One of the most difficult choices SEO professionals face is whether to operate under one umbrella website or under multiple domains. Even if you operate in multiple countries there isn’t a clear answer on splitting up into local TLDs (top-level domains like .nl, .de, and .cn) versus working under a single generic TLD (like .com, .net, and .org).
So if you're deciding between a single and multiple domains, here are some of the dilemmas you'll face. Hopefully your choice will become somewhat easier.
Many vs. Few Domains
What are the pros and cons for working with a single domain or many? Here are some important considerations.
- Exact match domains and close matches to important keywords are still important in SEO. When you have multiple important keywords you can choose to operate across various exact match domains. Google is however looking at ways to see if this exact match represents brand names and topic authorities or just someone that grabbed the domain early enough (EMD update). (Score: +multiple –single)
- The linkability of niche websites is often bigger than more generic sites. Other websites in the same industry might not link to competing website with too much overlap, but a niche site might just complement their service and information. (Score: +multiple –single)
- Deep links are hard to promote. Websites will often just link to your homepage, even when their visitor would be better of landing on a specific page deeper within your site. With multiple domains they are less likely to link off-topic. This also makes the right page within your websites more likely to rank. (Score: +multiple –single)
- User experience might benefit from using a single domain when otherwise visitors would need to navigate across multiple domains to get all the required information. Transactions also need to be handled on the same domain to be more trustworthy. When you are able to keep them on the single domain, however, nothing prevents you from splitting up into niche sites for separate audiences. You might even be able to address your visitors more personally on each separate domain. (Score: conditional)
- Unique content is needed for each domain. You can’t re-use much of the content on any of the pages on your domains. Even if the message is the same, you should rephrase it time and time again. (Score: -multiple +single)
- If you take enough effort, you might be able to rank multiple times in the same search results. Dominating the search result is easier with multiple domains than with a single domain. (Score: +multiple –single)
Multiple Top-Level Domains (TLDs)
Your choice can also be between using specific country-code top-level-domains (ccTLDs) for separate websites or using a single generic TLD (gTLDs) to incorporate multiple countries.
- Deep links are more likely to occur if you have a geo-location automated redirect. This redirect might also aid user experience. Using separate domains does however make sure both users and Google visit the right website. (Score: conditional)
- ccTLDs do get an additional ranking boost in their country specific Google version. gTLDs have to make up for this with an additional amount of local links. (Score: +multiple –single)
- Country vs Language is another important choice to make. Do your countries represent single languages or is there overlap in languages across multiple countries. In many cases there is and you are probably better of combining such a language on a gTLD. Otherwise you’ll need unique content for each TLD in the same language. (Score: -multiple +single)
Relevance vs. Authority
In links we can differentiate various value types which accumulate and transfer in a different way across domains.
- On a single domain you might have a link to other sections or languages on every page. Doing the same across multiple domains makes Google reduce the value of these links much more. They could even be seen as a form of advertising, sponsoring or link buying. Site-wide links work better internally than externally. (Score: -multiple +single)
- Relevance transfers well from page to page through links. As long as links are from a relevant page that receives relevant links himself, the cross-domain part makes little difference. (Score: conditional)
- Authority is a domain-based factor. Authority doesn’t seem to transfer well through indirect relations with important websites. Only by attracting authority links separately for each domain you can build strong websites for competitive industries. Because this is a hard and time-consuming activity using a single domain accumulates much more authoritative power. (Score: -multiple +single)
Which is Better?
Using multiple domains will probably result in more relevant websites that attract more relevant links. The right page is also more likely to rank for the right language and keywords. The required work does however multiply as well. Unique content is needed and link building needs to be done for every domain.
A single domain can more easily accumulate and share all available link value. It also requires a lot less effort than working on multiple domains.
Somewhere in the middle might just be the best answer here. Only create a separate website when the audience is too different; when you can really take an effort to build multiple great websites. You can even start out with either one or many sites and migrate when you discover what works best.
Merging or Splitting Up Later
301 redirects allow you to redirect an entire domain, including its link value, to a subsection of another domain and vice versa. The more this link value is separated by relevant section, the better you can split it up later. Mind all the required conditions mentioned in this article when you eventually do migrate.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!