In my decade of full-time work as a web developer (and certainly including all of my corporate marketing time prior to that), I’ve now encountered just about every imaginable scenario when it comes to companies with multiple things to market online— e.g., brands, services, products, and locations.
While the following may well pertain to products, services, and brands, the most common discussion about multiple web sites arises around corporate locations in particular.
A Quick Tangent Illustrating Some Related Challenges You Hopefully Will Never Face
I first ran up against this in the 1990s, actually, when I was a Sr. Manager for Marketing Communications & Internet Services for an massive nonprofit association. We had the main association web site, but then there were dozens of sub-group sites spread around the globe. Some of the issues faced in this particular scenario were:
- The organization was not only national, but international — meaning there would be language considerations for marketing within other countries.
- By the time I got there, these sub-groups were well-established and dozens already had independent web sites. So, I had no say in the structuring.
- Branding was a bit of a nightmare across the entire array of sites, as I didn’t even have contact information for all of the ones who ran all of these sites. Indeed, some sites were just dead, with zero possibility of changing anything. So, fixing any off-brand art or images, and/or implementing any new any corporate-wide messaging or branding was literally impossible.
- When others run your marketing, and they had never agreed to adhere to graphical or language standards, it’s challenging to bring them into the fold, so to speak.
- And, objectively, you had a situation in which dozens of sub-groups were independently spending money on hosting, developers, artists, etc. That money, in my view, could have been pooled to do one large site massively better.
Don’t worry: I’ll soon bring this to a more practical “U.S.-only” discussion. But, I just wanted to show, above, how nightmarish a business owner’s or marketer’s job can get when things aren’t under your control. I didn’t like the above setup, frankly. And my negative opinion about it displeased many of the sub-groups. Your situation will likely differ, as you’ll be in control — but potentially will still have to manage multiple sites. So, let’s look at that.
More Practical Challenges: One Domain or Many?
More likely than the above scenario, you’ll face much more basic issues. Typically, that’ll be something like this: You’re ABCWidgets in Portland, and you’ve always been ABCWidgets.com. But now you’ve opened a Seattle branch, and you can’t decide whether to incorporate Seattle-specific content into ABCWidgets.com or to make a new ABCWidgets-Seattle.com domain, and have a separate web site serving up info for it.
Granted, this can be even tougher if you’d had your initial domain name be ABCWidgets-Portland.com (or something similar with your city in the domain name). That’s actually not an uncommon problem because many marketers wishing to optimize for a local market would indeed include the city name within the domain name itself. This is a strategy that used to work well, and I imagine still does, as the domain name itself is a major SEO factor.
But let’s assume for now that you’re ABCwidgets.com and want to decide whether to (a) reorganize ABCwidgets.com somehow to include locations or location-specific content, or (b) start ABCwidgets-Seattle.com to have a domain dedicated just to Seattle content.
If you go the ABCwidgets-Seattle.com route, keep in mind:
- you’ll have another domain name to renew each year;
- you’ll may need a new standalone web site (unless you do some of the various trickery that’s admittedly possible to avoid this);
- you may need a new hosting account (though similar work-arounds exist);
- updates may well take longer, as you may have to update multiple locations (core software, various extensions, various graphic-replacements, etc.) instead of just one;
- you may have some dupe text on multiple sites, as you’ll invariably want to re-run some of the boilerplate stuff from your main web site on the copy for the new location;
- your developer costs may well rise a bit, as he/she would need to at least make up a copy of your site and then customize that copy, which is more involved than reorganizing an existing site for accommodating locations;
- analytics could well get tougher to implement and/or manage, as you’ll probably want to link your location sites (or have to do that manually);
- SEO could well become tougher to organize and manage, as you may want/need to optimize separate domains for separate reasons (which may well negatively affect your existing SEO for a while);
- you’re effectively preventing your company from having *one larger* site (with the background that more content on a site is generally better SEO-wise, in my opinion, than less content across multiple domains);
- it’ll be tougher to switch back from this modality in the future than the other if you’d kept one domain and wanted to switch to multiples);
- there seems to be no definitive rationale SEO-wise for multi-sites vs. one larger site (except in perhaps unusual or highly-specific circumstances).
ONE Domain Wins!
Hopefully my bias is becoming clearer and I don’t have to write out the pros and cons of each case. Granted such pros and cons exist. But, in the end, I feel that, most of the time, multiple-domains are messier on all fronts.
That is to say, specifically for ABCwidgets.com, once they have expanded into Seattle, what would happen would be a rethinking of the web site. Quite often, the products, services, and other general information (such as blog articles, white papers, etc.) remains the same, with just contact information changing a bit.
So, what you do is to have a “Locations” page, which then links to specific location pages on your existing site. ABCwidgets.com would now have ABCwidgets.com / locations (which would list out the individual locations) and then location-specific sub-pages like ABCwidgets.com / locations / portland and ABCwidgets.com / locations / seattle.
The Bottom Line: ONE Domain Is Better
That’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it.
In the end, it’s certainly a preference. If 10 developers read this and care to chime in, half will agree with me that one domain is best, half will disagree. That latter half would be dead-wrong, of course (kidding). But, as in most things, you just have to make a call and go with it. As a fairly experienced web guy, that’s just my call.
In the end, there’s rarely any advantage to over-complicating your life. Why have 10 small web sites when one well-organized one will do the trick, save you time, easily retain your branding and messaging all at once, and save the headache and expense of managing them all?
Done. Over. One site is better. QED.
Other Takes On This Issue
Here are some other decent articles exploring the pros/cons of single-sites vs. multiple ones:
- Search Engine Journal: “Multiple Sites: Does It Hurt or Help SEO?”
- Kameron Jenkins: “Single Websites vs Multiple Websites: An SEO Strategy for Multi-Local Businesses”
- Hallam Internet: “Should I have multiple websites for one business?”
- Kathleen Booth: “4 Reasons Why Having Multiple Websites Is Killing Your Business”
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.