Separate Website or Just a Separate Section?

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Andy Crestodina
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I get this question about once a month. It’s typically from a website owner who registered some new domain names or a marketing manager who wants to reach a new audience or promote a separate product or service.

Usually, I recommend against it. Having another website means more work: more time spent managing and promoting. Think of it this way: should I live in two houses? Sounds nice to have two places, but it’s going to take more effort to make each feel like a home.

Making a new section on your website may take only a few hours, and as long as you have a content management system, it might cost nothing. But there are times when it makes sense to have a separate website.

If you’ve ever asked this question, first consider the downsides to promoting and managing a separate site:

  • Web Development Costs: Yes, I’d love to have Orbit build a new website for every domain name owned by every client, but I can’t recommend this in good conscience. Building great sites takes a real investment of time and money!
  • Management Time: Hopefully, both sites are easy to update. But another site will need more content, which means more writing time and content development costs.
  • Search Engine Ranking: The number and quality of incoming links is probably the most important factor in search engine rankings. It’s better to have one site with 100 links than two sites with 50 each. In other words, it’s better to have one site rank on page one in Google, than have two sites on page two.

Keeping these factors in mind, the pros had better outweigh the cons.

So when does a separate site make sense?

Of course, there are cases when you really should have another site. Here are my guidelines:

Ask yourself these two questions:

1. Would the new site have a different audience?

2. Would the new site have different goals?

If the answer to only one of these questions was yes, I don’t recommend a new site. It’s probably best just to have a separate section on your existing site. Only consider building a separate site if you answered yes to both of these questions.

Examples:

  • Widget Co. sells widgets to businesses.  Now they’re thinking of selling widgets directly to consumers.  In other words, same goal (sell widgets), different audience (consumers).
    Yes + No = Separate Section
  • Tony’s Unicorns (remember Tony?) is expanding, and now they’re going to start servicing griffins.  It’s a different goal (service griffins) but for the same audience (owners of mythical creatures).
    No + Yes = Separate Section
  • Glenda does event photography for corporations.  But people keep asking her to plan weddings and she’s going to promote these services online.  It’s a different goal (promote planning services) and a different audience (happy couples).
    Yes + Yes = Separate Website

What about all these domains I have?

If you really want to take advantage of those domains, you can always redirect them to your main site. This doesn’t have a search engine benefit (it’s actually not a new incoming link), but it might make you feel better for having spent the money! Besides, there are other reasons to own domains, such as defense against competition, speculative investment and conversation at the bar on Thursdays.

Bottom Line

Next time you think about website design, pause and ask yourself those two questions. You might reconsider. Deciding not to make another site may save you thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. But you may also find that a separate site is a great idea!

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Comments (17)
  • Great post. Immediately I began to wonder if there are any exceptions to the rule. The Life Hacker, Gizmodo, Gawker model was the first to come to mind. Essentially they have the same business goal, to gain audience & traffic to its blog.

    However there products have varied audiences because of the content topics. My assumption was that they enjoy this model because it builds on the authority portion of SEO strength. Would the Gawker group be better off combining their sites?

  • There are certainly exceptions. The Cheezburger network has 56 comedy sites, all with the same goals (make people laugh) but with separate audiences (segmented by what you think is funny) I suspect Gawker is the same. But these are such huge sites, they don’t have the same SEO concerns as most businesses…

  • Very true. They are definitely exceptions to the norm. Media sites, in general, seem to behave very differently than the rest of the web.

  • I completely agree, it’s always recommended to have a one site with good quality links rather than 2 websites!

  • Thanks for this thoughtful article Andy. This dilemma has plagued me for years and I’m at a crucial moment of having to decide. I am a fairly experimental indie musician (audience: 20 and 30 somethings) and an author of kids ‘musical picture books’ (audience: parents and children).

    I’m having a hard time deciding if the answer to your second question is ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It seems to depend on the level of magnification. My goal is to sell musical art in both cases, but they are different styles.

    I am about to release, almost simultaneously, my first ‘silly musical picture book’ and my first album. Am I stifling my chances by using the same name (my given name) and website for both types of offerings?

    To be clear, here is the book:
    http://jessethom.com/somebunnylovesyou/

    And here is the music:
    http://jessethom.bandcamp.com/

    Help!!

    • I’m in a similar situation to you.
      I’m a magician and I provide professional close up magic for corporate events and weddings, but also have a separate site for children’s entertainment.

      Like you it’s a question of magnification.

      The goal is the same – high quality magic and comedy, but each style is very different.
      The people who book me to entertain their chief executives, don’t want to see me making balloon poodles and playing pass the parcel.

      My business is quite local and I think google’s local search likes businesses to have one website, so I’m just trying to find a way to marry all this up together and make a decision.

