How Separate Websites Are Hurting Your Company’s SEO

By Heidi Smith | Nov 9, 2016
More Articles by Heidi


You’re all set to get started on a new website for one of your product lines. It’s going to have its own domain with new content, and you can’t wait to get started! Until…your resident search engine optimization (SEO) expert tells you that it shouldn’t be on its own website and that you should put the information on your main domain. But it is different and new and exciting! you exclaim. You don’t want to change what you thought was a well-formulated plan. But do you know WHY your SEO King is recommending this particular strategy?

It is an important distinction, one that can not only affect your SEO strategy and rankings, but your company’s brand recognition, trust and authority.

blonde woman makes funny faces in nine different frames

She may look different in each picture, but she’s still Katherine. Why shouldn’t you treat your company’s offerings the same way?

Domain Authority and SEO

It seems like a lot of companies aren’t knowledgeable on domain authority. Considering how important the industry believes it is to SEO, the amount of weight associated with it in Google’s ranking algorithm, and overall determining a page’s ranking in search engine result pages (SERPs), this lack of know-how is about as shocking as a polar bear found in a rain forest.

Domain authority, developed by Moz, is a calculated score given to a domain based on 40+ different signals, including factors such as a website’s total number of links, links to the root domain, MozTrust and MozRank. A domain authority score essentially predicts how well a domain is likely to rank on Google search results.

So how does this relate to our discussion?

Let’s say you have a new kayaking rental service at your company Bohemian Water Adventures, and you think it should have its own website: www.bohemiankayaking.com. By creating a new website instead of making a subdomain or subfolder on your root domain, you aren’t getting any of the existing authority that Google associates with your company’s website since they don’t understand that bohemiankayaking.com is part of bohemianwateradventures.com. This factor, along with others often associated with a new site discussed below, will mean lower rankings in SERPs and consequently less traffic to your site from organic search.

colorful kayaking tour on river

Mojo South’s team building was kayaking on Shem Creek! Not with “Bohemian Water Adventures” though.

Links Still Aren’t “Dead”

four top seo domain authroity factors on sign pole according to mozAlthough links have decreased in importance over the last 10+ years, links are still a critical element of Google’s algorithm and high-quality links are more important than ever before. Google’s mentality is that if the content shows expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (“EAT”), it should naturally get links from external sources over time.  Search engines likely put more weight on links they consider to be high-quality than those seen as low-quality, which can affect rankings in SERPs. A single link from a highly trafficked, trusted and established website will provide you with more authority and trust than multiple low-quality links. 

Additionally, a brand new site will logically have a lower number of external links pointing to it. It takes time and effort to build external links organically and to show to users and search engines you are an authority on your subject. By using your main domain rather than a separate one for new efforts, you will receive the positive benefits of existing links already pointing to it. Think of it as starting with a solid foundation, rather than starting from scratch and building slowly brick-by-brick (or link-by-link). You never know what algorithm ranking signal may push you into that #1 position. If both you and a competitor are in the running to show #1 for the term “building better cleaning robots” and you have a higher number of quality links than they do, you could claim that coveted #1 spot.

Apparently, Content Is King

I bet you’ve never heard that before! If you are expanding your business’ products or services, it comes without saying that you need fresh content and extra effort to succeed. Yes, you hopefully have a plentiful amount of content planned or already created for your new venture, but it is an important factor to consider when establishing your new web property. As with external links, it takes time to build quality content–it certainly won’t happen in a day and maybe not even in a year or two–and people write about how content and SEO are inexplicably linked together again and again. The new site will have less content than your existing domain simply because it is new and not enough time has passed to amass a large amount of high-caliber content. This means less external links (I know, that point again), lower domain authority and less user and search engine understanding of the site.

However, if you incorporate this new venture into your main domain, you can in some ways use that already established web presence and content to once again start with a solid foundation rather than building from the ground up.

