Should I keep my two separate services on two different websites, or merge them into one ‘umbrella site’?
The pros and cons of merging websites for different audiences.
Recently I asked myself whether to keep separate or combine two different websites. The websites in question have overlap in their subject matter only in the sense that one is about the other. Don’t worry, I’ll explain more as we go. What I learned forms my little case study, which I’m going to share with you in this article.
Prepare for a tale of drama, daring and suspense as I go through a real rollercoaster of emotions. 😉
Announcing my new venture
I’m a wedding photographer in San Francisco that has dominated the SERPs in my area, rising to the top for many of my desired transactional search terms. In June, I launched another website, teaching other wedding photographers how to take charge of their SEO. That website has since been taken down.
The new venture however, will live right here on this blog. That’s right, this is a new direction that I am trying to take my business in. But it’s a slow and steady process, that will have several years of overlap (or may be won’t work out at all). I’ve no intention of stopping shooting weddings for many years to come.
But I am looking to take the valuable subject matter I’ve learned over the past 4 years of intense work, and educating others starting out in my industry. I want to target other business owners, particularly wedding photographers and other creative service-based professionals.
Multiple websites or one single brand and site?
When I started writing this article, I was strongly considering scrapping the second website and moving all my content to my primary domain (myname.com)
Why? I’m realizing afresh how much work it is to start a site from scratch, have zero backlinks and negligible search traffic for months, or longer. It’s a very competitive space compared with my small, local market that I’m used to.
Am I afraid of hard work? Not at all. But the reality of being a full-time business owner working crazy hours, meant that efficiency needed to trump best practices.
Or so I thought.
Do you like to watch? If you prefer – take a gander at my video breaking it down! These are confusing times, people.
By the time I made this video I’d done ANOTHER complete 180… that’s right a 360… back to the original thought of keeping the sites together! 🤦
Why I decided to combine the sites together as one
In the end, I decided to keep my two websites together as one. However, this was a difficult decision and will explain how and why I arrived here.
There was much toing and froing but a few things that helped me arrive at the decision to keep them together.
- We live in the age of the side-hustle. Many people offer various different services to make ends meet.
- Establishing a personal brand, especially among millennials, is seen as important in this day and age. If you’re building authority in one area, there’s always a way that flows into the other area of expertise.
- It helps with credibility. When you’re teaching what you learned in one area, to folks who want to learn that specific skill, it’s always helpful to house it together, so people can see it. So, if I’m teaching wedding photographers, I want it to be obvious that I AM A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER. Not purely a content marketer without a real-world business that I’m teaching about.
- Greater visibility. It takes so long (months/a year) for a new site to start ranking. As I’ll be writing about topics relating to SEO and digital marketing, this is clearly going to be outdated by the time anyone sees it!
- Efficiency. Ultimately I do have a real-world business to run. I’m not an internet marketer. Doing double-duty running two sites is just not going to be feasible, especially when I’ve put so much into achieving one extremely high-performing site. I’d rather build on that progress.
I sought advice from David Mason from UK-based local SEO start-up, Deathground Marketing.
However, with David’s help, plus my own insight and wisdom, I realized that working on one unified, expanded brand would help me better achieve my aims of being a voice in my industry, reaching a larger audience, having a streamlined and less aggravating process, and eventually financial freedom. Plus ‘less ball ache’ in David’s words. Ready to dive in?
Background on the two websites
- Established in early 2017 (currently 3.5 years old)
- 110+ articles (average post length 1,700 words)
- Authority score of 38 (SEMrush)
- Backlinks 1.6k from 320 domains
- 7.36% of keywords are in position 1 – 10 (page one of Google)
- Average monthly pageviews 3.3k
Target market: Brides and grooms in the San Francisco Bay Area
How the site monetizes: Attracting clients for my wedding photography services.
- Established in June 2020 (currently 1 month old)
- 12 articles (average post length 3,200 words)
- 0 authority score, 0 backlinks, 1% of keywords on page 1 or 2 (SEMrush)
- Negligible pageviews
How the site would monetize: downloadable courses and other digital products, design templates and ebooks, display ads, software / product affiliate, Youtube monetization.
Target market: Either 1) wedding photographers or 2) creativepreneurs and solopreneurs or 3) service-based small business owners who want to learn SEO. [edit: I’ve since decided to target just wedding photographers. I’m passionate about my own trade, and the target keywords are low-competition].
