Recently HubSpot provided customers the ability to host their website content on their apex or “root” domain. We’ll discuss here what that means, and why it’s important for HubSpot customers who plan to use the CMS Hub to host their websites.
What is a domain
First we’ll start with some basic fundamentals. Your domain name is your website address. A domain is made up of several parts
Image courtesy of MOZ
For our purpose here, we’ll be looking at the Protocol, Subdomain, Domain name, and the Top-level domain.
Protocol - This is how your website is located by the browser. It is important to make sure that all of your content is hosted on HTTPS. This means that your website is secure and requires an SSL certificate. Not only does this give users confidence in your site, but it's also a ranking factor for Google in their ranking results. You can ensure your content is secure by toggling the Require HTTPS setting in HubSpot once a domain is connected.
Subdomain - this is the part that comes right before your “root domain”. The most common subdomain is WWW. However you can create any subdomain you want. Other common subdomains are blog.domain, info.domain, etc. If you want to host content on different platforms, you’ll need to differentiate by using a subdomain for each. More about that later.
Domain name - this is the primary object you think of when you think of a domain name. It is a unique identifier that can only be registered to one owner and cannot be duplicated.
Top-level domain - a top level domain is everything that follows the final dot of a domain name. The most common are .com, .net, .org, .gov, etc. Although the governing body ICANN has issued dozens of different top level domains in recent years. Wikipedia provides a full list of top level domains here for reference.
What is a registrar
In order to own a domain, you’ll need to purchase it through a registrar. This is a private company that sells domains and registers them with ICANN or (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Some of the most common registrars are Go Daddy, Network Solutions, Tucows & Google. Before hosting a website you'll need to procure a domain name through a reputable registrar.
DNS are the various records that control what your domain does. You have 3 main records, A, cName, and MX.
- A records control your root domain and are pointed to an IP address.
- CName records control your subdomain(s) and are pointed to a host record.
- MX records control how email is sent through your domain name and are also pointed at a host record.
In order to host content on HubSpot, you need to update your A record and cName records with HubSpot’s. Fortunately HubSpot provided specific domain updating instructions by registrar to help.
Previously, due to the fact that HubSpot has a CDN (content delivery network) your content could be hosted around the world at various data centers at any point in time. This allowed HubSpot to ensure your website stays online if there was an issue with any given server on the network. However it resulted in not being able to have a dedicated IP address to host the site on. This meant that if you wanted to host your content on HubSpot, you had to do so with a subdomain, pointed to a cName record.
For example, you needed to connect your WWW subdomain to HubSpot. Then implement a redirect for your root domain. This ensured that anyone who may have left off WWW, and simply typed DOMAIN.COM, would still be able to reach your site.
Now you are able to host content directly on your root domain by connecting your A records to HubSpot and still enjoy the benefits of a world wide CDN network.
For a full walkthrough of how to connect your domain in your HubSpot settings, check out this knowledge base article from HubSpot.
How to decide what is best?
As a general rule of thumb, it is always best practice to host your site on your apex or root domain. Then redirect your WWW subdomain to your root to ensure all traffic reaches your site. There are special circumstances however. Ecommerce for example provides a unique situation. We've done many "hybrid" website on HubSpot and either Shopify or Big Commerce. Like this impact award winning hybrid site we did for Tocabe. This is where you host your informational pages, blog, resources, etc. on HubSpot. Then you use an eComm platform to host your product catalogue, as well as handle all the payment processing & shipping requirements.
But your domain name is like the address on a house. You can't have the same address on two different houses. This is where you would leverage a subdomain. You've probably seen a website that had a "shop" link in the navigation menu. When you clicked on that you jumped over to shop.domain.com. Or similarly, you may have been on a store and clicked a link that took you to something like info.domain.com or resources.domain.com. This is how you know you've on a hybrid website that is typically hosted on two different platforms.
To determine what is best, you need to look at the primary goal of your site. If it is to sell product, then you'll host your root domain on your store and use a subdomain for your informational site. If the primary focus is to educate and convert leads, you'll set up the inverse.
Other situations might be that you need to establish a "micro-site" or dedicated section of pages for an event, target audience, etc. that is secondary to your primary website. Here too, the use of subdomains would be appropriate.
Ultimately prioritizing your root domain for the most important content is your best approach. Leveraging the various hosting solutions, you can customize your set up to suit your business needs.
For questions or guidance in terms of your website, and which SEO best practices we can implement for you, feel free to book a call with us.