You’re the owner or manager of a small business—perhaps a medical clinic, a law firm, or a product or service company. You have been having enough success with your business website that you have been considering ways to expand your outreach to potential clients, patients, or customers.
Then, a few nights ago, just as you’re drifting off to sleep, it hits you: the bottleneck has been your single website. What if you created a second website, with slightly different content, that might appeal to a specialized clientele? Or maybe you could fire up one website for each of your several business offices?
When you wake up the next morning, your enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed. “Yes!” You say to yourself during your morning commute. “Yes! I want to move on this right away.” So, is there an issue with having more than one website? Is it actually a good idea for my business to have multiple websites?
Our Answer: No. Just No No No No No
Look, we’re in the business of building (and selling) websites for companies just like yours. We’ll sell you a second—or third, or fourth—website if you insist. But we strongly advise against it.
There are three main reasons we recommend having just one website. The first is to avoid brand confusion. The second is that the better performing site will cannibalize search traffic for the site that isn’t as strong. The final main reason is that multiple sites for one business can negatively impact your local search rankings and backlink profile on Google and Bing.
Consider this scenario: A visitor finds your personal injury website via organic search, a referring website, or some other method—but he is not yet ready to contact you. It may be because he needs to do more research, he was busy at the time, or he was told by a friend to check you out.
A lost sale? Not necessarily. He now knows your brand name and will search for it once he is ready to make a decision.
Later, your potential customer searches for your firm again, but now using your firm name. However, you have marketed your business across several different websites. It’s very possible that the website they originally found is not the one ranking for your brand in the top results. The visitor who clicks on one of those early results will end up on a page that looks different than the site he first visited. The content is different; the focus isn’t on the topic he’s expecting. The visitor will be confused and uncertain whether this is a different business altogether. This brand confusion can cause him to move on.
Does this scenario sound unlikely? We tried it. The main website for our test business (a law firm) didn’t show up until the fifth organic search result. All of the higher-ranked pages were owned by the same firm, sure, but they did not have the right welcoming information to entice a new potential client. This was a serious marketing failure.
Search Traffic Loss to Secondary Site
The main source of traffic for most business websites is branded search traffic. This means that the majority of visitors find your website by searching for the name of your firm. When you have more than one website, one of them will always outrank the others. This means that the other sites lose out on this search traffic.
Visitors looking for your firm by name will find the highest ranking site, and will rely on information on that site. Secondary sites often struggle to maintain rankings as they’re missing this key source of search traffic. Even worse, a secondary site can outrank your main site, nullifying the conventional “funnel” strategy that converts visitors into loyal patients or clients.
Local Search Ranking and Backlink Issues with Multiple Websites
Having multiple websites for one firm can distort—even demolish—local search and water down your backlink profile. There are many, many web pages that you do not own, which mention your business and provide links to your website. Consumer rating sites, local directories, and local government resource pages: any of these may provide links that can help a potential buyer get to your home page.
Most of these sites list your main website. Again, this gives all the credibility to the main site, so if you have built secondary websites, they will struggle to gain recognition. It also drives visitors to your other online profiles to the main site. While this tends to strengthen the branding for your main business website, it robs your secondary site of the visibility it needs to represent your brand. The return on your investment in the alternate website will be thin.
With one website, you can take full advantage of local citation link building. If you have two separate websites, only one will benefit from each office location’s citation sources. Google+, Yelp, Yahoo Local, Bing Places, Merchant Circle, and FindLaw directory are all examples of citation sources, and there are hundreds more. If you have two websites, only one of them is going to benefit from being listed. If you have one website, both practice areas benefit.
And this is a best-case scenario. If this citation building isn’t done correctly, or if Google gets confused because your business seems to be in two places at once, then you can accidentally create what we call “duplicate local listings.” Duplicate listings look fishy to search engines and directory services. If you have duplicates of your local listings, you might find out soon that you aren’t showing up at all in Google+ Local, Yelp, YellowPages, and many other sites. No kidding—we’ve seen it happen.
Additional Search Considerations
From an SEO perspective, there are quite a few reasons why you want to keep it within one house and not spread yourself thin between two or more websites:
- Teasing out backlinks. Maybe you plan to go all-out to post excellent, noteworthy content that picks up natural links over time. Maybe you expect to pick up a lot of great press for newsworthy actions on a regular basis. For whatever reason, you hope (and intend) that other websites will often link to your pages. It works to your benefit to concentrate these memorable pages within a single website and not spread out over multiple sites. Backlinks are still one of the most important factors for relevance to search engines. The more quality links people make to you, the higher your prominence. If you have two websites competing for backlinks, neither will attract the notice of one site building one completely awesome backlink profile.
- Work overload. Managing two websites is more expensive and time-consuming for staff—both for the work involved and the challenges of analyzing the data. To support two websites with content and to analyze conversions and leads across multiple websites is much harder than to focus on just one.
- Maintaining uniqueness. It can be very easy to create duplicate content across the two domains. There are only so many ways you can describe certain topics or sections of your website. If you are trying to include all your critical business information—and all your service areas—across two websites, then it can be very easy to accidentally create duplicate content. To put it bluntly: someone, at some future time, WILL choose to take the easy way out and post identical work on each of your websites. Duplicate content can be very harmful for your organic online presence. Search engines recognize duplication as potential plagiarism and downgrade both pages, so it’s marketing poison.
- You are competing with yourself! Both sites will compete for not only the brand name, but any similar search queries.
- Quirky backlink profiles will scare off high search ratings. You can very easily create an unnatural backlink profile for one or both of the sites. You may look like you are doing reciprocal (“You link to me and I’ll link to you”) link building, which is frowned upon by search engines today. You may also create too many links, which may seem unnatural to search engines. Anything that spooks the search engines means your pages show up lower in search result lists.
These are all reasons to have one branded domain for your business. But that’s not only our opinion. I recently came upon a perceptive article from Hubspot that confirmed the gospel Foster Web Marketing has been preaching all this time: having multiple websites could actually be hurting you and not helping at all.
“But I Have Two Websites Already!”
It’s not impossible to be successful with multiple sites. It is just not what we would recommend, and getting everything to work well together will be a gigantic task.
When clients and potential clients with multiple websites talk to us, we usually advise them to rethink their strategy and consider merging the content into a comprehensive single site. Give us a call at 866-460-3724 if you want to know more about this merger process or to get answers to your other website marketing questions.