• Although companies should ideally have one Web site and domain name, in some situations, other options are needed
  • The location of content – added to a new Web site or included on the existing site – affects user engagement
  • A structured and consistent approach to Web site content decisions simplifies user experience and site management

In an ideal world, every company would have one Web site with one domain name. This approach would allow each company to devote 100 percent of its efforts and focus to that single site and give its audience a single location to turn to for information. Unfortunately, for companies that have a broad product mix, target audience or geographic distribution, a single Web site and domain name may not suffice. It may be necessary to distinguish sets of content from the primary site by creating entirely new sites, each with a unique look and feel and separate domain name through a subdomain (e.g. example.company.com, example2.company.com) with a variation on the primary look and feel, or through a separate section of the primary site.

Determining when this approach is necessary and which option to select is important because the choice sets expectations with users and has implications for how the site should be managed. To make the right decision, ask the following questions:

  • How distinct is this content? Will this Web site contain content that is significantly different in topic, audience or geography from the primary site, or is it just a subset or variation of the primary site?
  • How much content is there? Will this primary site have broad content targeted at different audiences and use cases, or is the content largely focused on one area (e.g. product information)?

Use the answers to these questions to select the right approach:

  • Separate section. If the content in question targets similar users as are targeted by the primary site and fits within the normal structure of the primary site – and if the volume of content is not excessive – incorporate it into the site. This should be the default solution, as it makes the content easier for users to find and simplifies the management tasks for the company. For example, when launching a new product or product category, add relevant content to the existing site unless it fits the criteria for subdomains.
  • Subdomain. If the new content has significant volume relative to the primary site and has unique characteristics in target audience, use case, user interface requirements or content, then a subdomain may be appropriate. This approach involves creating a unique domain (e.g. example.company.com) that can be promoted individually while remaining linked to the primary domain. Typically a distinct subdomain allows content to be presented using a variation of the primary Web site’s look and feel that is determined to be the best way to specific content and audience while retaining the overall company brand and design language.

    Note that by creating a subdomain, you are signaling to users that the content in this subdomain is materially different from the content on the primary site. If this is not the intent, then using a subdomain sets an expectation that may not be fully fulfilled. Examples include sites for specific use cases (e.g. support.company.com) or audiences (e.g. developer.company.com).

  • Separate site. Creating a separate site is a significant investment in time and resources and adds complexity to users’ ability to find and consume the content you create. This step is only appropriate if the content has distinct audience, use case and user interface requirements – and there is sufficient content to make the investment worthwhile. Creating a fundamental distinction between the primary site and the new site in terms of brand and perception should be a primary goal. Examples include cases where a company is spinning off a segment or keeping an acquisition separate for marketing or sales reasons.

This approach to making decisions on Web site separation can also be used when determining whether or not to combine two existing sites or keep them separate. Asking the questions above can guide you to make the right decision.