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Do Subdomains Hurt SEO? What Plumbing Contractors Should Know

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Josh Crouch - Relentless Digital LLC

Author's Bio:

Joshua Crouch, a regular on the Service Business Master podcast, is renowned for his insights on service-based businesses. 

An active member of industry groups, he’s at the forefront of emerging trends. As a recognized Google Business Expert, Josh drives growth for Relentless Digital’s clients.

do subdomains hurt seo

Attempting to tackle hundreds of SEO factors while managing your plumbing business is nearly impossible. Each time you work on your website, you may wonder whether your edits help or harm your search engine rankings. If you’re thinking about creating a new domain structure but don’t want to ruin all your SEO work thus far, we’re here to shed light on everything you need to know.

So, do subdomains hurt SEO? How subdomains impact your ranking performance will depend on several factors. 

At Relentless Digital, a leading SEO company for plumbing contractors, we specialize in helping you master your optimization strategy. Below, we discuss what you need to know about using subdomains for search engine optimization. 

What Are Subdomains?

First, let’s cover the basics. Subdomains are extensions of your website’s core-level domain. Your website’s URL can be as simple or complex as you like, but your changes will affect numerous things. 

Your top-level domain is the extension after the period, like “.com” or “.org.” The second-level domain is what many consider to be the website’s name, like “plumbers.com.” Your SLD (second-level domain) is your core URL, a launching point to all your pages, like “plumbers.com/aboutus.”

A subdomain is any prefix before the SLD, like “blog.plumbers.com.” In this case, “blog” would be the subdomain leading to a separate blog portal from your main site.  

Subdomains may be attached to your primary website but still function as independent web addresses. Because of this, you must understand how subdomains work independently and how they impact your primary website’s SEO. 

Why Would You Use a Subdomain?

Subdomains create organizational structures across your website that can provide more segmentation than typical subdirectories or individual pages. The end-user can often enjoy faster and more seamless experiences. 

You can use subdomains to create separate structures from your primary website. For example, you may use a subdomain to create the following:

  • Blog hubs
  • Client portals
  • Support platforms
  • Niche market sites

As a plumbing SEO company, you could use a subdomain to organize your blog content. On the other hand, you may use subdomains to target more niche audiences. For example, if you choose to branch out to commercial clients, you may want to develop entirely new content targeted toward their needs. 

How Do Subdomains Affect SEO?

Now that you know what subdomains are, we can get back to the question at hand: Do subdomains hurt SEO or help it? To answer this, you must understand how the strategy affects your primary website’s optimization. 

Subdomains can impact your SEO strategy in a few ways. While Google’s search engine crawlers will view the two websites as separate, they will still affect each other. The primary ways subdomains affect SEO include the following:

Web Authority

Domain authority is one of Google’s top considerations when ranking websites. Authoritativeness is the “A” in Google E-E-A-T. E-E-A-T is how Google assesses and ranks content during search queries, meaning it makes up one of the top ranking parameters. 

When you create a website, Google automatically assigns it an authority score of one. As you complete various SEO tactics, you can build your authority over time to rank better across search results. As more people visit your website and you continue publishing high-quality content, your authority score will go up. 

Subdomains can help or harm your primary website’s authority:

  • Help: By using the right strategy, you can build strong links between your subdomain and primary website to direct traffic to each URL. Google sees backlinks and high traffic levels as authoritative signs. If you pull this off correctly, you can boost your authority on both websites. 
  • Harm: Sometimes, creating a subdomain that’s too similar to your primary website can confuse Google. You may accidentally steal traffic from your primary website, making your initial website less relevant and authoritative. When you create subdomains that are not unique enough, you risk harming your authority and rankings. 

Site Structure and Experience

Subdomains can improve your website’s organization and general user experience. Rather than creating one website with an enormous menu filled with fragmented content, subdomains allow you to structure content in a way that makes sense for you and your users. You can direct users to a website relevant to their needs. 

