Where Should You Publish Your Web Content?
Marketing Content Strategy

Where Should You Publish Your Web Content? On-Domain vs. Off-Domain

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A wise man once told me, or rather reminds me daily, that the only way to create truly meaningful time with your audience is through original, sustainable storytelling. While I wholeheartedly agree with him, it’s recently become clear to me that storytelling doesn’t come easily to most people. Most brands claim to be storytellers, when in reality they continue to exclusively publish articles and other Web content that doesn’t emotionally engage visitors.

The good news is that many brands recognize the problem. As a proof point, look at the studies published by the Content Marketing Institute late last year on B2C and B2B content marketing trends in North America. The studies show that 76 percent of B2C brands and 88 percent of B2B brands use content marketing. More specifically, within these brands, 37 percent of B2C and 41 percent of B2B brands are prioritizing becoming better storytellers.

However, recognizing the need to become a better brand storyteller is only one step in the marketing shift away from interrupt advertising. Many companies struggle with a major decision of where to publish their Web content. Should they pursue a stand-alone destination or publish to the brand’s existing site?

This debate is not new. My article published in 2010 on incorporating microsites into your SEO strategy is one of many that broaches the question “where should my content live?” But back then, my focus was on search implications. Today, it’s all encompassing: Does on-domain or off-domain make more sense for your brand’s content?

While the following lists are not intended to be exhaustive, they do provide as a good resource for determining when and if deploying a stand-alone site makes sense vs. adding content to an existing domain through a sub-domain or folder.

Let’s look at a stand-alone destination first.

Pros of using a stand-alone destination:

  • Blank-slate: There’s no existing design, branding or tone to mimic.
  • Domain: A shorter, catchier and non-branded URL is possible.
  • Lens: You have the ability to separate effort from your brand, remove bias, and potentially better target and reach your audience.
  • SEO: You have the ability to focus optimization on specific topics and themes without detracting from other search priorities.
  • Limitations: You’re less likely to run into political constraints or technical limitations.

Cons of using a stand-alone destination:

  • Domain: This requires identifying, vetting, and buying a new domain.
  • SEO: You start at ground-zero with no inbound links or domain authority.
  • Integration: If required, it can be harder to integrate with an existing CMS or main site.
  • Tracking: If desired, tracking ROI may be more difficult as it requires cookies.

Next, let’s consider a sub-domain or folder off of your main domain.

Pros of using your main domain:

  • SEO: You leverage existing inbound links and domain authority and reap benefits of newly-added Web content.
  • User Experience: There is a consistent and seamless approach as visitors navigate.
  • Integration: It can be easy to set up with an existing CMS.
  • Tracking: It’s easier to track your customer’s path to purchase and content ROI.

Cons of using your main domain:

  • Domain: In conflict with the brand you are looking to build, visitors may associate your main brand as soon as they see the URL.
  • Domain: While a redirect might be a solution, this can lead to a longer URL.
  • Resources: This likely requires technical resources that are tied to competing priorities.
  • Limitations: This has the same limitations of your main site, if any exist.
  • User Experience: There is an expectation of similar look and feel to your main site.
  • Perception: Living so close to your own products or services, it could be misconstrued as a ploy to sell.

That’s a lot to digest. So, how do you best determine which option makes the most sense for your strategy?

Consider staying on-domain if:

  • Storytelling is what truly defines your brand strategy.
  • Your design and navigation needs can be addressed in your main site’s design templates.
  • You have the commitment from the development team now (you don’t want delays).
  • You want to take advantage of the strength and authority of your brand.
  • You want to take advantage of the site’s SEO authority.
  • You need to track the full path to conversion within marketing automation (on-domain presents more simplicity than off-domain).

Taking advantage of its brand equity, existing SEO authority, and current design and navigation, Build-A-Bear (a Skyword client) is a great example of a brand that publishes to its main domain within a subfolder, Parents. This destination is where Build-A-Bear has created a resource for parents that are focused on playtime and child development. With content created by moms, experts (therapists, PhDs, etc.) Build-A-Bear’s “Growing Through Play,” “Making Moments,” and “Unleashing Playtime” categories offer up stories, inspiration, and activities to support parents while making the most of every playful moment.

Build-A-Bear

Consider building a stand-alone destination if:

  • Your design and navigation needs can’t be addressed in your main site’s design templates.
  • You don’t have the commitment from the development team now for the initiative.
  • Your marketing must differentiate itself from the main site because its approach, strategy, or focus are different or new.
  • Your marketing needs to establish you as a trusted source on a particular topic.
  • Your marketing needs to establish you as a true expert without seeming biased.
  • You are marketing to a target audience that your main site doesn’t focus on directly.

A strong example of publishing to a stand-alone destination is the award-winning digital publication, SecurityIntelligence.com. Here, IBM Security (a Skyword client) launched a stand-alone destination to provide IBM’s audience of enterprise risk and IT security professionals with the information they need to lead and protect their organization. This site operates as a true resource for these professionals and is not simply a site full of product-, service-, and IBM-related content.

IBM Security

Will I be writing about where to publish your Web content six years from now? If history is any indication, then yes. The reality is, this debate is unlikely to go away. Why? Because there is no single answer, and I don’t envision there ever will be. Just as I discussed search implications back in 2010, and have shared all-encompassing implications today, different SEO strategies and tactics will perform with varying degrees of success into the future, surfacing new findings and recommendations.

Want to continue the conversation? I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below or reach out to me directly at andrew@skyword.com.

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