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Should I Choose a Multiple Domain SEO Strategy? The Why, What, When

February 17, 2021
by
Tory Gray
Tory Gray

Should your brand expand or consolidate its multi-domain structure? 

There are situations where you find yourself investing unnecessarily in multiple domains instead of focusing your attention on a single website. Or, alternatively, trying to accomplish too much on a single domain. 

If you want to learn different strategic approaches to the “what, when, and why” questions around implementing a multiple domain SEO, we are here to help. We’re going to explore what a multiple domain SEO strategy is, when and why you should consider a multiple domain strategy, and when it is a big no-no-no for search engine algorithms.

What is a Multiple Domain Strategy

Domains are domains - if you control more than one, congratulations! You are running multiple domains. 

Here are some examples of different domains applying multiple domain strategies; note that subdomains, domains, and top-level domains all count as different domains!

Real-life subdomain examples: 

  • https://www.bsh-group.com
  • https://www.siemens-home.bsh-group.com
  • https://tech.wayfair.com

Real-life domain examples: 

  • https://us.pg.com
  • https://colorofchange.org

Real-life top-level domain examples: 

  • https://www.hubspot.de
  • https://www.amazon.com
  • https://www.go.co
parts-of-a-url.png

         

Learn more about the parts of a URL.

From an e-commerce website to a blog, any separate domain you own can be included as part of a multiple domain strategy.

Anyone can have multiple domains - but will that be an effective and sustainable strategy? The question here boils down to branding, audience alignment, and budget. Next, we’ll find out whether it’s a good idea for you to have multiple websites for one business.

When Does Having Multiple Websites Work?

The simple answer may come down to how “mighty” and well-known your brand is. Your offline presence and business & marketing strategy will often determine whether you should be splitting your efforts or merging them to form one authoritative website.

In some cases, there are undeniable advantages - or even baseline requirements - to having multiple websites for a business. Here are some different scenarios to illustrate when it makes sense to have multiple websites for one business.

Parent Company With Multiple Brands and/or Audiences

Say you are a global CPG brand that owns a number of different smaller brands. If you don't inherently want them to be associated with each other due to branding, pricing, audience mismatch, or brand affinity/market share, a multiple domain strategy is a good option for you. This is even more true if you don’t inherently want to advertise to customers that your brands are owned by the same parent company.

For example, P&G owns both the Luvs®; and Pampers® brands; in this case, the brand affinity for each is so strong in itself that each brand warrants its own site - even if the audience personas and needs are relatively closely aligned. 

P&G also owns the feminine product brands Just® and Always® Just, as a brand, promises fragrance, chlorine, and dye-free products; Always does not. Here the product feature set attracts a very different customer base, and attempting to combine the 2 brands on a single website would cause both user confusion, and potentially brand affinity fallout - an obviously bad outcome. 

This doesn’t inherently mean you can’t talk to different audiences on the same website. For example, Insperity.com provides HR consulting services to SMBs and mid-market companies, and they speak to both of those audiences on the same site without major issues.

But if you find yourself struggling to ensure a great user experience for all of your core audience groups, it’s time to consider the multi-domain setup. 

Bottom line: If the brand/audience alignment is different enough that you don’t want to overlap them, consider a multi-domain approach. 

Parent Company With Various Country Targeting (Internationalization) Needs

seo-internationalization

         

This scenario is very similar to the above, with the added layer of international markets. By this we mean: 

  1. Language & currency differences.
  2. Local rules and regulations that could impact what products, and product features & functionality, a brand can offer from country to country.

For example, BSH in Turkey has a brand named Profilo. It targets the local market instead of fully promoting all BSH values & products to the customer. Typically, this internationalization looks like main-site.com vs. company-name.co.uk (where the new ccTLD corresponds to your new target country. cc = Country Code, TLD = Top Level Domain.)

Dig deeper into SEO Internationalization specs & business decisions, if this bucket applies to you.

Bottom line: There may be an SEO advantage to maintaining the appropriate ccTLDs per target country - if country targeting is necessary for your SEO efforts. If you aren’t international, or you are only doing language targeting (consider subfolders as an alternative solution!), this does not apply.

