We often get this questions from clients who are considering adding a new product or service to their company that doesn’t fit inside what they presently do. So today I want to take a look at navigating how to decide what to do.
There are a lot of factors to consider when launching a new vertical for your brand and how the size and scope of your business may impact this. Each situation should be looked at and assessed on its own merit. The first question I ask is, what are the goals and what are you hoping to accomplish? This often gives me insight as to what recommendations to make.
But see, I have a dual vision when I look at a problem. What is the client hoping to accomplish, but also how is Google going to perceive this? And then, how do you balance these two things? The natural progression in the conversation usually comes around to why should Google care? The answer is pretty simple. This can easily be perceived is trying to game Google’s system or trying to mislead them to gain larger traffic or market shares using their search engine. If you are only having two websites to gain market share, with no speakable difference in the two sites, then you should not have two sites.
Gaming the System
Google’s organic algorithm is designed to rank the most relevant website on any given term. So sometimes when trying to address this new vertical, it could be perceived that you are setting up a site to ‘game’ Google’s system. And Google does not take too kindly to that.
In the SEO world, you will hear a lot of discussion on the utilization of microsites and why they work. It’s a very pedestrian and rudimentary approach. And its probably past its shelf-life in terms of effectiveness. No matter, I still hear people discuss this and therefore I believe Google has a hypersensitivity to why this second site exists.
So here are a few honest scenarios we run in to.
- Scenario 1: I have a top ranking, focused, relevant website that is focused on Family Law and I want to now open a secondary product line that talks about corporate tax law. Well the only things those two things have in common is the word law. Aesthetically those are two different client types. The words surrounding each of those terms are different. So If I wanted to add tax law I may do a risk analysis and decide that I need a separate stand-alone site to address the needs of those clients and not dilute my primary business, which may impact it negatively. Additionally, there is the who is going to hire a Family Law person to do Tax Law or vice versa? Considering you have about eight seconds for people to decide if they are staying on your site, diluted messaging would not work well. I like to think in terms of what people know, so this would be like Taco Bell and KFC. Both owned by Yum Brands but marketing in two very different ways to two very different audiences.
- Scenario 2: I have two unrelated topics, for example, I have a tax preparation business and I own a print shop. Those two things share nothing and therefore two sites are fine. And there is not much more discussion needed on that.
- Senerio 3: I have a product that services two different markets, let’s say oilfield and aerospace. And this is where this can get very tricky to do it right. So, a large corporation that services multiple industries can put this on one website and do just fine with it. And in fact, most businesses would do just fine with it if you silo the material properly and use your brand as the umbrella. Take for example Trelleborg, their website makes sense. Google understands it and it is set up properly for that. Mostly because it was set up as an industry specific site, with Trelloborg being the common thread between them all.
Fork in the Road
So what about a smaller company whose website was not set up around the industries they serve, but rather the products they sell? Because those silos are not built out and because the site ranks very well under the product side of the business, there may be a short-term negative implication from just adding them on to the site.
First thing I would determine is are they the same company or do they do business under separate names:
Example: Marathon Oil vs. Marathon Petroleum / ExxonMobil vs. ExxonMobile Chemical
If they are two separate companies, with two separate addresses, separate corporate structures and different attributes like separate phones, we are well within our bounds to have two separate sites and allow them to operate as two different entities. It would also be assumed that they would have two separate product offerings and would not be piggybacking one off the other.
Cannibalization of Keywords
Once you determine you do need two websites, you must stay above board. The natural inclination would be to cannibalize keywords or try to make the product offering the same on both sites thinking you will get a bigger market share. But this is where this starts leaning towards stepping over Googles guidelines as well. If you felt these two businesses needed to be different and have different websites, there should be no inclination to blend them back. Resist the temptation.
Products, content and approach must be unique for both sites or you risk damage to one or both of the sites in the SERPs. There would be places that you may compete, but overall they should remain different.
Each situation should be evaluated as to where it makes the most impact, but here are a few rules to follow that should help:
- Evaluate Ownership
- Assess the Audience
- Avoid Cannibalization
- Do not make a second site with the only intent as to game Google
- Understand that each site will have to be cultivated independently. Separate content, links, social and engagement.
If you don’t have a clear path or resources and aren’t willing to do all that is entailed, add your new product or services to the main site as long as there is a relationship between the items. In other words, don’t add Veggies to a Shoe site.