Subdomains can be a powerful tool for targeting different audiences on your website. By creating targeted subdomains, you can provide tailored content and messaging to specific groups of visitors. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore strategies for effectively leveraging subdomains to engage your core audience while also reaching new niche markets.
What are Subdomains and How Do They Work?
A subdomain is simply an additional domain that is part of your main domain. For example, if your website is example.com, you could create a subdomain like blog.example.com or support.example.com. The subdomain still lives on your main domain, but allows you to brand and target content in a unique way.
Subdomains work by creating an independent namespace from your main domain. The subdomain URL leads visitors to specific content on your site without them having to navigate through your main pages. From a technical perspective, it points to a subdirectory on your host server that contains the content for that subdomain.
Some key benefits of using subdomains:
- Allows you to target content/messaging to specific audiences
- Improves SEO value with keywords in subdomain name
- Separates and organizes content on your site
- Quick and easy to set up
Overall, subdomains enable you to cater content and navigation for different users while keeping everything under your main domain.
Research Keyword and Topic Opportunities
The first step in developing an effective subdomain strategy is to brainstorm topics and keywords that you can build subdomains around. These subdomains should provide value for different segments of your audience.
Start by looking at existing traffic and topics on your site. Are there certain categories like “support” or “resources” that attract a distinct group of visitors? Can you spin these out into a tailored subdomain?
Next, look for gaps in your content and underserved audiences. Are there related topics you don’t cover in-depth on your main site? Are there niche audiences like “beginners” or “advanced users” that would benefit from specialized content?
Make a list of potential subdomain ideas that complement your brand and business goals. Research the keywords for each subdomain as well. The subdomain name itself should include keywords to get a boost in search rankings.
Define Your Target Audiences
Now that you have subdomain topic ideas, the next step is to clearly define the target audience for each one.
- What specific pain points or needs does this audience have?
- What level of knowledge do they have about your product or industry?
- What type of content format or tone will resonate most with them?
- What action or conversion do you want them to take?
Drilling down on audience insights will allow you to craft tailored content and user experiences. Some subgroups you may want to focus on include:
- New / Beginner Users
- Advanced Power Users
- Industry / Business Buyers
- Developers / IT Pros
- Students / Educators
- Non-Profit / NGOs
The more specialized you get with your subdomains, the better you can serve each audience. Just make sure there is enough volume and search interest for the topics first.
Choose Domain Names and Branding
Now it’s time to choose your actual subdomain names. The domain itself should contain relevant keywords for that topic.
Here are some subdomain naming tips:
- Keep it short and simple while also descriptive
- Use hyphens to separate words (-) not underscores (_)
- Make sure it’s easy to remember and spell
- Use keywords targeted users would search for
- Have a consistent structure across subdomains
- Aligns with your brand personality and voice
For example, an educational site could have subdomains like:
The naming and branding of the subdomain can heavily influence its effectiveness. Use your audience research to pick names that will resonate and describe the content.
Develop Custom Content for Each Subdomain
This is where the heavy lifting begins. You need unique, high-quality content tailored for each subdomain audience. This content should speak directly to that group and cover the topics and keywords you want to target.
For our education site example, the content plan could be:
- tips.example.com – Short form tips and hacks for students
- resources.example.com – Ebooks, slideshares, and toolkits for educators
- courses.example.com – Promotion of online courses for self-learners
Ideally, develop authoritative content such as guides, research reports, how-tos, and list posts. Optimize this content for keywords related to that subdomain. Provide real value and own your niche, rather than just linking back to your main site.
Make sure the content, tone, and messaging is laser-focused on that target group. This specialization is what will make your subdomains successful.
Promote Your Subdomains
Now that your subdomains are built out, it’s time to spread the word! Many of the same SEO and content marketing tactics apply here:
- Link prominently to subdomains from relevant pages on main site
- Mention subdomains in blog posts when fitting
- Include subdomains in your internal site search
- Promote new subdomain content through social channels
- Build links from external sites to subdomains
- Run PPC ads targeted around subdomain keywords
The goal is to drive qualified traffic to your subdomains. Analyze traffic sources and volumes over time to see which promotion channels work best.
Set Up Subdomain Analytics
To evaluate the impact of your subdomains, it’s crucial to have analytics set up properly. In Google Analytics, you can set up separate accounts for each subdomain. This allows you to view unique visitors, top pages, conversions, and other behavior for the subdomain traffic.
Compare metrics like pages per visit, time on site, and bounce rates. This reveals how engaged subdomain visitors are compared to your main site. Are certain subdomains performing better than others? Use these insights to tailor your content and promotion strategies.
You can also set up PPC campaign tracking at the subdomain level. See which visitor segments drive the most conversions and revenue for your business. Dive into analytics to unlock subdomain optimization opportunities.
Redirect Subdomains As Needed
As you monitor performance, some subdomains may not gain the traction you expected. The topic could be too niche or you may not have the resources to properly promote the subdomain.
