Too many websites are nearly always a bad idea. Getting your customer to remember one web address is more than enough of a challenge.I recently did some work with Petro Canada, a major oil and gas company. Petro Canada has a customer loyalty program called Petro Points. Some time ago, Petro Points arranged a survey, and it encouraged customers to fill out the survey online by offering extra points.
People often saw the notice for the survey at the gas station. The survey stated that they should go to petro-points.ca. However, a significant number of people ended up going to petro-canada.ca, which is the main Petro Canada website. In fact, the number one search on Petro Canada for some time now has been "survey".
Basically, what happened was that by the time people had got home, they still remembered the lure of extra points if they filled out this survey, but they forgot the petro-points.ca website address. (Perhaps, they had never even remembered it in the first place.) It was a Petro Canada initiative, they figured, so they put "Petro Canada" in the search box and clicked on the first link.
Large organizations have many challenges when it comes to the Web. There's so much they want to tell people that if they put it all on the same website it would make things very cluttered. One solution is to set up dedicated websites. I think that's a poor solution because the chances of such websites being found are very small.
For some reason, governments seem to love creating lots and lots of websites. It is estimated that there are some 4,000 UK government websites. I don't know how many U.S. government websites there are, but I saw a study that there are almost 1 billion U.S. government webpages. You get websites like stopsmoking.gov, haveyoustoppedsmokingyet.co.uk, smokingisnotcool.ie. (These are not actual websites, but you get the idea.)
Unfortunately, many of these dedicated websites have more to do with organization politics than with a genuine desire to communicate. In government, for example, a department or body will get allocated some budget. Having a website is like ticking a box of all the little things they need to do to show that they spent the budget.
So if your current website is bulging, and it's not a good idea to set up all these little websites, what do you do when you have so much to communicate? You face reality. You have more and more to say to people, and they have less and less time to listen. The more you try and shove at them, the more they are likely to ignore you. Every good communicator knows that if you bombard journalists with press releases you will likely be ignored.
If you can get your customers or citizens to remember one website address, that is a major achievement. Setting up all these separate websites is splitting your budget, splitting your energies, and splitting the attention of your reader.
It also makes your web strategy more difficult to manage. Because Petro Canada thought that everyone would go to the Petro Points website to fill out the survey, they didn't initially have a reference to the survey on their main website. This led to a lot of confusion and annoyance.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.