      Any help is appreciated.

      • One website, Ed!

        I don’t see any advantages in separate sites. I think you’re a good example of the guideline above working in practice. One goal (sell magic services) but separate audiences (people interested in events, and children) …not enough reason to break up the content into separate sites.

  • There are other Marketing impacts to consider is well. It is certainly true about consideration of time and energy. I am in this dilemma of consideration as well. I have a landscape company and we serve several markets. Many times people only want to call a fence only company, or a tree service only company because that is there only need at the time and they want to call someone for which that is all they do. So if I advertise for fencing only, I want them directed to a website that makes it look like that is all I do and I have people that focus on just that. I even have a separate phone number with a separate greeting or separate phone answering rules. But due to some of the things Andy is writing about, I am considering that I should just focus on a separate landing pages and take the hit. It would be nice if you could have a domain name go to a landing page and that would show as the URL. If that is possible, I would love to hear that or other ideas. I am in ready to rebuild everything.

    Bottom line, there is the total strategy of the company to consider and the website is the foundation of marketing in my industry.

    • Thanks for the comment, Garrett. Yes, I strongly encourage you to build one website with sections and landing pages for each service. I think the results are higher with this approach, especially if you have any expectation of ranking in search. Whenever you launch a new site, you start with a “domain authority” of zero. And it’s a long road to ranking for many phrases.

      Imagine if Amazon launched a new site for every new service or product category. They build off one domain for a good reason! I strongly recommend you stick to one domain if costs and/or SEO is important to you.

      • Andy, thank you for this article. I’ve struggled with this for several months, and your article helped shed the most light for me on the pros and cons of each.

        This last comment, which uses Amazon as an example, was perfect; it was just the clarification I needed regarding my how to gauge my own goals and audiences.

        I believe I will be adding a second section, NoraFirestone.com (as my author site/section for books and articles about writing for business, media relations and writing for the Web), to my existing StepbyStepPresentations.com (where I currently offer articles and free tutorials about writing, business and website design) because I expect much audience similarity and crossover, and because I offer services, speaking and instruction in all of the topics mentioned and would have a tough time splitting up information about this (the strong common thread between the two entities) without driving visitors back and forth from one site to another, etc.

        Per all that I’ve considered up to this point, I plan to create distinct but related styles for each section, and probably have one main menu to include both sections, the submenus of which will be more section-specific. I will also follow my advice to Garrett, which is to direct NoraFirestone.com to that section’s landing page as a “masked” URL forward so the URL will still appear as NoraFirestone.com in visitors’ browser bars.

        One of my biggest concerns has been the impact on SEO with pursuing either option. Sounds like you believe it’s better for SEO, at least in my case, to combine the two sections into one site. My existing site already does pretty well in SEO (do a regular Google search for google.com/alerts and see what comes up in position #2 or #3 of some 400 million results).

        What do you think about my plan? Would you recommend it?

        • Or will a masked redirect present a duplicate-content issue?

          • Hello, Nora.

            I’m not sure what you mean by a “masked” redirect, but I do recommend picking one domain and doing all of your marketing there. SEO is one of the main reasons for this.

            I also wouldn’t worry about duplicate content. There is a lot of hysteria about this, but the risks are very low! If you ask around, there are very few people who have any experience with actual penalties. They are very few and far between. The only penalties I know of were in very extreme cases. I wouldn’t worry about this at all if I were you.

            Here’s an article I wrote on this topic for KISSmetrics…
            https://blog.kissmetrics.com/myths-about-duplicate-content/

            I hope this helps!

      • Hi Andy,

        Do you have a site im mind, regarding the website divided by sections plus landing pages?
        I’m curious how this works with showing (duplicate?) content.
        And how the site tree is constructed.

        Thanks in advance,
        Gerold

    • Garrett, regarding your question about having a domain name go to a landing page that would show as the URL, simply do the URL forwarding/redirect as “masked.” It’s OK if you’ve already set it up as unmasked; you should be able to easily edit this in your domain registrar’s DNS record management section of your account.

  • This was an awesome post.

  • Andy, I own Sandandsteelfitness.com and we primarily sell in person personal training and nutrition. I am going to be adding a online only version to our business model. Price bracket is different, reach is very different (worldwide vs 2 miles) — however it’s online personal training and nutrition vs in-person personal training and nutrition. What are you thoughts? It’s easy for me to just create a new tab on my existing site that says online training and build out the leadpage, or i can create a small site like: http://www.clubfitmiss.com/

  • This is helpful, I am new at the whole website building thing and need a more precise answer. We are a for profit that recently started a non-profit. At our first board meeting we were told we needed to separate the two businesses within our one website. So I am looking for the correct way to do that. I have some thoughts on it but would like to hear from a professional. Thank you in advance.

 
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