My subject this week is one of somewhat controversy, but I have an angle on it that can help local businesses get an edge online. This week, I’m talking about sub-domains. A sub-domain is the declaring a separate section of your website with a different structure. The main point of sub-domains was another way to organize information, however it was spotted that the search engines saw the sub-domains as a separate site. Sounded like a good idea until the blackhatters made almost every page they had into a sub-domain, blasting pages left and right for every nuance of a keyword, whether it related to the domain or not.
If you do a search for sub-domains and SEO, you’ll get a lot of old postings around 2007 where suddenly people were shrieking about the latest algorithm change would declare sub-domains un-rankable. The horror! Like the Death Star blowing up rebel frigates, blackhatter sites were disappearing.
However, in 2009, I don’t believe the sub-domain SEO “technique” to be dead. I do believe, though, that there needs to be a purpose in why you implement sub-domains that is clear in the eyes of the search engines.
For local SEO I see this as a boon to finding conversions of leads based on branding.
The Name is the Game
If you had the chance to look around your town and find a unique store in the area, chances are they advertised on radio, newspapers, maybe a coupon magazine and TV (if they can afford it.) Constant advertising gives way to brand recognition. The name of the company is remembered more than the URL.
If that’s the case. You can’t ignore the other fact that most people use search engines to navigate the web rather than the URL bar. Those two pieces of information together gives you an opportunity that you can capitalize on.
For instance, the service companies whose Analytics accounts I manage, they get most of their traffic from their business names typed into search engines more than keywords or direct URL hits. The name of the business IS the keyword. That’s important to note because hardly anyone will compete with that keyword because it’s the name of a competitor rather than an industry-specific keyword.
Guarding the Name
Type in “Google” “Yahoo” or even “hp” into Google. What do you get? Sub-domains! You don’t get “Why Google Sucks and you should use Yahoo!” as a high ranking page. Google filled up the first page with a lot of it’s own content. A classic example of not guarding your name is when you type in “Paypal” in Google. Still on the first page is the website www.paypalsucks.com and www.paypalcomplaints.com
So sub-domains can push negative sites away? Sort of. There are some key points to keep in mind when working with sub-domains.
1. Sub-domain pages need to be linked somewhere to and from somewhere.“Orphan” sub-domains are pages that just float along the domain with no real tie-in to the main domain. These are easily seen as worthless to the search engines because they don’t hold any real meat.
2. Sub-domains need to make sense.If you are an HVAC company, it would make sense to have a sub-domain residential.hvaccomany.com and commercial.hvaccompany.com, but having a site name
cheap-furnace-replacement-parts.hvaccompany.com just looks like an invitation for a beating from the search index.
Remember, I’m only giving this technique consideration if there is already a strong branding presence. If your analytics don’t show strong brand recognition, using sub-domains may not make any more difference that using regular pages. Your results may vary, but if your are in that position, it would be very well worth looking into.