*This website has now been taken offline.
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Interesting, nerd-worthy things to notice or consider
- The second website I mention here is only a month old. Therefore, it hasn’t made much of an impression with search engines yet. So making a change would best be done sooner than later.
- The ways the sites monetize (or will monetize) are very different. My goal with BeastLocal is for it to be a … well, beast, and target low-competition keywords that will bring in good traffic. Display ads are a no-brainer. But on a wedding photography website? I think ads may be a bad idea. So there is a misalignment of purpose here.
- The target markets are completely different. Like, would a bride be looking for SEO help while shopping for a photographer? No! So, it could look confusing to that audience at least.
- So does it look desperate to pitch unrelated services? Or does it, to the contrary, build trust?
The reasons FOR combining them together as one big umbrella site
My initial thought some time after beginning the secondary website, beastlocal.com was – wait a minute, do I even need a separate site?! I’m fully aware that I get really passionate about the projects I turn my hand to. I didn’t want to take on more work because it tends to snowball.
There are undoubtedly advantages of having two business under one website. It saves you money on hosting and other website costs. It may even help to establish your personal brand as a multi-talented individual, as I touched on. Consolidating two websites into one can undoubtedly save time, too. Let’s get into some of these reasons.
You’re already heavily invested in one site
I really cut my blogging teeth on my website, zoelarkin.com, putting blood, sweat and tears into creating awesome content and learning about SEO on my journey.
In case that sounds like I’m trying to be cool, know this. I’ve put in more than is normal to my service biz website. I’ve missed out on epic vacations to South America and Asia with my husband because I’ve chosen to spend 14 hour days solidly blogging at home.
That’s not cool.
It’s been painful, arduous and brings up many emotions that are difficult to eliminate from the decision-making process. If there was any way to build on the success I’ve achieved which has been incredibly hard work, I’d rather do that.
There are limited hours in the day and the constant need to keep producing content for site 1 and site 2. So, combining essentially means channeling the work, channeling the efforts. Better, perhaps, to put energy into one umbrella site that can then reap the rewards exponentially. That’s how it works with content creation – at some point, the snowball effect happens.
It shows your expanded field of expertise
Creating one site that has different but semantically related content surely must be a good thing. Think of this as meta-related content. I would love to think that as a site owner’s expertise grows, Google rewards rather than punishes that.
In my case, my knowledge has grown far beyond wedding photography to now being an experienced small biz owner. I have helpful, first-hand advice on optimizing one’s web presence. Google loves first-hand expertise. (It’s known as EAT – expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness).
Is it really so bad if people who are not looking for the one particular service you offer, see that you offer a different service as well? I have a hard time believing that people will not hire you if they know that I do other things, too. We live in side-hustle culture, after all. As long as there is a clear path for them to follow, they are unlikely to get so confused that they bounce.
It saves time, money and energy
The biggest benefit of putting everything together as one site is it saves time. Starting up a new website from scratch takes an incredible amount of time, energy and sometimes money.
You have to create quality content that’s engaging, visually appealing and of course consistent. Expect to post once or twice a week (or more) while the site is in its first few months.
Having two sites to update, means essentially twice the work. It’s also twice the content promotion, link-building outreach, social media management, email lists and more.
Just one site means everything is streamlined and all your efforts will feed the other efforts seamlessly.
Backlinks may already exist on an aged, reputable site – lots of them!
This one had my head spinning. It felt like an insurmountable chicken-and-egg scenario. Basically, I already have hundreds of juicy, high-quality backlinks on the established site – that cost me precisely $0.00.
When you start a new site, you can expect to spend 6 – 12 months in the so-called Google sandbox. Google will generally not trust your website. It’s so new it could be spam.
After a while, Google will tentatively start showing your site in its results. A good user reaction, and a continued stream of consistent, quality content means more and higher rankings.
But if you’re not appearing in the SERPs, and no-one has any idea your site exists, how can you get backlinks?
That leaves paying for links, which is not a good idea. It also doesn’t make financial sense. For me personally, the only thing I can pour into my projects right now, is time – because 2020 is the year no weddings happened.
I haven’t got any data on how much a link costs, but I found out that $50-100/link is not unheard of. And of course, one link doth not a summer make. To have a meaningful impact, we’re talking at least 50, maybe 100 links.
