Companies undergoing mergers or acquisitions often end up having sub-brands, and it's hard to know where to place their websites. Do you create a totally new site on a new domain, or host it on a subdomain – within a directory on your master brand site that operates independently of the main domain? Well, that's a cracking question. There are some pros and cons to both!
Pros of a subdomain
This gives you an immediate boost to your SEO. Hosting associated websites with the same IP, sharing content around the same theme and disciplines, will favour the site and influence the rank.
Domain age is an important part of determining Google rankings and also a crucial part of SEO. An older domain age conveys longevity, trust and honesty, whereas there's more uncertainty regarding what a new website can or will offer to visitors and search engines. By using a subdomain for a new site, you can soak up some of the benefits of the older main domain.
Cons of a subdomain
If you're intending to steer away from a company-wide template, it could be disorientating for users if they navigate between two of the sub-brands.
You do have to be careful not to dilute the brand, and the site's SEO, by association to other on-site services offered if they're different to the sub-brand. Using a subdomain also has the potential for cannibalisation of content if there are other subdomains on the master domain that talk about the same thing.
It's also possible that it may contradict the new site content, almost like duplicate content. Google will only allow a domain to rank once in the main bulk of the results.
From a reporting perspective, you may see problems filtering the data in Analytics and other reporting tools with a subdomain.
Pros of a new domain
The number of links to the new site from any current websites, old brand websites, 301 redirects and all associated link juice will counterbalance the SEO benefits of not hosting the website on the subdomain. You'd have no low quality or spammy links, and if you have a master brand site, linking back to it will also give the site a slight SEO boost.
You can focus your SEO or marketing efforts wholly around the topics, themes and offerings of the site, without worrying about detracting from other SEO keywords or focuses.
You would have the benefit of a clean slate, as far as designing, branding and tone are concerned. A new domain will make it possible to give meaningful and memorable names to your business. URLs with exact match can improve the click-through rate.
With investment in the brand and website, having a new domain would allow the site to take on its own personality, themes and target audience.
Cons of a new domain
Starting from scratch, there'll be no domain authority. You'd need to build this up through the number of inbound links and overall performance of the site.
It may take time for Google (and users) to make the association with the domain and your sub-brand, and search engines may well continue to display "old world" websites (which would have more authority) above the new website for some time, as the site is regularly indexed, even if they've been removed. Users will be confused by the redirection for even longer.
Usually, larger, well-respected companies label it a risk to work with new domains from a user experience point of view.
Why choose a subdomain?
From the outset, it’s clear that you are part of the bigger brand picture. The URL would offer instant recognition to users that this website now represents the brand and the next phase, moving on from the endorsement period.
You'd benefit from the legacy of the master brand's domain. It’s a trust mark, and if you're making other wholesale changes, the familiarity of the URL might be worthwhile. Some of the tone of the content might mean it’s not easy to integrate some of the on-page optimisation features (descriptions for pages and use of headers), so having this extra ranking factor will be essential.
You'll fly on the search engines, bringing together all the elements that help to boost SEO – quality content, redirected content, link juice from all the other websites, and association with all the other related websites on subdomains. Subdomains are a perfectly valid choice - you might even have noticed that you're on one right now.
Why choose a new domain?
It’s a clean slate, meaning everything can centre around your key messages. The URL can be unique to your unique offering.
The design of your site can be significantly different to that of your master brand site, and therefore it could make sense to have a different URL.
Quality content, on-page optimisation and redirection of content from well-optimised existing websites that are performing well on Google will ensure that the website starts to rank well.
There are pros and cons with both. But if you commit to a new domain, you can understand the behaviour on the rankings and know that, over time, the domain authority will increase as the site becomes more popular. On the other hand, there's no guarantee that you'll reap the benefits of being hosted on a subdomain in the longer term.
From an SEO perspective, a brand new domain will take longer to rank as it will be seen by Google as completely new, and you would be relying solely on redirects from legacy sites to support the authority. We'd estimate up to six months to see good positions on the rankings if taking this direction, whereas your group or master brand would already be associated with the theme so will immediately rank better versus a new domain.
However, over the long term, either route will have the opportunity to perform well if your new site has strong foundations and you have ongoing activity. With a new domain, it will likely be more essential to use paid and outbound digital marketing tactics, as well as PR, to give the site the initial boost necessary to generate quality leads.
If you'd like us to investigate how much clout your domain has, we can – just get in touch.