The Ups and Downs of Multiple Website Identities

I recently responded to a business reporter who posed a question to PR Newswire’s Profnet. The reporter asked to “speak with small-business owners who have more than one Web site up-and-running, to understand the pros and cons of establishing more than one online identity”. I wrote to her saying that I have some insight on this since I am a small business owner who manages a few different websites for my own company and clients. She responded asking “Could you tell me more about your different websites?" I responded to that request, but never heard back from her. No problem. She was probably too busy on deadline to acknowledge my response. That disclaimer aside, I’d like to share with you the jist of what I wrote in my email.

Backbone Media, Inc. owns and operate two websites.

BackboneMedia.com – This is the website for our main business. It provides information about all of our website development, website design, search engine marketing, and blogging services. This website address has been our company URL since 1996.

ScoutBlogging.com -  Scout is a new blogging service for companies. The website launched in March 06. We created the new website in order to provide a unique identity for Scout.

The upside to having multiple websites is that the Backbone Media service offering already covers a wide range of website services. I did not want the new Scout Blogging Service to get lost within the Backbone umbrella website. I also wanted to really promote this as a new and different branded service. Another factor in the decision Also, I did not think visitors would really understand the importance of the Scout Blogging Service if it was simply featured as another department of BackboneMedia.com.

Many people will probably focus on the branding implications of multiple websites. Those are definitely important, but I also think there are some serious SEO implications of starting new unique domain. Link popularity plays a big role in where a website is listed in the search engine rankings. The topic of inbound links is the biggest downside to having multiple websites. A company has only so much bandwidth to spend promoting a website. In most cases I think it’s better to focus your efforts into generating high quality links to one website rather than spreading your efforts over two or several different websites. The theory here is that there is more Search engine optimization power in concentrating 700 inbound links to one website rather than spreading them over multiple websites. It usually takes several months for a new optimized website to be indexed appropriately into the Google organic listings. The existing website may have already established a decent Google Page Rank that can be used as a plank for quicker inclusion in search results. A new website will have to start from scratch.

I have some anecdotal proof of this. Back in the spring of 2005 we conducted a survey for a paper called Corporate Blogging: Is it Worth the Hype. We used Zoomerang survey software and posted the survey questionnaire (within a frameset) at this address on our established domain www.backbonemedia.com/blogsurvey/. This page quickly ranked in the top 5 Google listings for the search phrase “corporate blogging”. We later replaced that page with the html version of the survey results and links to the paper’s PDF. It now holds a steady #3 position in Google’s organic search engine rankings.

That being said, there are also good SEO implications to having multiple websites. The biggest benefit to multiple websites is that search engines attribute a lot of weight to the content in the root index page (default home page) of a website. To make a long story short, there are several key content areas of the home page that a search engine will look to see what the page is about; domain name, title tag, text headings, first sentence, body copy and internal links and anchor text. If your website is selling multiple categories of services, (such as our Search Engine Marketing, Website Development, Website Design, and Blogging Services) there is little room to promote all of them without having to demote some of them to a lower position in the pecking order. A website entirely devoted to one subject (in Scout’s case "corporate blogging services") allows the site owner to really emphasize the primary / root phrases and support keywords for that service, and also expand into the long tail of keyword phrases.

Another observation: While conducting the survey we also created a blog dedicated to discussing the results of the survey and corporate blogging in general. The domain for this blog was actually a sub domain of backbonemedia.com — address http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com . It is worth noting that this blog (setup as a sub domain) maintains a lower position on “corporate blogging” even though there is considerably more activity around the subject of corporate blogging.

Here’s my explanation of why the sub folder url backbonemeida.com/blogsurvey/ ranks higher than blogsurvey.backbonemdia.com.

  1. Backbonemedia.com has been our company’s official address since 1996.

  2. At the time the lauch of the blog survey in Spring 2005, the site had a page rank of 7

  3. It already had hundreds of inbound links (decent link popularity).

  4. The frameset page was optimized for the term “corporate blogging".

  5. The announcement of the survey created many relevant links to the page from the blogosphere. 

  6. Once the page appeared in the top rankings it probably generated a favorable Click Through Rate (CTR) since it was a relevant result.

In summary: starting a new website is not ideal if you’re eager for short term search engine position results. It’s better to leverage your existing page rank and link popularity by creating a section in your existing website (as long as you have a related website that is in good standing with the search engines). However, if brand differentiation is more important than search engine rankings, go with a new domain (not a sub domain).

Tags: multiple+websites search+engine+optimization, new+brand, new+web+site, new+website
Filed under: Product Development, Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Stephen Turcotte on February 1, 2007 10:04 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

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