I saw a blog post on when to use microsites vs. multiple domains. The blog post wasn’t that helpful, but reminded me that I wanted to sharpen my understanding of when:
- use of subdomain is called for versus a sub-directory
- when it makes sense to create a whole separate domain altogether
In my corporate web job, we often used subdomains because we were hosting the new website (usually an application rather than a pure HTML site) on separate servers. But then we would often create a “vanity URL” on the main site that redirected to the sub site. Interesting, but not necessarily helpful to answering the question or when, from the marketing or SEO perspective multiple domains is called for.
I was confused on what the term “microsite” meant. The wikipedia definition: “cluster of pages which are meant to function as an auxiliary supplement to a primary website … most likely has its own domain name or subdomain” helped quite a bit. From both the technical and user experience perspective, it makes sense to install something like a forums, catalog or other separate feature on a subdomain, like maps.google.com .. or even on a completely separate domain. And if it will have a distinct brand identity, a separate domain is called for. One more reason, mentioned by the wikipedia entry, is that it can help target your PPC keywords more accurately.
Subdomains appear to be treated similarly to sub-directories by search engines per Matt Cutts, which means you may not get much SEO benefit for the added complexity.
So microsites usually mean additional domains. However just because you want to expand your web presence into a related but different topic than your web site already covers, doesn’t necessary mean a new domain. A new domain adds management and other costs, and you might have to start from scratch to get it indexed by the search engines. You are also missing out on the opportunity to get your original site to rank for more searches because it has more content.
However, I’ve seen creation of a blog on wordpress.com or blogspot.com with links to a main site be quite helpful for ranking for desirable keywords. A specific tactic to keep in mind.