Warning: Multiple Site “Best Practice” Not Always The Best Practice
Last week I read a great post over on Spin Sucks where my friend Gini Dietrich asked Andy Crestodina his opinion about a problem one of her clients has. You see, the client has multiple sites devoted to the same topic. Andy’s response was excellent and represents best practice within the industry. Here is the relevant portion of his response quoted directly from Spin Sucks.
The biggest single factor in how high a site ranks is it’s “authority,” which is another way of saying link popularity. This authority is per domain, so it’s almost always best to not build separate websites. Separate websites mean separate domain authority.
If you have two sites and someone links to one of them, the other site doesn’t benefit from the link. You’ve diluted your efforts. It’s better to have one site that ranks on page one than two sites that rank on page two!
He also recommended the following:
- Make one site! Make it awesome.
- For each topic, make one section. Make it awesome.
- For each keyphrase, make one page. Make it awesome.
Also on Tuesday, Andy presented on content strategy and keyword research to a class of students for 312 Digital and repeated the same information for everyone in the class.
I agree that this is the way to go – about 90-95% of the time. In most cases, having everything awesome and concentrated on one domain is the way to go. But there is a different choice that can be made with dramatically positive results. I love this response because Andy couched his terminology just enough.
I’d venture a guess that nearly everyone that read that post walked away with this phrase top of mind: “Make one site!” Meanwhile, I focused on this phrase: “[I]t’s almost always best to not build multiple web sites” (emphasis mine). Almost always, means there are times when it would be best practice to have multiple sites. Here’s just one example I can pull from real life to illustrate when multiple sites was far and away the best course of action.
An exception for every rule
In July 2009 I took over as General Manager for a small brand that did online bar exam preparation for lawyers called MicroMash. We shuttered part of that business and re-branded as Multistate Edge in 2011. But shortly after I assumed control, we rebuilt the MicroMash site and started a blog on a separate domain BarExamBrief.com (which the business allowed to expire recently.)
We decided to build two separate web sites for two reasons. First, we wanted to establish the blog as an INDEPENDENT voice of authority on the subject of bar exam preparation and bar exam results. We explicitly set out to be a news oriented site, one that contained announcements regarding every state in the nation and also included announcements about our competitors and changes they would make to their programs. Second, I knew that because the competition was not particularly strong in that space, we had a chance to place TWO web sites on the first page of Google instead of one. A year later, as I reflected back on that decision, I was certain I had made the right call.
We had two top phrases we cared about:
- [state] bar exam
- [state] bar exam information
With 50 states plus the District of Columbia all offering bar exams to lawyers and law students, we had 102 search phrases that we measured. Within a year, we achieved between two and four top 10 listings for every one of our top phrases. Searches like “Illinois Bar Exam” and “New York Bar Exam Information.” In many cases we had three due to multiple pages from one of the sites hitting the top 10.
The story above is just one example where going with a single site may have been a missed opportunity. Frankly, we’ll never know. But I stand by my decision to go with two. I think it was the right decision then, and I’d do it again in a minute if they hired me on as a consultant.
For me, the deciding factor in the above case study was the level of competition for those search phrases. Experience and intuition told me that I could grab those killer results because our competition did not optimize for those phrases. They still aren’t today. The Multistate Edge web site I built in 2011 was above the fold for nearly every search I ran this week – usually only being outranked by the state agency that administers the bar exams.
My recommendation? Discuss your multiple web site strategies, problems and ideas with an experienced consultant – someone who can offer sound advice based on years of experience. Doing otherwise may be a bad decision – regardless of whether you decide to build one site or two.
HUGE CAVEAT: The case study above does not represent the classic “duplicate content” scenario that actually prompted Gini’s question of Andy. In that scenario, she was asking if there are ways to re-purpose content across multiple websites. Re-using the exact same content across multiple web sites is almost NEVER a good idea. In our example above, we created original content for both sites. I’ll likely be writing another post soon about duplicate content.
What’s your experience been with multiple web sites covering the same subject matter? I’d love to hear what you’ve done or tried.
Featured image courtesy of orangeacid via creative commons on Flickr.