On or Off Site?The Never-Ending SEO Dilemma

On or Off Site?The Never-Ending SEO Dilemma

One SEO/website strategy question that I always have a tough time answering, especially for clients in the super-competitive legal field where every lawyer and firm seems to have 10 of their own blogs and/or websites, is:

Should I use my current site to focus on that keyword/area/practice area, or should I launch a new website?

If you’re a lawyer or you’ve done legal SEO in the past, the websites that rank well for the keyword or keyword phrase that you’re trying to rank for probably:

  1. Have been around for a lot longer and have had SEO performed on it since day 1,
  2. Are part of a collection of other websites that the particular lawyer or firm has developed over time, all of which linking to and from each other, or
  3. all of the above.

The quality and quantity of inbound links that a website has is still a very big part of Google’s algorithm.

It’s very rare for a website to rank well for a semi-competitive keyword on Google and not have more or better inbound links than the websites below it, and when I say inbound links I’m also going to include in this term the number of other websites that the business’ brick-and-mortar factors (address, phone number, etc.) are included on now that these factors are so important to Google Places and now that Google Places plays a larger part in the organic search results for almost all local businesses.

In my opinion- for websites which want to rank well for keywords that include geo-specific search terms, such as

Chicago personal injury lawyer

and

Seattle pizza delivery

an inbound link is no longer just a hyperlink to the website, but the Google Places citation source factors such as address and phone number can also count towards “link juice” even if there isn’t an actual hyperlink on that other website. Confusing, I know.

But back to the main dilemma…debate…. debacle… whatever you want to call it.

To rank well for a specific keyword, should you continue to post content and spend time optimizing the website that you currently have, or should you spend some extra time and money to launch a new website or blog which can possibly not only rank well for that keyword, but also generate additional traffic and leads in the process?

Pro’s for launching a new website:

1) Keyword-friendly URL’s- By implementing the keyword or keyword phrase(s) that you want to rank for into the domain of the new website, it’s possible that you’ve increased the chances that this website will rank well based on Google’s algorithm.

Also, this new website is more likely to include those keywords and keyword phrases more often in it’s page titles, content, etc. now that it’s the main focus of the website, versus your main website where sometimes you have to struggle to find pages where you can implement those keywords.

2) Capturing a Niche– Depending on your business, it’s possible (now that you’ve launched a new website specific to that particular product or service) that this website helps to establish your business or brand as the expert in that particular field, versus a more broad topic which doesn’t capture a particular niche.

For example, would a visitor more likely convert on:

a Washington, DC personal injury firm website that handles multiple practice areas

or

a website produced by a Washington, DC personal injury firm that only talks about auto accident cases?

It can be debated that the practice-area specific website or blog might convert at a higher rate than a larger, more broad firm site, but there are also some cons to this (see below).

3) Internal Resources>External Resources- Internal resources (additional websites that your company has created) that you now have control over offer additional benefits versus websites that may rank well that you need to pay to get listed on.

In the legal field, plenty of people have spent a countless amount of time and money to setup directory sites to either

a) rank well for a number of legal keywords throughout the country in order to attempt to charge the lawyers to be listed, or

b) in some instances where actual lawyers are involved in the ownership of these sites, leads will be sold to other lawyers based on the location and practice area of that potential client.

Business model aside, the links that are coming from these websites are usually pretty valuable. But why would you want to pay to be listed on a website when you can build your own site or blog, spend a year or two building up it’s authority, and eventually that website will

a) generate it’s own leads for the lawyer/firm, and

b) provide valuable links to the main site which will improve it’s search engine rankings?

Not so fast.

Con’s For Launching a New Website

I’m going to try to correlate the order which the cons are listed with the matching pro as much as possible.

1) Exact Match Domains Ain’t What They Used To Be– An exact match domain (referred to in the pro’s as Keyword Friendly URL) is one that includes keywords in order to rank well on Google and other search engines. Google knows that it’s fairly easy these days to get a keyword-friendly domain name and launch a WordPress blog on it within a matter of minutes. So as their algorithm continues to evolve, keyword-friendly domain names will likely continue to fall in terms of overall ranking factors.

However, there should still be a difference, in my opinion, between exact match domains and keyword-friendly URL’s because I believe that Google will continue to consider optimized page URL’s (versus keyword-stuffed root domains aka exact match domains) as a primary ranking factor, mainly for usability and standardization reasons.

2) Usability Issues- As it states in the pro’s section- yes, it’s possible that an additional website can establish your company or firm as an expert in that particular topic. But let’s say that you’re that Washington, DC firm that we mentioned earlier, and you put together a website that only talks about Southern Maryland auto accident topics.

Does that mean that you only handle accident cases in Southern Maryland, and that visitors from the rest of Maryland should look elsewhere? It’s possible, unless you link to your main site in a way that draws non-Southern-Maryland visitors to the main site where additional practice areas are listed.

If you have additional websites or blogs setup, look at your Google Analytics data to see the bounce rate of your sub-sites, and how much traffic they are sending to your main site. If you bounce rate is high on the sub-sites and these sites aren’t sending much traffic to the main site than they’re probably not accomplishing much.

3) Managing Additional Resources Involves Time and Money- It took you four years to build up the authority of your website. You spend countless numbers of hours posting new content to your website, and between the SEO, content development, and maintenance issues like upgrading the content management version, checking for broken links, spellchecking, monitoring Google Webmaster Tools, etc. you’re already thinking of yourself as a full-time webmaster. So why should managing a second, third, fourth site be any easier? Sure, you can automate some of it, but….

4) For SEO- Quick, Easy, and Automated is NEVER Successful in the Long Run-

If I want a quick and easy website, here’s what I’ll do:

1) Sign up for as $8/month Hostgator or BlueHost account where I can manage multiple domains (hosting, e-mail, WordPress upgrades, etc.) in the same back-end.

2) Wow, I can launch a new website for only $10/domain! Pfft I’ll have 5 of them live in the next two months at this rate.

3) Okay I bought a keyword-friendly domain for $10, I’m going to use SimpleScripts to install WordPress on it.

4) WordPress is installed, let me just find a generic/free theme, or maybe just splurge and spend $35 on one from ThemeForest.

5) Theme is uploaded and installed, and I threw some plugins on there while I’m at.

6) Content- I better start writing, this is going to take a while.

7) Okay I wrote a few main pages of content, even threw some pics up there. Page titles are optimized for keywords, let’s take this baby live and watch the visits pour in. Oh yeah and I’ll link to my main site in the footer to improve it’s SEO, throw some keywords in the anchor text of those links…. bing bang boom.

What you probably didn’t think about:

1) You weren’t about to pay extra for a unique IP address for each website, so they’re all using the same IP. Yes, Google knows this.

2) Google is starting to frown upon sitewide links which all have the same anchor text. Yes, they know how easy all of this was.

3) “Ugh, I don’t remember my logins for all of these sites.”

4) “I have to post content to five different websites, build links to five different website, and maintain five different websites?” Yes, yes you do.

5) “How do I list all five websites on my Google Places profile?” Yeah, good luck with that.

With Google Places, verification is everything. They want to see a number of other websites where your address, phone number, and URL match up and are correct. So, yes, these additional websites may offer that benefit, but with the way things are shifting now that Google Places is becoming increasingly important to the search engine rankings of local and small businesses, what do you think would be a better way to spend your time and money- launching, optimizing, building, and maintaining a number of different websites, or getting listed on those that Google already trusts?

As of right now there’s not one particular answer to this question, but as Google continues to identify what others are doing to cut corners and take the easy way out, one thing seems clear- focusing your time, money, and effort on one main website will likely pay off in the long run.