I’ve heard anecdotally that it takes 2,000 emails to get one interested site owner, who will be cool with selling me a link. Is that really a good use of a blogger or business owner’s time, when they could be creating content that resonates with their audience, actually helps them?
The reasons AGAINST combining them together (keep as two distinct sites)
Initially my mind was at: what cons? It makes perfect sense to do just one site – stop right here! Especially when there’s enough of a crossover, why not?
There are advantages to having multiple websites. If there was a change to your business structure or service offerings in the years ahead, it would be a bit of mess trying to untangle the strands. Plus don’t forget that the homepage of a site has a unique opportunity to rank for targeted keywords – splitting that focus can be confusing to Google and users alike.
Let’s now explore the reasons against combining multiple businesses (or services) into one website. We’ll discover why each separate service or niche topic may stand as one distinct website.
One site with two distinct audiences negatively affects the ability to funnel users
I’m learning more about sales funnels as I progress in my content marketing journey. An example of a sales funnel is attracting and retaining an audience. The buyer journey will be for a user to discover the site (say, through organic search), then sign up for opt-in freebies. Next, after building trust, they’ll buy your related info products or courses etc.
The powerhouse behind this strategy is having targeted traffic. Without the targeted traffic (and without paying for ads), the traffic is going to be all over the place and will have very low conversion.
You’ll want to serve up hyper-relevant banners, pop-ups, menus, ads and more. These would be falling on deaf ears if the wrong audience was seeing them. And as the business and service offerings grow, who knows what difficulties this might throw up over time. At that point, it would be much harder to undo.
And a related point is this. Your website only has one homepage, one ‘about’ page. How do you make this hyper-relevant to the different audiences? It might even look a little tacky if it wasn’t done right. For example, my service clients don’t want to know how ‘good’ I am at making money or marketing. They simply want to know what’s in it for them and how I can help them with their wedding photography.
It’s always better to get traffic organically as the conversions and the next steps are easier to mold.
There is a risk of diluting the content you’ve got – and ranking for fewer terms
Sure, it’d be annoying if the new website’s content didn’t fly very well. But consider this. What if the site that is doing really well, completely tanks? As I’ve been transparent about my wedding photography business is how I pay the bills. I get over 70% of my leads through Google organic search, and that number always seems to go up as my content and domain age. Plus, I continue to create fresh content.
I’m working on diversification, but basically right now, I would have little to no income if the rankings for my established business took a nosedive. (The quality of leads I get through Google search tends to be much, much higher than leads through Instagram or Yelp, so they are exponentially more valuable).
Wow! That’s some scary ish!
So if you have a site that makes an income – by whatever means – you’ll want to look carefully at all worst-case scenarios before making an informed decision.
If your rankings fall, it could be impossible to get them back if Google sees your changes as an attempt to ‘game the system’, even if you did nothing of the sort. By that time, it would be a waiting game to see if the original rankings and traffic ever returned. Time that you don’t have if you depend on your site in order to make a living.
You can never sell (the service business) or the value of that web property with its organic rankings
Personally – and I think it’s fine to admit this here – I won’t be a wedding photographer forever. Certainly I will not continue in the field right up until I retire. My husband and I plan to move away from the state we live in, in about 9 years’ time for his retirement. Also, wedding photography is very physically arduous and I already feel my late-thirties body complain after every wedding. It’s tough and I don’t want to shoot weddings when I’m 45, 50, 60.
The service business and the brand that I’ve built however, still has a value beyond my ability or desire to service weddings. The value of the web property lies in its organic rankings – which will not be the case if combined with a venture that I do want to continue with after the 9 years.
Whether I sell leads, train an associate, or sell the web property, there is great value in keeping that side of my business separate. I would definitely want a clean break one day (in case any of my clients are reading this, don’t worry – I have no plans to leave wedding photography for at least 5 – 9 years’ time!)
The blog posts boost the authority of the home page, so it makes sense to use the home page to rank for something
Your home page is in a category all on its own, enjoying the most link juice and SEO power. For my established site, the homepage itself ranks highly (I mean #1, #2 or #3) for the competitive transactional term that exactly describes what I do (area + service).
Now, such an achievement is great but requires constant work and staying on top of my game. You’ve probably heard it set, SEO is not a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of task. You have to work hard to convince Google day after day and year after year, that you’re still the best choice for that coveted spot.