In this case, don’t be afraid to redirect the subdomain back to a relevant page on your main site. For example, you could redirect resources.example.com back to the main resources page on example.com.
Have a redirect strategy in place in case certain subdomains don’t get adoption. Be willing to evolve your approach over time based on analytics.
Use Subfolders Instead of Subdomains if Needed
In some cases, using subfolders on your domain may make more sense than spinning up an entirely new subdomain.
Some instances when subfolders are preferable:
- You want content to remain on the same domain for SEO value
- Your brand name doesn’t align with niche subdomain names
- You don’t have resources to develop a full content/promotion strategy
- Your main domain has much higher authority to pass on
For example, instead of careers.example.com you could have example.com/careers. This keeps the content under your core domain while still separating it out.
Evaluate whether subfolders or subdomains make the most sense based on your specific brand and content. In many cases, a hybrid model works best. Test different structures and see what performs well.
Be Consistent with Visual Branding
While the content and messaging may differ across subdomains, the visual branding should remain consistent. This maintains brand recognition and coherence across your properties.
Re-use the same logo, colors, fonts, and overall style on your subdomains. Make sure navigation menus and page layouts also have consistent UI elements.
At the same time, you can use subdomains as an opportunity to test slightly different visual looks. Try a new color palette or position unique images that relate to that subdomain topic. Just be careful not to deviate too far from brand consistency.
Have a Unified UX Strategy
Along with visual branding, you also want a cohesive user experience across your main site and subdomains. Using the same site architecture, navigation framework, content style, and functionality makes your subdomains easy to navigate.
Some elements to standardize:
- Navigation menus and site search
- Page layouts and content grids
- Registration and gated content
- Email opt-ins and newsletter sign up
- Shopping cart and checkout process
- Support forms and live chat
A unified UX doesn’t mean that everything has to look identical. Tailor things like content modules, images, and calls to action to fit the audience. But the overall information architecture and functionality should be seamless.
Make Mobile Responsiveness a Priority
With the shift to mobile, it’s more important than ever that your subdomains are fully responsive. Almost 60% of website traffic now comes from smartphones. If your subdomains aren’t mobile-friendly, they will suffer in terms of usability and conversions.
Some tips for making subdomains mobile-ready:
- Use responsive templates and a mobile-first design.
- Ensure content layouts flex and resize properly.
- Check site speed on mobile networks with Google PageSpeed.
- Simplify navigation menus and CTAs for small screens.
- Size buttons and tap targets appropriately for touch screens.
- Test on actual devices like iPhones and Androids.
Optimizing for mobile takes effort but provides a much better experience. Don’t launch subdomains without making them fully responsive across devices.
Choose the Right Subdomain Hosting Approach
There are a few options for actually hosting and setting up your subdomains from a technical perspective:
- Subdirectories – Simply use subfolders on your main domain.
- Subdomain on same server – Host subdomain on your primary server.
- Separate subdomain server – Host on entirely separate server.
- Third-party subdomain service – Use a specialized subdomain platform.
The right approach depends on your traffic volume, budget, and how integrated you need the subdomains to be. Make sure to evaluate performance, costs, and ease of management for each option.
Many sites start with subdirectories or subdomains hosted on the same server. As your needs scale, migrating subdomains to dedicated servers can improve performance and customization.
Redirect with Care
When managing subdomains, redirecting traffic is often required. For example, you may want to:
- Redirect an old subdomain to a new one
- Forward a retired subdomain to your main domain
- Send mobile users from main site to mobile subdomain
Be thoughtful with redirects:
- Use 301 permanent redirects when possible – they pass on SEO value.
- Avoid redirect chains more than 3-4 hops long.
- Monitor 404 errors for any broken links or redirect issues.
- Use separate redirects for desktop and mobile users.
- Implement redirects at both the server and HTML level.
With careful redirects, you can seamlessly move visitors to your preferred domains and leverage SEO authority. Just take care not to create confusing redirect loops.
Future-Proof Your Subdomain Strategy
Don’t look at your initial subdomain setup as the final solution. Your goals and audiences will likely evolve over time. Build in flexibility to add or change subdomains when needed.
- Register similar domain names you may want in the future.
- Have a simple process for spinning up new subdomain content.
- Create a migration plan for moving subdomains to new servers.
- Develop guidelines for when to sunset or consolidate subdomains.
Document your approach so new team members understand how to manage subdomains. Set a reminder to re-evaluate your subdomain structure every 6-12 months as part of your website strategy.
Developing targeted subdomains takes effort but can have an outsized impact on engaging niche audiences. By providing tailored content and user experiences, subdomains drive greater engagement and conversions.
Start by researching audience needs and keyword opportunities. Promote your subdomains through SEO, social, and paid channels. Maintain consistent branding while customizing the content and look for each market. Analyze performance regularly and tweak your approach.
Subdomains enable you to expand your reach while also driving core business goals. With an intelligent strategy and execution, they can become valuable digital assets. Implement these best practices to maximize the return from your subdomain investment.