If you understand how domain names are used and how to effectively use subdomain names, you can save a lot of money. The domain name registrars and ICANN won’t like it you do things like using a lot of subdomains instead of a lot of domains, but they don’t have any control over your choices.
Domain Names, Subdomain names and URLs
To understand domain names and subdomain names, you have to understand how a base URL is constructed. The protocol scheme (http:// or https://) is not a part of it even though it appears in the address bar of some web browsers. The base URL is constructed from right to left, separated by periods.
The first section is the top-level domain (TLD). You should be familiar with the three-character TLDs of com, net and org and you may be familiar with the two-character country names, but there are a lot more than those these days. Next comes the period.
The next section is the domain. In many cases, that’s the end of the base URL. Unless you’re using subdomain names, nothing else is required. The domain plus the TLD is called the domain name.
If there’s anything in front of the domain name, separated from the domain name by a period, it’s a subdomain. More appropriately, it’s a single-level subdomain. Multiple-level subdomains can be used, each separated by a period, but I can’t comprehend why anyone would want to use more than a single-level domain name. A subdomain plus a domain plus a TLD is called a subdomain name.
The www subdomain is a special case and it’s a throwback to the beginning of the worldwide web, which is exactly what the subdomain means. DNS providers map the www subdomain to the domain name without the www to compensate for the people who don’t know the difference. You can use a root domain name with or without the www subdomain, but you shouldn’t use both at the same time – that’s a related subject I may expound on in a later article.
It’s probably easier to visualize how URLs can be constructed. I’ll use my rtcx.net domain name as an example (and I use www.rtcx.net vs. rtcx.net) and show you some of my other subdomain names, which no longer exist:
rtcx.net (unused, same as www.rtcx.net)
www.rtcx.net (used, same as rtcx.net)
If you’re not familiar with blogspot.com (Google’s “Blogger” platform) or wordpress.com (which is different from wordpress.org), they offer website services using subdomain names. An oddity with blogspot.com is that it also maps another www subdomain to other subdomain names. Here’s an example:
Domain Name Lengths
If you intend to use a domain name for branding purposes (walmart.com, paypal.com, etc.), the length of the domain name isn’t as important as when you don’t. In the latter case, a short and concise domain name that conveys what the website is going to be about is the best approach.
If you intend to use subdomain names instead of domain names to convey what the websites will be about, almost any generic domain name will do and the shorter it is, the better. If possible, you should avoid numbers and dashes because they’re harder to remember and yes, people still type URLs into address bars.
There’s another reason for being short and concise, with domain names or subdomain names, and it’s due to the overall length a URL can become. In search engines, a shorter URL is more likely to be clicked on than a longer one, especially if the visual representation of the URL is made shorter in the search engine results.
Use Subdomains to Save Money on Domain Names
Most web hosting companies (even with shared hosting) allow the use of subdomains for separate websites on the same accounts as the domain names. If the DNS service is set up the right way, wildcards are already set up and all you need to do is add the virtual domains through your control panels. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to add the DNS settings as well.
Many so-called search engine optimization experts claim you need to have your domains hosted on separate class C IP addresses and that subdomain names are treated the same as the root domain names. Neither is true. While there are many places on the web where you can verify what I’m saying is true, you only need to look at a blog post by Google’s own Matt Cutts to confirm my claim. If there’s a problem with optimization, it’s usually due to misconfigured virtual hosts.
In other words, a subdomain name is just as good as a domain name as far as Google is concerned and it doesn’t matter if they’re all on the same IP address or not. You can even mix and match domain names and subdomain names on the same IP address.
If you’re not branding your company or services with a domain name, there isn’t any reason at all you can’t use subdomain names when creating multiple websites. The yearly fees for domain names can add up quickly and I’m telling you that from personal experience.
There is one drawback to using subdomain names and it has to do with SSL certificate providers. Some will give away single domain validation certificates, but not single subdomain validation certificates. They require the purchase of wildcard certificates to secure subdomains. There are ways around it, but it’s difficult and yet another subject I may expound on later.