Businesses large and small often use more than one website, for various reasons. We take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this approach and its impact on your SEO efforts.
Businesses with multiple websites come in several forms. They might be massive international companies, where the separate domains serve totally different business functions. Or, much smaller businesses may have several sites offering the same products or services, in the belief that more websites means that they’ll have a better chance of succeeding online.
Whether you are a large or small organisation, let’s start by taking a look in a bit more detail at when several domains could be useful, before looking at the disadvantages of such an approach.
Reasons to have multiple websites
There’s a business case for it
First of all, ask yourself why having more than one site is necessary, and why that information couldn’t appear together. It may be the case that there’s a valid business reason for wanting to maintain multiple websites. In some cases it can make sense to have several domains if the services you’re offering are completely different from each other, and if they need to have a distinct brand voice.
From a user intent perspective, segmenting information may be useful for large organisations with a varied offering. For example, tesco.com is used to buy groceries; tescobank.com is used for banking and tescoplc.com is a corporate site. Likewise, easyjet.com, easyhotel.com and easycar.com all serve completely different customer needs.
Additionally, some companies may wish to keep intent funnels completely separate, and keep lengthy informational content separate from the sales-focused ecommerce site, like Tesco’s content hub tescoliving.com which sits on a separate domain.
Although it makes sense for big companies like Tesco, EasyGroup and Virgin to follow this approach, in some cases smaller businesses could also offer a few totally distinct services, where it would make sense for the different offerings to have separate websites.
To target different countries
There’s a number of options to consider when it comes to choosing how to structure international websites. For more detail see the blog post on Hallam at http://bit.ly/2xrcI1z.
One of the options that leads to multiple sites is using a country code top level domain name (ccTLD) such as example.fr for France and example.ie for Ireland. With a structure like this, each international site will be treated as a separate domain, with separate domain authority and the demands on resource and maintenance that this brings.
Although not a separate domain, it’s pretty common to see a blog hosted on a subdomain (blog.example.com).
While in an ideal world the blog would be hosted on the main domain in a subfolder (example.com/blog), technical limitations might make it impossible to publish content on the main site.
Taken to the next level, some companies who are unable to publish content on their main site may launch an entirely separate domain purely for publishing content, on a nice and easy WordPress platform, or something similar.
To dominate the search results
Relatively recent Google updates have made it very difficult for more than one URL from the same domain to rank organically on the first page.
As Google’s unlikely to show multiple results from the same domain, having several websites allows you to take up more space in the SERPs, therefore multiplying your chances of users clicking through, or so the theory goes.
While this might work, you should question whether you have the resource available to get two websites ranking on the first page, let alone one.
A recent article on Moz discusses this, highlighting that smaller businesses will struggle to devote the time and money necessary to earn the necessary link equity and rank well.
Exact match domains
As an SEO strategy, some businesses may have attempted to capitalise on the rankings boost given by exact match domains and bought up several exact match domains related to their business, or maybe simply to prevent competitors owning those domains.
Or, additional websites may have been bought as a quick way to pass on link equity. This won’t work though, as to pass on any value in a link, the linking site itself needs to have high authority, built over time by earning links.
Occasionally you might see the same local business with multiple exact match domains dedicated solely to targeting different areas, for example nottinghamplumber.co.uk/derbyplumber.co.uk. This is ultimately a bad idea, again stemming back to the resource required, never mind the fact that it’s an approach which aims to deceive the user.
A Google update in 2012 aimed to counteract the boost you get from exact match domains, so you are better off focusing your efforts on one quality website!
Why multiple websites are a bad idea
Perhaps the main and simplest reason that you don’t want more than one website is that it’s resource intensive.
Whether it’s content creation, securing SSL certificates, optimising site speed or ensuring the sites are mobile friendly, your tasks are doubled, and in a few years’ time when it’s about due for a redesign and update, you’ll need to fork out the money for two new websites instead of one.
Most importantly, external links are essential to a site ranking well, and without them it’s going to be incredibly difficult to rank.
Making a second website means that you’ll have to go through the effort of building links to two websites, rather than focusing your efforts on building up the authority of one site, and if you’ve bought a brand new domain, it’ll be starting with zero authority.
Customer confusion and user experience
If you’re jumping between multiple websites, it can be confusing and negatively impact user experience and may even leave users unaware that they’re viewing the same business.
If you’ve set up multiple websites for the same product but targeting different stages of the conversion funnel, you can’t guarantee that the user will find the right site at the right time. You would be better off focusing on ensuring that one primary site is as visible as possible and that it has everything a customer needs.
With multiple websites selling the same products, there’s a clear danger of duplicate content.
For smaller businesses, it’s likely that any microsites or secondary websites will repurpose content from the main site, and if you’re only “spinning” content, you should question why there’s any point in having a separate site in the first place.
Great content is universally agreed upon as being essential to ranking well but it’s unlikely you’ll meet this criteria if the content is very similar or thin.
With multiple domains for the same business, you have multiple analytics properties to track and manage.
Not only that, but you can lose valuable insight too: when a user navigates between your websites, the source will show as a ‘referral’ – not the source that originally brought the user to your business.
This one’s more relevant to brick and mortar businesses – if one business operating from one location has multiple websites and each one lists the same business name, address and phone number (NAP), this can have a negative effect in search. More importantly, it’s confusing for users.
Google needs consistent NAP information in order to validate your location and return your site in local searches, and sending it mixed signals over what domain is linked to a certain location isn’t going to help.
The best approach
If you have multiple websites, or are considering building more, ask yourself why having more than one site is necessary. If you can’t come up with a good answer and are wondering how best to deal with them, my colleague Tom has written a great article on merging several domains.
If there’s a legitimate business case for maintaining several domains, that’s fine, but leads on to the next point – do you have the resource required for all of them to be effective? While multinational organisations might have the means to operate several successful websites, it’s unlikely that smaller organisations could do so in a way that’s more beneficial than having one strong, authoritative domain.
Stanley Dunthorne is an Owned Media Consultant at Hallam Internet, where he specialises in SEO and delivers results for clients across a range of industries. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @DigitalStanley.Tweet