You can ultimately increase your site rankings by improving the customer experience and overall usability. Users will hopefully spend more time on your website. Google considers things like average page times, abandons, and more when ranking websites, so you can increase these metrics by improving your organization with subdomains.

Subdomains improve your site structure for the user experience while improving site crawlability. Google can have an easier time indexing your site content, hopefully leading to better rankings. 

Keyword Opportunities

Subdomains can positively or negatively affect your keyword strategy, depending on your knowledge and experience with keyword research and application. 

Subdomains offer excellent opportunities to add new keywords to unique content. When done correctly, you can optimize for keywords you don’t already use on your primary website. In doing so, you can ideally rank for terms you wouldn’t have on your primary website to reach new audiences. 

Your subdomain also allows you to include a new keyword in the URL. Users may not notice this keyword, but Google crawlers will. With the right research and strategy, your subdomain can help your rankings. 

Unfortunately, subdomains can also harm rankings when keyword cannibalization occurs. Keyword cannibalization means your subdomain and primary website are competing against each other for similar keywords. In this scenario, your websites harm rather than help each other’s rankings. 

Because Google doesn’t know your two websites are related, keyword cannibalization can occur frequently. If you want your subdomain to help rather than harm your SEO, you must optimize content for unique terms that do not relate to your primary website. Finding the balance here can be highly complex. 

Market Reach

Subdomains can allow you to reach new markets. While your primary website may be more limited to general keywords and content, your subdomains can target more niche audiences. As mentioned above, you could create a subdomain to reach commercial clients exclusively. 

When subdomains impact your market reach, you can enjoy positive SEO effects. Reaching more audiences means you’re generating more traffic and authority. Of course, balancing this without accidentally targeting the wrong keywords isn’t easy, so you must tread carefully. 

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Subdomains for SEO

Now that you understand how subdomains affect SEO, we can dive back into the main question: Do subdomains hurt SEO? 

Subdomains can hurt SEO when created incorrectly, but they can also benefit your optimization strategy. Let’s cover the primary advantages and disadvantages of subdomains so you can weigh all your options. 

Pros of Subdomains for SEO

When created correctly, subdomains can offer a range of benefits, including the following:

  • Better content organization: Rather than attempting to sort a bunch of fragmented content into one website, subdomains allow you to create a more logical web structure for better content organization. A sound organizational structure can improve the user experience and your site rankings. 
  • More targeted SEO efforts: When you create unique subdomains, you can target more niche audience bases. Rather than attempting to target large groups of people with highly competitive keywords, you can focus on lower-hanging fruit that offers better ranking and conversion odds. Your audience will then feel like your content speaks to their needs. 
  • Regional SEO: With subdomains, you can create localized content specific to different languages or regions. For example, you may develop entire subdomains for your plumbing services in the Northeast versus your California-based commercial services. 
  • Improved user experience and structure: Subdomains can improve the user experience by adding more logical structure to the content discovery path. Individuals can quickly find information relevant to their needs rather than sorting through everything your business offers. 
  • Content isolation: On the same note, subdomains isolate content for specific groups, allowing you to shield information from certain audiences. If you don’t want your commercial clients to spend time reading through your residential services, you can provide them with a website tailored to their needs. 
  • Stronger web authority: With the right link-building strategy, subdomains can increase your web authority. Directing users to and from your primary website and subdomain through link building can generate more traffic on each site while building your authority. 

