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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Understanding The Difference Between A Domain, A SubDomain, and a Directory

June 16th, 2008

How do you tell the difference between a domain, a sub-domain, and a sub-directory, and what is the difference between the three, and when developing a website which should you use, and for what.

This article is written for those of you who are in the process of looking for a website designer. One of the good things to do when you’re shopping, is to look through the web designer’s portfolio. Most folks looking through a portfolio of websites will notice the obvious, like what the websites look like. This article was written to hopefully help you notice something a big less obvious: whether the web designer is using “real” domains, creating “sub-domains”, or “directories” for his website clients.

When you’re looking in a web designer’s portfolio, don’t just rely on the images they provide. Click in the URL (web address) of the websites they claim to have designed. (If you find a lot of broken links, this is not a good sign). Take a good look at the URL, it’s at the very top of your browser and begins with “http://”.

First, let me explain what these three things are and how to tell them apart.

1. Domains: These look like “” or “”. Domains are registered and owned by YOU, the small business owner.

2. SubDomains: These look like “”. Once someone buys a domain, they can make all the subdomains they want, for free. Sometimes web designers will create subdomains for their clients – but they are not owned by the business owner – they are owned by the web designer. You as a small business owner have no rights to a subdomain on some else’s website.

3. Directory: These look like: “”. These are simply directories that the web designer has created to put your files in.

You want to see a web design portfolio where everyone has their own domain name, like #1 above. This is the only professional, and in my opinion, ethical way, to do website design for other people. Since domain registrations are so inexpensive ($10 per year), and hosting is also inexpensive ($10 per month) there is just no reason why a small business owner couldn’t afford to get their own domain name and their website files living right on that domain.

Why do some web designers use subdomains and directories? Laziness? Ignorance? For profit? Since it costs them nothing to create a subdomain or directory, maybe they’re charging folks for “web hosting”. Maybe they don’t know search engines work. Either way, this practice is NOT in the best interests of the small business owner who wants a website that will perform well over time in search engines. Let’s talk about that next…

How important is search engine traffic to small business websites? Super duper critical. Google knows the difference between domains and directories. In order to rank well, you want to have all of your content be just about your business, not mixed in with who knows how many other small businesses on who knows how many other directories. Domain age is another factor in ranking, and the sooner you get your own domain the better. Eventually, if you’re a serious business, you’ll get your own domain, and all that time you’ve spent living on someone else’s domain won’t count.

Don’t you want control over your own website? I can’t even begin to count how many people contact me with “my website designer has disappeared” stories. Over and over again. The only way to have complete control over your website, is to own your own domain.

And the same goes for web hosting: You will also want to control your website hosting (read this article on how to select a website hosting company) and I don’t recommend that you let your website designer do your website hosting. These are really very different skills – and you can get very good website hosting for very low rates ($10 per month). Would you let your housing contractor own the land that your home is built on? Of course not. Don’t do the same with your website.

Be Independent! By following this advice, your website designer can disappear, and your small business website will be just fine. You just need to find another person to make modifications, but your website will remain up and running in the meantime, and no one will be able to steal your website files or your domain name.

Take Home Message: When shopping for a web designer, look at their portfolio. Visit the websites they claim to have designed. Look at the URL and make sure the business owns their own domain (not a sub-domain of the designer, not a sub-directory of the designer’s site). Pick a web designer who is ethical and responsible enough to allow the small business owner maximum control of their website. In the end, if that web designer disappears, you’ll be glad you did.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

6 Responses to “Understanding The Difference Between A Domain, A SubDomain, and a Directory”

  1. OrenS Says:

    Very clear. thanks

  2. bipin Says:

    Hi, Jill
    A very good article on “Understanding The Difference Between A Domain, A Sub Domain, and a Directory”

    I am in the process of learning and making my own Website in Word Press on my Lap top.
    I wish to know that if I make another website for a friend on same WordPress on my laptop using ” Multi Site features “, and then wish that he should take full charge of maintaining his website independently on his Laptop. Is that possible?
    How can this be done.

    Kindly help me to understand

    Bipin Panchal

  3. Jill Olkoski Says:

    Hi Bipin,
    WordPress consultations are part of the service I offer. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, please email me or fill out the contact form on my website.

  4. covs67 Says:

    Please are there activities a domain can perform that a subdomain can’t?

  5. Jill Olkoski Says:

    No, a subdomain can do anything a domain can do.

  6. Gladys Leonello Says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one appreciate it for putting up.

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