice. It disrupts cohesiveness across your brand, at least in analytics. Using subdomains isn’t going to hurt your SEO, but it likely isn’t going to help much either.
If you do have your heart set on using subdomains, you can help Google and other search engines view them as part of your primary domain through links. When bots and crawlers can make the connection between your subdomains and your primary domain, Google may recognize the subdomains as an extension of your main website. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s possible. Even in these cases, you may still have to treat your subdomains as separate entities to track their traffic independently from your primary domains.
There are some ways that using subdomains on your site helps with SEO and traffic numbers. They include:
Although Google’s bots and crawlers can’t take in the true user experience of a website, that doesn’t mean UX doesn’t affect your SEO. Visitors that have a bad experience on your website are less likely to return. That means lower traffic numbers. And when your traffic dips, that signals to Google that the service shouldn’t recommend your site on search engine results pages (SERPs) because it’s not what users are looking for.
When you provide a better site experience with subdomains, that signals to Google that each one does benefit your audience and they’re worth recommending in SERPs for related queries.
Because Google treats your subdomains as individual websites, you can actually earn backlinks and increase your domain authority by linking between your subdomains and your primary domain. For example, you may create a post on your blog subdomain about your company’s product offerings. Within the content, you can link to items from your shop subdomain. Then, you can link to that blog post from the newsfeed on your primary domain home page. All these connections let Google better understand the structure of your domains, and they help you pass authority among them.
Related: Domain Authority vs Page Authority: Which Should You Use?
Keyword stuffing in the URL isn’t your best SEO move. But having subdomains with relevant keywords in the URL may help with user experience, or at the very least, organization. Any subtle context clues you can give your audience about the content they’ll find on your website help them make informed decisions about which links to click in search. Adding the right keywords in the URL also provides context for bots and crawlers to better understand the content on each subdomain.
As we said before, using subdomains doesn’t particularly help or hurt your SEO efforts, but here are a few drawbacks when using them on your website:
Because Google treats subdomains as separate websites, the more you have, the more watered down your SEO becomes. If you have a blog domain and a primary domain, you’re now spreading your strategy across two sites and cutting your potential and your traffic in half. If you have more than one subdomain, you’re then spreading those efforts even thinner. This approach is often why most sites choose to use subdirectories instead of subdomains. They similarly categorize content, but all the traffic and authority goes to the primary domain instead of getting split across multiple subdomains.
Though subdomains can help build some domain authority, they won’t help with your internal linking strategy. When you link to a subdomain, that’s considered an external link. For example, if you house all your written content on a blog subdomain, that’s not going to pull any internal linking points to your primary domain. No matter how many times you link to quality articles. This strategy could make your primary domain look “thin” because it’s lacking internal content links.
Related: Contextual Link Building: How To and Why It’s Important
The bots and crawlers can learn how to link your primary and subdomains, but it doesn’t work in every case. And with recrawls and site updates, the bots have to relearn those connections on every new crawl. It’s not impossible, and crawl hiccups shouldn’t scare you away from using subdomains on your site. But just know that if you’re experiencing SERP ranking and traffic issues, crawling difficulties could be to blame.
Looking at your subdomain traffic numbers can give you insight into your different audience segments and how people browse your website. Here are a few things you can learn from analyzing subdomain traffic:
If you use subdomains to provide a personalized experience for your clients or customers in different geographic regions, analyzing subdomain traffic can tell you more about your audience in each one. It can also tell you more about your SEO for international websites and potentially highlight some different user-experience or browsing preferences in certain parts of the world. Reviewing the traffic for these subdomains teaches you how to better connect with your audience and do business around the world.
While you don’t have to create a special subdomain to make your site mobile-friendly, some companies do. Rather than just developing parameters for screen size and other mobile features, brands develop an entirely different mobile experience with a subdomain. Doing this makes it slightly easier to track your traffic and other metrics for your mobile site. You don’t need special analytics tools that separate information by device. Instead, you can just look at the metrics for the subdomain.
Looking at the information on your mobile subdomain tells you how many people use your mobile site and what they do when they visit. You can compare that information to data from your primary domain to see which is more popular and compare browsing habits on desktop vs. mobile.
If you have multiple subdomains on your site, you can look at traffic across each one to see which is most popular with visitors. For example, you may have a blog subdomain, an eCommerce store, and a user login section, among others. When you track traffic for these subdomains and compare numbers across each one, you can find where your audience spends the most time on your site. This can help you decide where to prioritize content creation so you get the most eyes on your pieces.
It can also help you decide where to make changes or updates to your site. For example, if your user login section doesn’t receive much traffic, dig deeper. Do you not have many sign-ups? Then you can push registration through lead-generation tactics. If you have a lot of members but nobody is using the member’s-only subdomain, you may need to rethink the user experience or how much content you provide for free outside of a content gate.
Once you know which subdomains get the most traffic on your site, you can use that information to influence strategy. If you’re trying to implement a monetization model for your site or work on lead generation, this information helps you determine where you’re getting the most traffic and how to use that traffic to your advantage.
You wouldn’t try to generate leads from a subdomain that only gets 100 visitors per month when you have a different one that gets nearly 10,000 visits per month. The more you know about your audience and how your site attracts them, the more strategic you can get with your planning.
Many of the analytics programs you already use offer options to track traffic across your subdomains. SEMrush has a subdomain analysis feature in its Traffic Analytics dashboard. The dashboard includes a subdomain report that shows which subdomains on your site pull the most traffic. Google Analytics, SimilarWeb, and Ahrefs also provide ways to track your subdomain traffic.
During a website audit or a redesign, your team may decide you no longer want or need subdomains. Instead, you may choose to work with a subdirectory on your primary domain. But if you used subdomains in the past and you’re going to ditch them, what will that do to your traffic? Unfortunately, the outcomes of doing a subdomain merge and restructuring your content into a subdirectory on your primary domain vary for each company.
Hive Digital and Moz conducted a Monte Carlo experiment to try to predict the outcomes of merging subdomains. They found that you can’t assume what your outcome is going to be based on other businesses’ data or even just one test on your own site. The best advice we can give if you’re considering restructuring your subdomains is to work with a strategy consultant and to test again and again. Repeated testing should give you more data and comparisons in traffic predictions to determine if you’ll gain or lose visitors by restructuring your site.
Yes, you can track subdomain traffic and other metrics for competitor websites just like you do for competitor primary domains. Certain programs even allow you to browse competitor subdomains and compare them to your own and other top rivals in your industry. This type of comparative feature allows you to see which brand is doing the best with your target audience on which types of sites. Competitor subdomain analysis can help you choose if adding subdomains to your own site is a good fit for your audience and industry. It can also tell you more about audience segmentation within the subcategories.
Tracking subdomain traffic provides deeper insight into how your website works and how your audience interacts with it. If you want to get more niche information about your site’s performance, looking at the data on a subdomain level helps. Just remember that, as with all metrics, subdomain traffic data is relative to your other metrics and analytics. Determining what’s good or bad, or high and low depends on the traffic you get in other areas of your website. You should never look at subdomain traffic in a vacuum.