New competitors are entering my local market every day. Existing competitors are upping their content strategy and learning how to beat me. Directories and aggregators are investing more and more into beating out the local boutique operations.
Changing up the homepage to include some keywords related to the secondary venture would at best look very weird in Google’s eyes. They’d be second-guessing whether my content really is as relevant as someone else’s site who talks 100% about the topic in question.
Trying to get a homepage to rank for two completely unrelated services is a scary feat. Remember, we’re not talking about the same service in two cities or areas. In my case, I’d want to see my homepages ranking for terms as diverse as:
Bay Area wedding photographer
Learn SEO for wedding photographers
Yikes! These terms are sort of related, but do you see how the user-intent is so completely different? I would definitely not want to risk undoing all the hard work from the past few years!
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Better control of, and more sensible, site architecture
I have to give David credit for this one. So, the reality is that poor information architecture is the usual suspect in poor ranking. A good strategy is to have one smaller set of pages to act as internal landing pages for a call to action.
An informative landing page would be set up for each important keyword. Blog posts then link back up to that seed landing page, using matching anchor text, and also across to others in the silo of equal status. This builds site hierarchy with the strength of internal links pointing to the seed landing page.
Each site has its own way of categorizing and presenting information, with each post only appearing in one silo. For content-heavy sites in competitive industries like SEO and anything b2b, this is key.
Site architecture refers to:
the structure that organizes and delivers the content on your website. It includes the hierarchy of pages where users find content and the technical considerations that let search engine bots crawl your pages.Alexa, Site Architecture: How to Build an SEO-Friendly Website
It takes longer – but slow and steady wins the race
I’m not fond of trite idioms either, but in this case I’ll allow it. So, there are no ‘quick wins’ in SEO. However, it would certainly be ‘quicker’ (let’s forget about the risk aspect for the moment) to simply dump a bunch of new content on a site that’s already proven and ranking well.
Slow and steady wins the race – or are you looking for a quick win?
My SEO consultant told me that the new site is still ‘1,500 – 2,000 hours of work away from starting to show signs it can do what you want’. Sure, that’s a ton of time. I spend 60 – 80 hours per week running my real-world business if the past 3 years are anything to go by. So those 2,000 hours may take years.
And that’s just the beginning.
But here’s the thing. While the goal is to make an income, going into it with dollar signs in my eyes isn’t the way.
Ask yourself when you actually need to be drawing a salary from your web venture. In my case, not until I don’t shoot weddings anymore – as mentioned, 9 years at the outside estimate.
9 years! So I have the time to build it right rather than do the ‘quick and easy’ method, which is still neither quick nor easy, and carries significant risk of an across-the-board ranking drop.
Do you want the quick way or the good way?
You must grow in confidence and get a really good handle on what you provide. I need new skills like how to present on camera, how to edit videos. Also I need to know how to write this kind of content, and what my USP really is. I’ll need clarity on my target market and their pain points. All this takes time. Maybe that resonates with you, too.
If you are running two separate businesses or services, the chances are one is newer to you. Or maybe you’re a bit out of the loop with one of your services. Are you really even ready to begin offering two services? A little time and not rushing in can sometimes be a good thing, in this instant-gratification culture.
Now this may not be the case for you but the point is still the same – anything worth building can rarely be built quickly. (Good, fast or cheap – pick 2)
To wrap up
The fact is, it is an enormous time-suck to start a website from scratch. It requires oodles of patience, time and money – and you still have no guarantee of success.
Then again diluting the laser-focus of a site that’s already established and making money is also a risk. Arguably, a larger one.
It depends on whether you want the long game or the short game, and also your level of risk appetite, for sure.
I’ve been advised to see the content-writing as a hobby first. Gauge if you’re truly passionate about the topic – and if so, the ideas, the know-how, the innovation and the money will follow.
SEO is far from an exact science and every SEO will have their own take. My perspective as a small business owner who’s now moving into the online space, straddling two worlds, is probably not that rare.
In the side-hustle culture we now live in, there are more and more multi-talented people who are leveraging what they know from their work in one industry, to help a target market in a different one. I’m one such hard-hustlin’ older millennial, trynna make ends meet. : )
I hope this resource helped you. It was the resource that I could not find when I was trying to make the decision to merge or keep separate two websites with different services for different audiences.