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The Main Question is This (details follow below): Is it better to go with individual domain names for the various niches of a company's focus, or is it better to put it all under one domain?

I'm working on strategizing a new, rather large evolution of a site for one of my clients and am trying to figure out the best plan of attack from an SEO/SEM/Branding perspective. They are a rapidly growing personal wellness company that we are planning on implementing a new Wordpress Network for. The network is essentially to help them keep their site(s) and content well-organized as they prepare for growth over the next several years.

Niches:

  1. Physical Location — the main studio they do classes, events, and workshops out of
  2. Training — they have a personalized training curriculum that students may get certified through
  3. The Icon — the individual who created the system and has a specific personal following and products independent of the training/studio
  4. Events — events for the physical location (which will be expanding into multiple locations soon) as well as retreats/events/workshops with The Icon

Url Choice:

The plan regardless of what we choose for the url structure is that each of the above 4 niches are going to be separate sites within the WP Network. As they expand, it will help them keep the various content niches organized and separate from each other. The debate however, is whether to go with individual domain names for each of the 4 niches or if we go with a sub-folder installation:

Sub-Folder:

primarydomain.com
primarydomain.com/training/
primarydomain.com/the-icon/
primarydomain.com/events/

Domain:

primarydomain.com
primarydomaintraining.com
theicon.com
primarydomainevents.com

The Problem: Brand Protection

One of the biggest factors in this decision is a matter of brand protection. Traditionally speaking, I would've went with one domain to have a tremendous amount of content under one domain and reap the search engine benefits.

However, the name chosen for this brand has been independently chosen by another company (both around about the same length as each other and developed independent of one another) in a different part of the world and it is causing a rather bit of confusion right now in the digital space.

My thinking was that extracting the sites into separate domains would allow us to grab up brand name targetted keywords. That being said, the "training" site is going to change very little in coming years as it's just a matter of adjusting dates to show the "new" start dates... the rest of the content will basically remain stagnant which doesn't bode well for the search engines.

Additional Factors:

Design — Regardless of which way we go, the plan was to have the exact same design on all of the sites (primary navigation items change as you move into the sub-folders/sites). The only thing that might change if we go with individual domains, beyond the aforementioned nav items, would be a slight change in part of the text of the logo to reflect the change to the individual sites (and of course the domain url).

Cost — Having the same design eliminates however the "cost" factor that most articles put against microsites... everything is going to be looking the same. In addition, the "site" will be maintained the exact same regardless of what the "url" looks like.

Does anyone think the brand protection payoff (as far as Search Engine results are concerned) will be large enough to warrant having individual "domains" for the site?

I'm still learning towards sub-folders and massive loading the single domain within the search engines, but wanted to get some thoughts and feedback before we move into the deeper strategy aspects and finalizing a plan of action.

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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Short answer:

Use only one domain with sub folders. Refrain from sub domains (as they are considered separate sites).


Longer answer:

Why not use separate domains?
Well, each domain will have to be generating it's own rank, it's own structure of content. They would also all be associated with the company name. So a search for the company name, would (in the best case) generate four separate results at the top. In reality this would be incredibly difficult to achieve, but still.
If you're worried about a competitor snagging up <companyname>training.com for example, simply buy all of the ones you think you need to, and setup 301 re-directs for the sites. That example would re-direct to companyname.com/training/. I'm referring to this:

My thinking was that extracting the sites into separate domains would allow us to grab up brand name targetted keywords.

Why not use sub domains?
You didn't ask about this specifically, but figured I'd put it here for the heck of it..
Sub domains (like training.company.com) is considered to be a separate site altogether. It's not associated with company.com in any way, except for the sheer mentioning of company in the URL. Just think of Tumblr. Google doesn't view your Tumblr page in association of what http://tumblr.com stands for, even though it's URL is somename.tumblr.com. So you'll have the exact same problem as if you were using a separate domain.

Why use the same domain?
Granted, a single domain with lots of sections will contain a lot more information than if you were to split it into several domains. This should not be an issue though. Just consider http://www.cisco.com; They have hundreds of products, services and what not, yet they only use one domain name. Splitting different types of content up into sections (sub-folders - a misnomer since it's just URL re-writes, but I digress...) is common practice, and is in fact preferred by search engines. Check out http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/subdomains-and-subdirectories/ for some more info. Here's an excerpt:

My personal preference on subdomains vs. subdirectories is that I usually prefer the convenience of subdirectories for most of my content. A subdomain can be useful to separate out content that is completely different. Google uses subdomains for distinct products such news.google.com or maps.google.com, for example. If you’re a newer webmaster or SEO, I’d recommend using subdirectories until you start to feel pretty confident with the architecture of your site. At that point, you’ll be better equipped to make the right decision for your own site.
- Matt Cutts, Google.

Your initial instinct is thus accurate:

Traditionally speaking, I would've went with one domain to have a tremendous amount of content under one domain and reap the search engine benefits.

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Thank you for re-iterating my gut instincts. The new site hasn't launched but I already decided to go with sub-folders, particularly because the content that would've been on the sub-domains wasn't all the substantial and was going to change very little. The "sections" could've been seen as various separate facets of the business (like maps.google.com), but either way due to the lack of continuous content output for the "sections", decided as already stated to go with sub-folders. –  David Odin Kether Jul 30 '13 at 4:20
    
I'm glad you found my answer helpful :) –  Patrik Alienus Jul 31 '13 at 21:30
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