Parent Brand With Subsidiaries or DBAs

If your brands are the same, but the representatives and subsidiaries (and potentially corporate offices) are different, you might want to apply a multi-domain SEO strategy as well.

For example, The Cherry Creek Mortgage Company owns the following properties: 

  • https://www.cherrycreekmortgage.com
  • https://www.bluespothomeloans.com
  • https://www.cherrycreektexas.com

This tactic might apply to real estate firms or insurance sales with different locations & realtors or salespeople nested under different brands. This can be beneficial to the individuals as well, especially if they have their own individual brands to leverage.

Bottom line: If you want (or need, for all of the sometimes inevitable internal political reasons) to leverage different salespeople separately, multiple domains may be a good option. Just keep in mind the additional costs associated with this decision.

You Want A Bigger Share of SERP Real Estate

In the offline world, your aim is (often!) to grow market share in your industry. In the online world, the goal is to dominate SERPs… the right way.

But what does “the right way” actually mean? Ultimately, it means the legitimate & legal way! And, the way that abides by the rules and requirements of the search engine you are targeting (likely Google Search among others.) 

As an example, let's say you are acquiring a competitive brand in your existing vertical:

  • You could buy the competitor and merge the main websites to gain more authority under one “roof.”
  • Alternatively, you could keep each domain separate, in order to bring in different customers “in” via the different brands - and own >1 position in Google.

If your competitor is well-known and influential, why not continue giving users this option? Especially if it means more revenue for you. 

Bottom line: A multiple domain strategy comes at a higher cost, but the potential payoff is commensurately higher. So if you want to own a bigger piece of the pie, and can afford that investment, a multiple-domain SEO strategy may be for you.

If and when you do go down the multi-domain path, there are 2 primary SEO ways you can implement it:

  • Use the same keyword strategy (and keyword targets), but a totally different branding & web page copy.
  • In other words: try to rank 2 different sites on page 1 for the same terms.
  • Target net-new specific keywords by landing page that might be searched by different users with different needs - even if the industry is the same. So it's a whole new keyword footprint to work on. For example, what we in America refer to as a sweater is commonly called a jumper by the British.
  • In other words: try to find brand new keywords to rank for (keywords that the target audiences in question will use.)

If/when it makes sense to have specific pages that are the same, utilize the canonical tag as needed. 

If you cannot decide which plan will be the best for your brand, our SEO strategy services can help.

When is Using Multiple Websites for One Business a Bad Idea?

when-is-having-multiple-websites-a-bad-idea

         

Having multiple websites for one business can be a headache because of the required time, effort, and money - both in terms of setup and maintenance, and also due to the additional marketing costs. 

Here are some scenarios where we believe the tradeoff is not worthwhile, and you should consider consolidating (or keeping) all your brand’s content on the same website. 

Splitting Apart Pages/Content Intended for the Same Audience, Brand

It’s not uncommon for brands to utilize new domains and subdomains purely out of technical ease. 

Need a blog? Sure, let’s just set up a WordPress instance over here. Need a dedicated customer service section? Sure, it’s set that up over there. There are plenty of tools that make setting up mini sites here and there, for different purposes, easy - and cheap. 

In fact, we’ve run into brands with anywhere from 17 to 59 different domains and subdomains, because it was… easy. 

The issue with this is around SEO (assuming that matters to you. Which we assume it does, since you bothered to read this article, right?), and is two-fold: 

  1. You're splitting up your site’s “power” (aka Domain Authority) into 2+ sites, instead of consolidating it into one place, where it can do more work for you & go farther.
  2. Think of it like this: what’s the buying power of 2 medium-size bank accounts? Now, what’s the buying power of those 2 accounts combined? Two paychecks go a lot further than one!
  3. You’re splitting up Google’s crawl budget across all the pages on all your subdomains. All that time Google is spending crawling other subdomains means LESS time crawling the pages you *want* them to crawl.
  4. Of course, good utilization of robots.txt files to control crawl budget (and block it where it’s not helpful or needed) can help negate this secondary point. Unfortunately, though, this work is often forgotten, so the issue proliferates.

