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October 04, 2008

An URL by any other name would still work like an URL, part 1: subdomains

Nabisco uses subfolders rather than subdomains to
showcase Triscuits and Fig Newtons

Over the past weeks, I've been getting a lot of questions and comments about URLs and naming conventions. Here are a few typical queries:

  • Department X has the address Our address is
    foobar.html. Can you change our address to
  • How can we get a shorter address for our page? Our long URL is wreaking havoc with our marketing.
  • Our site has a long address that we've been printing in our mailings. We're not getting as much traffic as we hoped because the name is too long to type. How can we shorten it?

Today I'll address the first question, relating to subdomains, then continue the discussion on naming conventions in an upcoming article.

Subdomains: vs. vs. division/yourname

Here at Case we use a a hierarchical naming structure, featuring addresses such as division/yourname, on the main Case Web server. Subdomains, addresses such as, are used by Web sites housed on other servers because this is the most efficient way to include such sites within the domain. Subdomains aren't by nature special or better, they simply provide a technical solution to a technical problem. Sites housed on the main Case server cannot be changed to have subdomain addresses, but that's okay, there is no advantage to doing so. My former colleague, Kevin Adams, explains this in detail in his article Subdomains vs. Accounts - Case's Naming Conventions.

On personal and business sites subdomains are typically used when content resides on a different server or when content is topically distinctive from the main site—but not so distinct that it would benefit from a unique domain. For example, offers a distinctly different service than the search engine found at, but the common use of the domain let's users know that both services are produced by the same entity and reinforces the Google brand. Google Analytics however uses (a subfolder instead of a subdomain) as the analytics service is more closely tied to the search engine service.

Webmasters at Case and other universities could argue that their sites are topically distinctive—after all we house sites on topics ranging from Art History and Art to Darwin and Evolution—but collectively such subjects tie together in furtherance of our educational mission. There's no compelling reason to distinguish them through the use of subdomains.

Can't subdomains enhance search engine optimization (SEO)?

From what I've read the answer is no, although people have tried to use subdomains to cheat the system. When someone searches for a particular word or phrase most search engines will limit the number of results it shows from any given domain. Thus if you search for "Web Development Blog" on Google, you'll see that this blog shows up twice (Google's limit is normally 2 results). The main page shows up in the results as does one of the individual entry pages. The entry page is indented below to show that it is coming from the same site.

It used to be that subdomains were treated as separate sites, so marketers might distribute related content across subdomains so additional listings would show up on search engine results pages (SERPs). While this was helpful to marketers it wasn't so helpful to users, so Google has refined their algorithms, so that subdomains aren't given an automatic advantage. Relevance comes first, so this doesn't mean you will never see more than 2 subdomains appear on the same SERP. (A search for "Case Western Reserve" shows several subdomains.) It simply means that with all content being equal the subdomain won't have an advantage over a subfolder when it comes to issues of SEO.

If I can use a subdomain I'll have a shorter address than I have now.

While a subdomain may result in a slightly shorter file name, that will probably have very little impact on your marketing strategies. I'll discuss URL length and naming conventions further in an upcoming entry.

Learn more about the use of subdomains and subfolder in URLs

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Posted by: Heidi Cool October 4, 2008 06:31 PM | Category: Google , Heidi's Entries , SEO , Search Engine Optimization , marketing



Thanks for this Articel. :)

Greetz Klen

Posted by Klen on October 5, 2008 10:56 AM


I can see this topic supporting about 5 posts and still not answer all the questions :) Very good start Heidi!

Posted by TomG on October 5, 2008 07:52 PM


I think you're right Tom. The research is tricky too. I'm finding a lot of material discussing urls and SEO, but not as much related to other mktg strategies such as print and e-mail. But I'll keep digging!

Posted by Heidi Cool on October 5, 2008 08:42 PM


The argument out there is still that having a domain like at least contains more keywords and that Google puts prominence or importance on words that come earlier.
But what you're saying is that the arrangement of the keywords may not be relevant, that holds as much weight.

A link like this Belleville Real Estate obviously helps with determining relevance, but does it weigh more if the domain matched in keywords?

Posted by Tara Lyons on October 6, 2008 10:27 PM


You're right, the arrangement doesn't seem to be relevant. While keywords in the domain are helpful, I don't think they're as critical as your content and other mktg. strategies. As long as the words are logical I think you're on track. I'll write more about that in another article.

Posted by Heidi COol on October 9, 2008 12:50 AM


Personally, I like sub-domains. They do make things look tidier.

The real challenge comes when you want to make them "stick" —

Which often requires some .htaccess trickery to make that happen...

Posted by Wayne Smallman on October 9, 2008 04:37 AM


Subdomains are neater, but Google for SEO treats them as separate domains in the listing and you have to gather ranking for it, whcih is a little more difficult. I can see subdomains working for offline marketing, such as print marketing. For example, is easier for someone reading off a printed flyer than It just looks cleaner, but for SEO organic results, both will do fine.

Posted by Domains at Retail on October 17, 2008 12:57 PM


Keywords in the domain name are very critical in my opinion and help with your overall SEO. SubDomains are seen as a seperate entity with google and don't hold as much weight as having your main keyword as the domain.

Posted by milo on October 26, 2008 07:27 AM


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Posted by flower girl dress on October 29, 2008 05:46 AM


Wow this is helpful!

We've been considering adding subdomains to our site--- the problem is that we created a subdirectories for each of our apartment complexes, and the URLS look messy.

I've been wondering how the switch would effect rankings. Do you think that subdomains with keywords are more powerful than subdirectories with keywords? This would effect how we name the subdirectory.

And what about all of those links that point to the original files in the subcategories??

Posted by Gainesville Apartments on November 4, 2008 12:25 PM


You can use subdomain as part of main topic which use on main domain. For instance main talk about general health and sub talk about women health

Posted by aby on November 5, 2008 09:49 AM


Ahhh! Everything is starting to make sense! Thank you for the article! Also, thank you commenters the information is more clear! Again Thanks!!!

Posted by Carl Umpin on January 13, 2009 09:51 PM

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Posted by: hac4 (Heidi Cool) October 4, 2008 06:31 PM | Comments (12) | Trackback