Spoiler alert: you’re about to read 1,000 words on this question only to reach the phrase “it depends on your specific circumstances.” Now that the cat is out of the bag, let’s get down to it. There are a number of reasons for and against the multiple websites option, so the only reasonable way to do this is to examine both points of view. We’ll regroup again at the end to try to make sense of it all.
Arguments For Multiple Websites
Multiple websites have a lot of potential when it comes to doing creative – or just plan necessary – things for your business.
Here are the top three reasons for building a new site.
1. You have two similar, but fundamentally different, business niches
Suppose you have an existing company that sells, I don’t know, cases for guns. It’s a lucrative business, what with hysteria around gun rights reaching epic proportions lately. Then, you discover the material you use for your ingenious, proprietary rifle cases can also be used to create a rugged and stylish handbag.
You know where this is going. This is a pretty clear-cut case where multiple websites might save your business from having an identity crisis.
2. You’re concerned about localization
Localization is frequently thought of as something that only has an impact on companies with a global reach. The truth is, even smaller businesses may have very good reasons for splitting their main website into several language-specific sites. WebFX is located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – a surprisingly diverse city.
If the same is true for you, it might be worth your while to create, for example, a website that targets the Spanish-speaking population. Of course, making this decision is going to require that you know your demographics particularly well. You don’t want to spend a bunch of time spinning off your site into localized versions if you’re not going to see a return on your investment.
3. You foresee selling off a part of your business in the future
I’m not talking about economic downturns or personal tragedies here; parts of larger companies are sold off all the time. This can be a normal part of the growth process. At the risk of sounding like I expect you to have fortune-telling abilities, I’d say that if there’s a chance you’ll be selling off a part of your business in the future, you’ll want it to have a separate web presence.
Once the new owner has the keys to the kingdom, as it were, there won’t be any huge transitions to go through in terms of extricating your two businesses from the same website.
Arguments Against Multiple Websites
That’s three solid reasons in favor of the multiple-website approach. Let’s get into the dissenting opinions now and see how they hold up.
1. You can spend less money on ads and development
The multiple websites dilemma is a business decision, so it makes sense for you to base your decision on, well, business. Unless you’re made of both time and money, you probably won’t have the resources to really invest all of the necessary effort and resources into several sites. You know better than anyone what your advertising and development budget looks like.
If there’s one thing I’d like to drive home here, it’s that whatever you end up deciding, remember not to act until you can do so in a fiscally responsible way.
2. Your customers might not know where to go
Customer confusion is a driving force behind many business decisions. Several of the companies we work with on a regular basis have multiple websites, and have for a while now. And it suits them.
Each site serves a slightly different purpose and caters to a different kind of customer. But other companies might not have the same results. Multiple websites might serve only to confuse would-be customers.
Nine out of 10 searches for goods and services begin online; customers will notice if your company has multiple personality disorder, and they may end up uncertain as to who they’re actually doing business with.
3. Your search engine ranking might suffer
A running joke among parents (or maybe just children) is that parents don’t have the time and energy to invest an equal amount of time in the lives of both kids. Well, ranking in search engines is much the same. If you have multiple websites, you’re going to have to choose a favorite, at least on occasion.
And in the course of making that decision, you’re going to end up opening a pretty huge can of worms. You’ll have to answer questions like “which site drives more traffic?” and “which site should I build links to this month?” These are definitely valid concerns. Whether you mean to or not, you’re going to end up playing favorites one way or another.
Investing solely in your original website will save you from some of that division of labor and make your search rankings that much more predictable.
Okay, so after all that deliberation, you’ve decided to go for it and create a second website for your business. How do you get started? What are the best practices for getting this done?
Here are a few reminders:
1. Know your reasons
Familiarize yourself with some case studies. See if any of them match your specific set of circumstances. There’s definitely a strong precedent for multiple sites in cases where the company wanted to target specific geographical areas or sets of customers.
2. Don’t double up on content
If you find yourself creating two completely identical websites, you’ve probably missed the point. Having multiple websites is a great opportunity to build up different voices, identities, and areas of authority. A common practice is to have a main corporate website with another website devoted entirely to blogging and “thought leadership.” That approach may work for you, as well.
3. Put your extra domains to work
One thing you might consider, if you’ve been buying related domain names and you’re not sure how best to put them to work, would be to use a 301 redirect to bring users to your main website. This indicates a “permanent move” and would help ensure that your idle domains are helping to bring in traffic.
4. Follow Google’s lead
Google’s Matt Cutts has been fielding questions about multiple websites for a long time. One of his most recent answers provides some actionable suggestions for telling Google when, and how, similar websites are related. He uses the localized versions of eBay as examples.
He also drives home the risk inherent in creating footer or sidebar links across your network of websites – a practice that stands a good chance of getting flagged as spam. The reminder, as usual, is to do your linking in a more organic way. And if your sites are too similar?
You may not want to link them at all. And that, in the end, may defeat the purpose of multiple websites entirely.
Like I said, there’s no obvious answer for this dilemma. After all, your situation may be dramatically different from other companies, even if they’re within the same niche.
So, as I promised above, here’s that all-too-familiar cop-out: it depends on your specific circumstances. And it really does. Hopefully this article has given you, if not a definitive answer, then at least the tools you need for coming up with your own.
Dan Wilhelm is a marketer, journalist, and ghostwriter. He studied creative writing at Susquehanna University.
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