Companies that manage multiple, separate brands that sell their own unique products face an important question when choosing how to structure a new e-commerce implementation: buy and maintain independent domains for each brand, or give each brand its own subdomain, umbrellaed under a single domain?
What is a subdomain?
Subdomains are literally “the subdivision of a domain”. However, from a user’s perspective, they can “look and feel” like their own site. In the below example, “internal.thevested.com”, “internal.” marks the subdomain, “thevested.com” is the parent domain. Aside from the URL similarity, these two sites look and feel entirely different from each other:
(The Vested Group’s internal blog site)
(The Vested Group’s primary website)
If these two sites were fully independent (aka, multiple domains), the URLs might be structured as:
Subdomains are commonly used when companies launch a new e-commerce site. If a company already maintains a website, its new e-commerce site (which functions very differently from its existing website) is commonly predicated with “shop.”; i.e., shop.thevested.com.
OK, should I just create subdomains or buy multiple domains if I sell products through multiple brands?
One reason to choose the subdomain approach is parent brand awareness. Consider the following scenario: Parent company “CLOTHES INC.” manufactures shoes and shirts under two separate brands - the very popular “Shoez” running shoe brand, and the newer but less familiar luxury t-shirt brand, “Shirtz”. These brands have their own unique identity, but are publicly associated with CLOTHES INC. The URL paths appear as:
However - Google, among other search engines, treats subdomains as independent websites. As such, any money spent on organic SEO improvements or PPC ads to one brand would not mutually benefit the other brand. And, even though the Shoez brand is very popular, the newly launched Shirtz store sees no extra traffic from a natural SEO boost - even though they share the same parent domain.
One benefit to using subdomains, is the simple fact only one domain needs to be maintained and paid for. This is an effectively cheaper solution!
Now, let’s consider the multi-domain approach. CLOTHES INC marketing has decided it’s best to keep its two brands, Shoez and Shirtz, completely separate from each other, and wants to hide the fact the brands are owned and operated by CLOTHES INC as could be exposed in a subdomain URL. Money is less of a concern.
In this case, CLOTHES INC should take the multi-domain approach, so it launches two new sites with independent domains:
CLOTHES INC still maintains its corporate site, clothesinc.com; but its branded e-commerce stores are in no way associated with this website. CLOTHES INC sees value in keeping these brands separate and is willing to pay more money for two independent domains.
Ultimately, the decision weighs on marketing strategy and budget. There are no SEO benefits to one approach over the other, since Google treats subdomains as independent websites in search rankings.
It can be difficult to quantify how a URL's appearance impacts buyer behavior. Since the subdomain approach still allows for a unique “look and feel” and product list, the primary benefit to the multi-domain approach is really just a unique URL. Since modern web browsers divert to search engine results if a user fails to type a valid URL address anyway - and if most of your customer base already starts on Google and your company is not concerned about parent website domain references in the URL - perhaps there’s a stronger argument for the subdomain approach than there was a few years ago, when a URL address had to be perfectly typed out in order to access a website.