When Is It OK For My Company To Launch A Separate Site?

By David Veldt - 03/27/2013

In the world of digital marketing, there is no shortage of facepalming moments. Among these is explaining why we don't use the keywords meta tag, or finding out someone made a boo boo in the robots.txt file and kinda...sorta...you know...deindexed the entire site.

However, towards the top of this list is when I'm days, weeks or even months into a project with a client and I stumble across a separate site that seems to be affiliated with them. I dig a little deeper. There's another one. And another. OH GOD WHERE DOES IT END!?

In the early days, it was common practice to launch a separate site for every aspect of your business or every special promotion. Several businesses also set up numerous "doorway" pages, following the advice of some not-so-forward-thinking SEO companies. The thought process behind this was that you could build links towards your primary site and boost your rankings---or---you could flood search indices with pages then direct traffic to a single site. Lo and behold, those clever search engines caught on and both link wheels and doorway pages are now against their guidelines.

Years later, for whatever reason they were set up in the first place, several companies find themselves with a portfolio of useless sites. Typically, these sites don't have any real value anymore, so while I usually recommend just 301 redirecting them to the primary site, it's mainly just to tie up loose ends.

To this day, however, I am still approached by clients explaining a new product line, competition or promotion and ask what I think about them launching a new site. The answer is simple: Don't do it.

Why would you want to split your relevance? Especially for something like a competition, which is link bait gold that you want attributed to your primary site, not some temporary microsite.

But What About Mobile?

You might be thinking "Ok, well surely I can create a separate mobile site." Well, I certainly wouldn't recommend it, especially if you're planning a redesign of your primary site. Instead, you should focus on making your primary site responsive. Meaning, the elements on your page re-position and re-size themselves based on the screen size using CSS3 media queries. Even your primary navigation will completely change once the screen reaches a certain size. Not sure what I'm talking about? If you're viewing this page on a desktop, play with the browser window size. Try to bring it down to tablet and then smartphone size.

I'll wait.

Did you have fun? (I know I have fun playing with responsive web design) As you can see, there is only 1 version of this page that exists, and it is optimized for mobile, tablet and desktop use. The benefit in this is that if I want to make an edit, I only have to change one page and never have to worry about duplicate content. Also, every link that this page receives benefits me in mobile search, whereas with a separate mobile site I'd have to worry about getting some links to that site in order to rank well. Lastly, to hammer my point home, Google has stated that responsive web design (RWD) is the preferred way to handle mobile.

So When Can I Launch A Separate Site?

I get it---your designers are getting antsy. Unfortunately, there aren't many situations in which building an entirely separate site on a different domain is a good idea. The only case in which I would recommend it is if you're launching an entirely new brand; completely separate from your primary brand, such as a spin-off company or an entirely new entity. In this case, it is important to establish a domain that fits the new brand and positions itself as a standalone company.

I know it's tempting to build microsites, but you can accomplish adequate separation within subdirectories or even subdomains. By building out the authority of your root domain, you're setting yourself up much better for the long run.

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Posted in Digital Strategy / SEO

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