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Sitecore multisite: learn when to say "yes!"

Most companies manage multiple websites. From micro sites, to landing pages, brand websites, blogs, partner portals or even HR platforms. Sometimes a deliberate choice, often legacy that a company has to carry with it.

The management of all these different web presences is not always easy. Luckily, there are great content management systems such as Sitecore, which make life easier. In this article, we will elaborate when multiple websites make sense and when not, and how you can organize them within Sitecore.

1. Be ready from the start

Seems obvious, but experience shows us it isn’t for a lot of companies. Often, a company starts with a single website, and over the course of time gets confronted with the multiple website question. There is an acquisition and thus existing website. What to do with it? Each region wants their own blog or campaign site. Do we allow them their own sites or not?

A decision around these topics gets made in the heat of the moment, but not always in the interest of a long-term strategy.

Our advice is to consider multiple websites at the start of your project. It is not a question anymore of whether you will need to manage multiple sites, rather by when you will need to manage multiple sites. Every solution The Reference designs is multiple website ready by default. This greatly reduces overhead and concerns should multiple sites become a requirement.

2. When to say “yes!” to multiple websites

A good rule of thumb is to keep all your efforts centralized on one platform for 80% and let 20% diversify. Topic specific microsites and landing pages make sense for multiple sites. Other content sites such as campaigns, landing page for an event, multiple brand websites or a microsite for a specific region require a strategy. Some questions that might help determining when to use multiple sites:

  • Can I organize this project within my existing website structure?
  • Are there any specifics that require a separate presence? Think for example about menu structure, information architecture, etc.
  • Does the platform need to be branded the same as my corporate website?
  • What about the language? Will the content be in a language that is already present on the corporate website or not?
  • Does the platform require a specific or different URL?

When the difference is too big between the corporate web and the specific project, or when there is a language gap, opting for a separate presence might be a good idea.

To give you a tangible example: let’s say you want to expand your business into the APAC region. The offering will not be as extensive as in North America, but rather a small subset with a key focus. Content needs to be available in Chinese, and assets (such as images) need to be adapted to the local culture. None of those are currently available on your website. In this case, it might be interesting to start with a microsite for that specific region, with a clear link to the corporate web. You will be able to start very agile with establishing a presence, with a short go to market. When the APAC market gets important enough you can translate and optimize the whole corporate website for it (in language, offering …) and fully redirect the microsite to it.

3. Clean house in legacy sites

Just as in spring, it’s necessary to cleanup your ecosystem from time to time. Due to many reasons, companies carry too much legacy with them. This results in old, abandoned websites without any true ownership. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the content on these platforms still relevant?
  • Does it still serve a purpose?
  • What is the traffic to this platform? Does it still have (relevant) visitors?
  • What is the cost to keep it live?

When the content is outdated without true ownership and the relevance of a separate site isn’t clear, then the action should be clear. When there is still traffic to the platform, make sure you redirect it correctly to the corporate web. If traffic is non-existent, you can shut down the presence.

4. Tips and tricks

Now that you made a clear choice on your strategy, there are also some more technical aspects to take into account. Below are some of the most important technical considerations.

Single instance and Experience database

You can have multiple websites, but it is best to organize them in a single Sitecore instance. Different websites can have different content trees (different content tree for a ‘real’ website, single content tree for a campaign or landing page). The main advantage of a single Sitecore instance is (aside from pricing) the fact that the Experience database is shared. This enables your organization to keep a single customer view (for analytics, tracking, personalization, etc.). You don’t want to end up trying to connect 2 experience database to each other.

Single domain

Whenever possible, you want to centralize all content under the same domain for a single, but very important reason: Search Engine Optimization. The more content you centralize, the more domain authority that domain will have, which, in turn ensures better SEO.

Federated Experience Manager

It is common for legacy websites to exist in different CMS systems, different domains, etc. We also realize those websites aren’t migrated in a day. Use the Federated Experience Manager from Sitecore as a temporarily solution. FxM will allow you to track website visitors in your centralized Experience database, personalize your Sitecore website based on that data (when a visitor moves through multiple platforms) and even modify the content on these third party CMS’es. It is a great tool, using JavaScript, that takes away some of the concerns immediately. In the long-term, the goal should be to have everything in the same Sitecore instance as described above.

Still struggling with the whole multi topic? Need an expert’s opinion? Don’t hesitate to reach out for some free advice!

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