I often get asked about using sub-domains and sub-folders (sub-directories).

Before I show you “HOW” to use either, here’s a little information for you on what they are and why they are used.

Many SEO experts, as well as other digital marketing experts often recommend that websites NOT use sub-domains (unless absolutely necessary)…they would instead recommend a sub-folder (subdirectory) be used to align with what is currently deemed as the “way to go about things”, especially when it comes to SEO rankings.  The reason for this, in plain English, is that a sub-domain is treated by the search engines as a truly unique website.

For those of you are aren’t familiar with either, the visual difference between a sub-domain and sub-folder (subdirectory) are: a sub-domain looks like subdomain.website.com, whereas a sub-folder (subdirectory) looks like www.website.com/subfolder.

So when should you use one over the other?  When googling sub-domains vs. sub-folders, the debate majoritively revolves around SEO practices and ranking.  would suggest that sub-domains are not ideal.  But  and from my research

When googling sub-domains vs. sub-folders, the debate majoritively revolves around SEO practices and rankings and would suggest that sub-folders are the recommended solution.  Don’t get me wrong, these are highly important in terms of driving organic traffic to your blog or business site….but there are other things to consider when choosing whether or not to use sub-domains and/or sub-folders that go above and beyond SEO.

So what does that mean for you, especially if you are building an online course or a membership site?

When creating an online course or membership site, you basically have 4 choices;

  • create the pages for the site (course or membership) on your existing site
  • create the pages for the site (course or membership) in a sub-folder of your site
  • create the pages for the site (course or membership) in a sub-domain of your site
  • create the pages for the site (course or membership) in a whole new domain

As an eLearning Strategist, my recommendation is usually to build your course or membership site either on its own domain or, in a sub-domain or sub-folder.  The reason why I don’t like having either mixed in with your existing site is that it can get messy quickly.  And that might seem like a simple, unimportant reason, but trust me, when you are trying to keep both your site and course/membership site managed and organized and more importantly, if you aim is to grow your course or membership site, this is a setup that will not sustain you in the long run.  Trust me on this!

So ideally, it is always a best practice to take your course or membership site and build it in its own “section” or on its own domain.  A sub-domain and/or sub-folder is, from a tech/organizational point of view, a separate section within your domain. In either of these cases, you would be building your course or membership site in an unoccupied (or blank) space.  This means independent WordPress installs.

So what do you need to consider when trying to decide the best option for you?

How big is your course or membership site? 

Can your hosting package handle the increased traffic if you keep it all under one domain?

Do you want your course or membership site to have its own audience separate from your biz site?

Are you using your name or your biz name to grow your audience or would you rather be known by your course or membership site name?

Do you want to use your current SEO rankings?

Do you use an SSL? 

Can you afford a new domain, a new SSL?

And there are quite a few other factors that can have an impact on “where” you decide to house your course or membership site.

And there are no “black and white” answers…

My preference is to house membership sites and online courses on their own domains.  But if your course is quite small, and you are just starting off and not sure of whether or not you will be growing this section of your business, then a sub-domain or sub-folder will do just fine.  Just check with your hosting company that you CAN have use sub-domains and sub-folders.  Not all will allow it in the basic packages…so get informed.

Some things to also keep in mind…an SSL certificate installed on your site will automatically apply to sub-folders but not necessarily to sub-domains.  So again, you need to ensure that you’ve considered this, as it is a huge factor when it comes to selling access to your site.

Another huge consideration is whether or not the theme you are currently using on your site is ideal to building membership or course site pages and whether or not it integrates easily with a shopping cart or membership plugin.

As most of you know, I use OptimizePress to build my clients membership and online course sites and it comes with its own membership plugin.  OptimizePress can be set up as a theme or as a plugin.

To avoid incompatibility issues with other themes, and because I honestly prefer to use OptimizePress as a theme, I normally will set up my clients sites on a sub-domain or a new stand alone domain. It is easy for them to manage later, and they can have installed on the each site setup only the plugins NEEDED to run each site.  A membership and/or online course site WILL NOT need the same kinds of plugins that a business site would, and that’s an important consideration because when it comes to plugins, LESS IS MORE!

And more importantly, the security of your site has to be at the forefront of everything.  Considering that a membership site or online course will be giving “member” access to dozens, if not hundreds of users, you may NOT WANT that kind of traffic on your business site.  So by keeping them separate, the activity of one site will not affect the other.

So as you can see, choosing to use a sub-domain, a sub-folder, your own site or a whole new site isn’t always as cut and dry as you would think.  But hopefully, this little bit of information may help you as you move forward with your membership or online course setup.  And if you do choose to set up a sub-domain or a sub-folder but have no idea how (or where) to do this…I’ve included a short “how-to” video to help you do just that!

As always, if you have any questions or any comments regarding this post, I would love to hear what you have to say!

And if you liked what you’ve read and what to be kept informed of these tech tips, make sure to join my free online community!



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