Domain Name Basics

Animated image of a user typing a domain name into a browser.

A domain, or website address, is how your customers find your store and products on the internet. In short, it's what your shoppers will type into their address bar (ex. www.yourstorename.com) when going to your online store.

A domain name is most commonly comprised of the following parts:

  1. Top-level domain (TLD): Also known as the domain extension - the most common being .com, .org. and .net.
  2. Second-level domain (SLD): When loading a website, this is the name that comes immediately before the top-level domain. For example, example.com, where “example” is the second-level domain.
  3. Subdomain: An optional extension of your registered domain name. For example, shop.example.com, where “shop” is the subdomain.
 

Image showing the different parts of a domain name.

To start, all new BigCommerce stores are given a .mybigcommerce.com subdomain (ex. yourstorename.mybigcommerce.com). While you are free to use this domain indefinitely, you will want to research and purchase a custom domain for your store.

A custom domain will help you:

  • strengthen your business's brand
  • increase customer confidence in the legitimacy of your business
  • attract more business by making it easy for shoppers to find you
  • advertise and market your business more effectively
  • boost your search engine ranking
 

A subdomain is an optional extension of your registered domain, generally used to create a website that is different from your main site or to better organize your web content. Since a subdomain is an extension of your registered domain name, you will not need to purchase an additional domain to do this, but will rather create sub-websites attached to your main domain.

A sub-domain can be nearly any word (e.g. shop, blog, or news), and the site structure could look very different depending on the intentions and needs of a specific website.

Image highlighting the subdomain of store.tinypies.com.

Client Example: Tiny Pies

Subdomains differ from subfolders both in how their URLs are structured, and how they are treated by search engines.

Side by side comparison of subdomain and subfolder sitemaps.

The two main differences are:

1. URL Structure

Subdomains come before the root domain in a URL. For example, blog.mybigcommercestore.com. Subfolders on the other hand come after the root domain in a URL, following a forward slash. For example, mybigcommercestore.com/blog.

2. SEO

Subdomains are treated as separate domains or websites by search engines, whereas subfolders are considered part of the root domain they are associated with.

You will find a great deal of information on the internet that both supports and discourages the use of subdomains. Ultimately, whether you will leverage a subdomain or simply create subfolders on your main website depends on your specific website goals (see next section). Also, website age and SEO rank may play a factor in your decision since an older, more established website will (hopefully) have solid, high search rank.

If you would like to opt for a subdomain, be aware:

  • There can be SEO implications. Since search engines keep different metrics for domains than they do subdomains, it is recommended that webmasters place link-worthy content like blogs in subfolders rather than subdomains. (i.e. www.example.com/blog/ rather than blog.example.com) to increase your ranking. This is just one of several reasons why using the BigCommerce built-in blogging feature is a wise decision.
    Unless you have a very good reason (see next section) or data to support needing a subdomain, you might as well get the extra SEO juice by keeping good content on your main domain.
  • There can be advantages. If you have a reputable and established website, you will want to consider the risk of implementing a major change like the addition of a subdomain. However, if this subdomain is ranked poorly by search engine algorithms, only the subdomain will suffer, not the entire website. You can therefore isolate a poorly-performing part of your website. Likewise, if there is a promising area in your website that you want capitalize on, assign it under a subdomain and let it rank separately in the SERPs.
  • A subdomain can be similar to managing two or more websites. This can be particularly tricky to manage for newbies or smaller staffs. However, by having similar formats, styles and site mapping, subdomains can be much easier to manage.

There are many situations where a subdomain may be utilized. Here are some of the more common:

  • Different regions but similar product catalog: This can be used when an online store is looking to gain local brand recognition. This allows the local or regional management to employ the core features at the primary domain, while also managing content that is unique to its own location's specific customer base.
  • Different product lines but same brand: An example of this could be a personal stylists that began with a informational website and sold their styling service but now aims to launch their own clothing line. If they started on “www.getstyled.com”, they could create and link to a subdomain “shop.getstyled.com” so clients can shop their tangible products online.
 
Additional Resources

Interested in moving content to or from a subdomain or subfolder? Check out Moz's Subdomains vs. Subfolders, Rel Canonical vs. 301, and How to Structure Links for SEO Whiteboard Friday.

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