Running a successful business includes many growth inflection points. Some of this may come with handling a growing user base. Your app or business needs to grow to scale as 10 customers turn to 1,000, and then maybe even 1 million. Along with scaling your business to handle more customers, you may need to scale to diversify your offerings.
Your main business could be blogging, with income driven from Google Ads and affiliate marketing. At some point you may want to start selling items related to your blog’s content instead of just talking about others’ items. To do this, you’ll need a storefront, but where will this live?
A likely answer is to create a new page on your blog website to handle your shop, but is this the right answer? Successful storefronts consist of dozens of different pages with a lot of business logic and storing data. This is more than a single new webpage can handle, it sounds like a whole new app!
While having separate apps makes practical sense, it can become confusing to users if they have to navigate to different websites for each app. To fix this we can use a tool called a subdomain to link our new app to our existing website.
What is a Subdomain?
Before we can fully discuss subdomains, we need to understand the structure of a domain. When you enter an address into a search bar, you are actually interacting with a number of different servers that parse your address to determine which computer will answer your query.
Website addresses don’t look like “www.google.com“, they actually appear as something similar to “22.214.171.124”. This is an internet protocol address, IPV4 to be exact, which is the literal address for a server on the internet, while “www.google.com” is an aliased domain name that represents the IPV4 value.
The address “www.google.com” consists of 3 parts: a top level domain “.com”, a second-level domain “google” and a subdomain “www.” The top level domain gives general information about what the site’s purpose is. You may have seen “.com”, “.org” or “.gov”. While some top level domains (TLDs) can be used by anyone, certain TLDs can only be used by certain institutions. For example, a “.edu” TLD points towards a higher education resource and can therefore only be used by schools.
The second-level domain (SLD) is what we are more familiar with, and is what the DNS server, or domain name system server, uses to determine IPV4 or IPV6 addresses from register SLD addresses. When you enter a SLD such as “google”, your device will reach out to a DNS and ask “what is the IP address for the server that hosts google?” The DNS will look through its records and return an IP address which your client can then reach out to to get whatever webpage you want.
We know that the TLD gives us general information about the purpose of the website, and the SLD gives us an alias that is easier to work with the IPV4 or IPV6 addresses. What does the subdomain do? The subdomain allows us to specify what content is returned from a specific SLD.
The most common subdomain is the “www”, which instructs the server to return the homepage and main pages of a website. Subdomains can also be used to specify content for different language or geographic groups. You may have seen this before with “en” or “es” coming before a website’s SLD. These subdomains instruct the server to return English or Spanish versions of the website.
As we will see more in the next section, subdomains are an important part of websites as they allow us to specify new sections to store important functionality. Maybe your “www” subdomain hosts your marketing and content pages, but your “store” subdomain can contain the logic or app for your storefront.
Different Applications for Subdomains
At the beginning of this article we talked about expanding our blog by adding a storefront. While this is a good example of subdomain use, it is not the only way to use subdomains. Subdomains can be used for any kind of domain expansion, but there are some uses that are more popular than others.
Going in the opposite direction of our initial example, it is common for stores to add blogs as subdomains to their storefronts. By adding blogs, you can develop your brand by sharing information about your product and field and building trust with your expertise. If you have brand competitors, a blog is a good way to detail what makes your products superior, or why they solve your customers’ issues the best.
Along with stores and blogs, operations sites are very popular subdomains. Your main website may be an informational sales funnel for your manufacturing company. You can add an internal operations subdomain to create tools to help with production, logistics or even finances. Maybe your “operations.mycompany.com” subdomain allows your operators to track daily order fulfillment and product outputs in real time. Operations can get a huge boost by having their own subdomain app to increase clarity in their work and resources.
There are many other reasons for using a subdomain, but the final use we will look at is creating testing environments for your application. In software engineering it is bad practice to push code directly to a live website. If you were to push a change to your storefront that brings the whole website down, you could see extensive losses through lost sales and reputation damages.
Setting up test environments is a popular way to be able to test changes to your websites without affecting the live site. Maybe you’re changing the template for product pages, or adding new sections to a sales dashboard. Whatever it may be, having a “testing.mybusinses.com” subdomain can save you both development headaches and Pull Request issues.
The potential uses of a subdomain are endless, so rest assured there is something for everyone in order to further capabilities for their business.
Considerations for Adding Subdomains
While subdomains add functionality to your site, they don’t come without their own considerations. An important part of any customer-focused business is visibility to their customers. One issue that occurs when adding subdomains is the new subdomain app does not inherit the SEO of your main domain.
If you optimize your business page and sales funnel for search engines, you will still need to work to optimize a blog app that you add as a subdomain. This isn’t an impossible task, but does require the knowledge to get headings, keywords and search engine descriptions setup correctly.
Optimizing SEO for the subdomain is important, but what is also important to remember is your app may not be covered by your existing authentication and authorization functionality. While you might want some things to be discovered, there might be other pieces that you might not want visible to the world. If your new subdomain contains a financial reporting system for operations, you wouldn’t want to have web crawlers or random web searches to be able to pry into your sensitive information. In order to prevent prying eyes in private matters you will need to make sure that your subdomain app has its own authentication and authorization setup or that you extend the tools for this from your main domain website.
Start Planning Your Subdomain App Today
The benefits of adding subdomains to your main website to power extra business operations can’t be understated. From drawing in more web traffic and building a brand and audience with a new blog app, to moving from affiliate marketing to direct sales with a new online store, subdomains empower businesses to grow and diversify their offerings. It still, however, takes a good amount of knowledge to implement subdomains correctly.
Once your business need is identified, you will need to build the application, optimize the pages for search engines or add authentication and authorization to keep out unwanted guests, and then you need to set up the subdomain with your hosting provider to ensure your main domain and all subdomains are linked properly.
This can seem like a lot, and it is. You don’t have to tackle this task alone. Whitelabel has an experienced team of UX/UI designers and software engineers who successfully build and deploy subdomain apps to extend our customer’s capabilities. Reach out to us to take the next steps in your business’s journey!