The debate over whether to have multiple niche, portal, blog, and corporate web sites has been going on for awhile now. I am asked the question weekly on whether a firm should design multiple web sites and/or blogs.
My advice, pick one web site and make it your best. If you still feel the need to develop multiple web sites, then answer these simple questions:
- Do you want a blog, web site, or both?
- Do you have an increased time and budget to manage multiple web sites?
- Do you have enough content for multiple web sites?
- Do you have different practice areas?
- Is your existing domain non-existent in the search results?
If you answer yes to all these questions, then you should consider multiple web sites. If you answer yes to a few, then you may want to consider. If you answer no to all of these, then just pick one web site and make it the best.
Blog, Web site, or Both?
We all know that a web site is a collection of your firm’s information on the web, usually in individual pages. A blog is a web site, with three main additional features, a comment system, reverse chronological order of posts, and a content management system. There are minor other issues like trackbacks and pingbacks, but those are the main differences.
Of course, the lines are blurring: not all blogs allow for comments, a lot of web sites have a news area that posts info in reverse chronological order, and a lot of web sites have a content management system. Blogs can be topic focused, but so can practice portal areas. Web sites sometimes have more adverting style copy, but so do some blogs.
In any event, since there is no reason why any firm should not include a blog, news or communicative device in their main site, then the line between the two is more semantic. If you have a good voice, want to communicate and have time to write, then definitely consider a blog or good content system that will allow you to post information.
Semantics aside, pick a designer and software system who can give you what you need, namely a professional appearance, structure, and usable web site. If you plan to update the site a lot, then consider a content management system and/or a blog. From this point further in the analysis, I will collectively refer to blogs and web sites, as well . . . web sites.
Time & Budget
The more sites you have, the longer it will take to design, build, populate, and maintain; and of course that directly leads to costs. If you are on a small budget, then consider starting with one web site. Whether that is a blog or web site, it does not really matter. Just make it the professional image of your firm and put all your resources into that web site.
If you have a larger budget, then you can consider having multiple web sites. However, be prepared to buy multiple domains, web hosting accounts, and depending on your how you are positioning the firm online, multiple designs of the web sites.
If you are going to create multiple web sites, then be prepared to write unique content. If you are simply putting out niche sites on a variety of topics and changing the content slightly, you are definitely going to receive a penalty from Google, not only for the topical sites, but perhaps your main site too. Sure a few of your contact and about pages can reiterate the same information. However, if you go too far, you will run afoul of Google’s duplicate content check.
The key is unique content. So if you are going to go the route of multi-sites, then write unique content and write it geared with search in mind. If you do not have the time to write unique content for an entire web site, then consider simply putting a few pages under your main domain. If your main domain does well in the search results, then most likely your new content will too.
Different Practice Areas
The main reason firms choose the multi-site route, always comes down to differing practice areas. This is usually the case when a firm practices in odd groups, such as criminal, family, and oh . . . termite law. Or when a firm tries to play both sides and act as a defense firm and personal injury firm.
If a firm’s practice groups do not logically flow together, then its time to think about multiple web sites. If you are trying to act as professional advisers to competing interests, (Defense vs. PI), then yes, create multiple web sites. If your practice areas are simply a listing of your firm’s services, then a corporate web site will work. In this instance, a topical blog and/or web site can also serve well, as it will allow you to direct traffic to that area.
Domain & Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Before we talk about domains, I think we need a quick refresher on search engine optimization. Web sites, blogs or niche sites can all rank high. The main search results for Google are not based on whether a page is on a web site, blog, or practice area. In fact, if you have a blog, web site and practice area portal, they will all rank separately.
The search results have many, many data factors, but typically the main factors include:
- Content of the Page / Web Site
- Links to the Page / Web Site
- Title Tag
- Age of the Web Site
Now there are a variety of data that make up those two main factors, if you want to get specific, here is a nice list provided by SEOmoz ranking research report:
- Keyword Use in Title Tag
- Anchor Text of Inbound Link
- Global Link Popularity of Site
- Age of Site
- Link Popularity within the Site
- Topical Relevance of Inbound Links
- Link Popularity of Site in Topics
- Keyword Use in Body Text
- Global Link Popularity of Linking
- Topical Relationship of Linking
Web sites, blogs and practice portals can all rank high. So long as they are properly coded to allow for search indexing, then it all comes down to the content on the web site, the number/quality of inbound links, the use of the Title tag, and the age of the web site.
If your web site talks about the search term, then you will rank higher. If you are cited as a reference by other sites, then you will rank higher. If your web site is older, it will generally rank higher. If your web site uses good Title Tags, it will rank higher, and so forth.
But keep in mind, your search rankings are directly related to that web site and domain. Simply putting another web site online does not mean that it too will rank high. In fact, often it may be several months or longer, before you can crack the search results.
So this begs the question, if we have to devote all this work, time and money to get one site to rank high, why would I want to duplicate efforts? Good question. In fact, this is often the deciding factor of when to launch multiple sites.
If you already have a top ranked site, then it will be easy, cost-effective, quick, and powerful to simply add more unique content to your site. Don’t use sub-domains, as they can be treated as different sites, but simply add more content to your site, perhaps in a new directory, and make sure it is linked from your menu system. Google will index that new content, and soon it will most likely rank high too.
If you don’t have a top ranked site, then perhaps you can go ahead and setup multiple web sites. Of course, it better be based on the fact that you need them because your practice areas are diametrically opposed and you have a large budget. This is because you are going to have to now optimize two different web sites and write content for them.
In general, make one web site and make it the best possible web site. Include all your information in one domain, in a good structure, and you will reap rewards. Include a blog if you have the time, have a voice, and want to communicate with the online community. Definitely put forth a professional image in your web site and optimize that one site for top rankings. If you do all that, your web site can be a success and bring in new clients.