Cons of Subdomains for SEO

While subdomains can boost your optimization strategy, they can harm your rankings when used incorrectly. Subdomains can detract from your primary website’s success without the proper strategy. The primary disadvantages of subdomains for SEO include the following:

  • Fragmented web presence: Managing multiple domains can weaken your online presence and authority, especially if they focus on similar content. When you have two websites competing in the same space, neither will be able to excel. Similar subdomains can confuse Google, harm your rankings, and reduce visibility. 
  • Keyword cannibalization risks: No matter how hard you try to create subdomains unique from your primary website, you will likely end up with overlapping keywords. Overlapping keywords can harm your SEO strategy. 
  • Duplicate content issues: Creating two unique websites requires one-of-a-kind content on each. You may accidentally transfer duplicate content to your subdomain, causing SEO issues. For example, you may think copying your forms or “About Us” information won’t harm anything, but Google will see this as plagiarism. 
  • Double the SEO work: Because both websites operate independently, the subdomain will not enjoy any automatic progress from your primary website’s SEO strategies. To create successful subdomains, you must master SEO strategies for each website, meaning you’ll have twice the work on your hands. 
  • Higher costs: When setting up a subdomain, you’ll need to purchase separate hosting and security certificates for the new website. You may also choose to add on things like Google Analytics and Tag Manager, which may cost more for additional websites. 

The Bottom Line: Do Subdomains Hurt SEO?

Now that we’ve covered every possible way subdomains can affect search engine optimization, we can finally answer your initial question: Do subdomains hurt SEO?

Subdomains only hurt SEO when you don’t know what you’re doing. With the right goal, strategy, and execution, subdomains can be an excellent SEO tool, helping your primary website rank even higher.

On the other hand, if you use subdomains with the sole intention of boosting your primary website, you likely won’t see the results you desire. You should only use subdomains to create new subsectors of content distinct from the rest of your website. Think about the following:

  • How the content will differentiate from the rest of your site
  • Which unique keywords you’ll be able to target
  • Which new audience sector will visit the subdomain rather than the primary website

If you can check each of these boxes with a specific answer, a subdomain may be helpful for your SEO strategy. Be sure to develop the subdomain with highly specific content that varies greatly from your original site. You don’t want your websites to compete against each other, so don’t let them enter the same search engine results pages.

Subdomains vs. Subdirectories: Which Are Better for SEO?

If you decide that subdomains do not align with your SEO strategy, you still have another option. While subdomains are extension websites of your primary domain, subdirectories are folders within your primary website. 

A subdirectory can act as its own entity within your primary website. Subdirectories don’t have their own URLs or ranking abilities but can still provide useful organizational structures. You can use subdirectories to separate various topics on your website into different sections.

For example, you could create a subdirectory for all the plumbing services you offer and a separate one for all the cities you serve. Each could include separate pages describing the associated services and cities. 

Subdirectories may not provide very fragmented audience targeting, but they do offer easier set-up processes and less risky strategizing. You no longer need to worry about keyword cannibalization concerns, as everything will fall under one website. Neither do you need to set up separate hosting or security certificates, as Google Search Console will index subdirectories with your primary website.

The primary benefits of subdirectories include the following:

  • Easy organization
  • Fast content creation for SEO
  • Minimal keyword cannibalization risks
  • Improvements to the user experience 
  • More cost effective

Whether or not subdirectories are better than subdomains for SEO depends on your goals. Some may argue that subdirectories are better because they’re easier, while others may argue the reverse because subdomains offer a wider audience reach. 

We recommend weighing the pros and cons of your digital marketing strategy. Both organizational options provide benefits and drawbacks to consider, so it’s vital to understand the nature of your business, your target audience(s), and the image you wish to convey to stand out in the digital world. 

Need Help Developing Your Website? Contact Relentless Digital Today

So, do subdomains hurt SEO? The answer depends on your optimization goals and strategy. If you want to learn how to maximize your SEO ROI with proven methods, you’ve come to the right place. At Relentless Digital, we can help you develop your website for top rankings and high conversions.

If your plumbing business needs help deciding whether a subdomain should be part of your SEO plan, schedule a free strategy call with Relentless Digital today to meet with our expert team. 

Josh Crouch - Relentless Digital LLC

Author's Bio:

Joshua Crouch, a regular on the Service Business Master podcast, is renowned for his insights on service-based businesses. 

An active member of industry groups, he’s at the forefront of emerging trends. As a recognized Google Business Expert, Josh drives growth for Relentless Digital’s clients.

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