Brand Trust, Recognition and Authority

How do I know that your “I Love Pandas” site is associated with your “I Love Wild Animals” site? Maybe if I had visited the site before, I know you own both, but if I’m just looking at the results on SERPS, I likely won’t make the association unless the domains match. Neither will Google. You want your brand family (or brand umbrella) to be all-encompassing; it makes sense for users to associate different areas of your business with your over-arching brand and know that you are responsible for all of them. They love your Wild Animals brand, so they’ll probably check out your new endeavors, like ones that focus on these cute guys:

collection of giant panda bears eating bamboo

Can you imagine Apple having separate websites for all of its different products? That would only hinder their well established customer loyalty, which the company is famous for. Tying your brand’s trust and recognition into all of your products not only helps you form a loyal customer base, but will help Google recognize you as the owner and give your new subdomain or subfolder somewhat of an existing level of expertise, authority and trust already established by your main domain. Although it is unknown how Google assesses site authority, we’re pretty positive it is involved in rankings some way or another, so using that to your advantage is always an SEO plus.

I love this high-quality checklist from the Webmaster Blog. It may be a few years old, but most of it is still relevant. This is a great way to make sure you are providing users with high-quality content and hopefully a high-quality site – something Google deems of the utmost importance.

Potential Issues You Probably Haven’t Thought Of

It is one thing to consider Google and your customers’ experiences of your websites, but what about internally? There are quite a few potential issues that can arise if you don’t put all of your company’s offerings under the same domain umbrella.

  • Cross-Domain Traffic Reporting
    • You’ll need to update your Google Analytics code if you have websites on separate domains, allowing you to compare traffic trends and fluctuations between the two sites as well as have your data reported correctly.
    • If you have not completed this, then your analytics will count a user who visits Site #1 and then travels to Site #2 from Site #1 (since you should have links directing between the two) as a new visit, new user, new traffic, etc. and incorrectly attribute the source of that visit.
    • This is one of the most common mistakes we see made when it comes to GA code implementation and updates, and it is an incredibly important one.
  • Inconsistencies in Website Management
    • It is understandable that you would want a different aesthetic if your sites are promoting varying areas of your business. But it seems like the more segmented and differentiated sites are in terms of coding and design, the more likely technical mistakes happen. This includes domains owned by the same company that are not under the same root domain, but also subdomains that are. Often times the issue is that you make updates to one of the sites (usually the “main” domain) but not others. A couple common examples include:
      • Changing main site from Classic to Universal Analytics, while others remain on Classic.
      • Updating only one site to using Google Tag Manager.
    • These inconsistencies in website management cause tracking errors which can increase self-referrals, contribute to source attribution discrepancies and in general, imprecise data reporting. Don’t be the one making strategic advertising and marketing decisions that affect your business’ bottom line with inaccurate or misleading date.
  • Traffic Fluctuations and Dilutions
    • You will see traffic dilutions across your main domain if you move existing or new products to their own website. Where in the past users would be visiting your main domain to view a certain offering, they are now visiting a different domain for that same information.
    • Unless you have a view set up for your Google Analytics profiles to view the data together, it will be hard to determine where and why those decreases are occurring for your main domain. This isn’t necessarily a negative, as long as you are still getting that traffic, but it can make analysis and future decision-making harder to determine since the data may not be all in one place.
  • More Websites = More SEO Effort
    • page speed insights analysisMany companies are still tackling page speed and mobile optimizations, especially with older, well-established websites. With increasingly dire consequences for poor page speed, it is more important than ever that you are optimizing your site for mobile. Not only does it affect user experience, but page speed is now a core ranking factor for search engines.
    • Unfortunately, you need to implement many optimizations required to get a high Page Speed score site-wide. If you have separate domains, this likely means making similar edits more than once, or additional edits for each site separately.
    • This all depends on how you have your websites set up, managed and coded of course, but chances are separate domains means separate optimizations and more work for your team.

A lot of these ideas are interrelated and affect each other, which is why it is so important to consider all of the angles before you move forward with a new web property separate from your existing website.

Have you seen different issues or know of other negatives that have convinced you to keep all of your websites under one domain? Did you keep websites separate, and glad you did? Please comment below to continue the discussion.

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