In this scenario, you are essentially trading off reduced (usually one-time) technical costs for either a) lower SEO results, or b) additional ongoing SEO budget to make up for the gap. 

Bottom line: We strongly recommend keeping all pages & content intended for the same audience & brand on a single domain. That applies especially to blog (e.g. strategic content) or separate eCommerce sites (e.g. revenue-driving subdomains or micro-sites.)

Effort, Budget & Online Authority Beyond One’s Potential to Afford It

If you are currently struggling to rank well for 1 website, splitting your efforts into two is NOT a good idea. Keeping multiple domains will only work for you, generally speaking, if you are already seeing online success (or are quite confident, based on prior experience, that you can.)

It’s expensive to grow your business under multiple domains, with (sometimes quite literally) double the work: 

  • Double the tech setup & maintenance
  • Double the design & UX work
  • Double the copywriting efforts to create unique content (so as to avoid duplicate content issues)
  • Double the marketing & PR efforts (e.g. all “in real life” marketing work)
  • Double the digital marketing, social media, content marketing, SEO & backlink building costs (e.g. link building for 2 websites - instead of 1!)
  • Additional staff (engineering, marketers) to do the work

You are - essentially - running 2 entirely different businesses when you run 2 different websites. 

     “Of course, you can choose to run 2 businesses without the budget to properly support one or both of them… but who here thinks that’s a good idea? ”    

It costs money to do things the right way, and to maximize the return on your efforts. If you want to realize that investment, you have to be willing to put in the work. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t good solutions & strategies to reduce this work (there absolutely are! In fact, this sort of scaling is exactly what we specialize in!), but it’s undeniably more work and more money to execute, no matter what.

Bottom line: If you are already struggling with SEO & online marketing, don’t make things harder on yourself. Focus on the main domain, and prove success there first. 

On top of all these cases and the points we’ve made, there is one final thing to mention: Expectations!

Whether or not having multiple websites is a good choice, the expectations of your team, manager, and board are going to be higher considering all the effort and money they’ve invested in the process. Make sure the business potential - and your ability to get your business there - make the extra work worthwhile. 

Choosing Single Domain vs Multi-Domain Strategy

Here comes the best part. Which domain strategy should you choose, and why should you choose it?

If you are still not sure which one to pick, here’s our stupid-simple cheat sheet: 

  1. Do you need to?
  2. Do you want to?
  3. Can you afford to do it, and do it well?

If the answer to 1 or 2 is a yes, and 3 is a yes, then go for it. Otherwise, don’t. It really can be that simple.

Here are some additional, relatively easy FAQs you may find helpful:

multiple-domain-faqs

Is it better to have one website or several?

There are several options available to decide if it is better to have one website or several depending on:

a) The business requirements for the old and new site and

b) What level of investment you are willing to put into each domain. 

While each option has a cost, some also present potentially interesting opportunities for the business. When deciding single vs multiple domain strategy for search engine optimization, make sure you align your business requirements with your online strategy.

Does having multiple domains help SEO?

Having multiple domains may help or hurt SEO based on your brand(s), strategy, and investment in the process.

In general, multiple domains will create SEO concerns when not executed properly, so you’ll want to understand how to leverage each domain according to the overall strategy. Properly executed, however, they can be a boon to your business. 

Is it worth buying multiple domain names?

Yes, if you are doing it for the right reasons, and execute it correctly. 

Why might you want to?:

  • Common misspellings or variations of your domain name
  • Prevent your competitors from getting their hands on them (especially important for brand-related terms)
  • To launch a separate new website or microsite (maybe. This could help or hinder your efforts, depending on your goals.)

Is domain forwarding bad for SEO?

Not necessarily. And definitely not if you do it the right way! 

  • If the domain you are forwarding has no links, then forwarding is no harm, no foul. It also won’t help you much. (Unless, say, it’s a common miss-spelling of your brand’s name.)
  • If the domain you are forwarding has links, and they are high quality & contextually related, this is GREAT for SEO. “Link building by Acquisition” is a real and valid (and at times… incredibly effective!) means to grow your SEO results.
  • If the domain you are forwarding has links, and they are low quality (or spammy) this can hurt your SEO results. Why forward links to your website that you’ll need to disavow later?
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