One Big Site or Many Niche Sites?
Those bitten by the SEO bug and blessed with enough free time to build their own sites are often confronted with a question that doesn't have an easy answer. The question is whether, from an SEO perspective, it is better to focus on a single, all-encompassing site or to create multiple, very niche sites. I've dealt with this issue myself recently.
At last count I had 10 or so very niche websites covering a wide range of topics. Each website used WordPress as the content management system (CMS) with a unique theme and a set of plug-ins that varied for each site. Even before considering SEO tasks, this set up has a lot of overhead. More overhead than I imagined. Why? Because every upgrade, tweak, and test needs to be repeated 10 times. Upgrading WordPress? Do it 10 times. Is the WordPress upgrade buggy such that you need to install the dot-1 version? Do it 10 times. Got a new plug-in? Install and configure it 10 times. Upgraded plug-in? Well, you get the idea.
I was spending so much time with maintenance that I had little time to create content. And we all know that content is critical to any SEO effort. I also didn't have much time to promote and develop inbound links for each site. I went down the niche path because I believed focussed sites have an easier time developing a following, but that's true only if you have the time to support each site. I found out that I didn't have such time.
And so I've spent the last two weeks rolling individual sites into a larger site being very careful to create related-content clusters to maximize my chances of obtaining solid rankings. The end result is that I've succeeded in combining 6 sites into 1 leaving me with just 5 sites total — 2 of which I don't intend to actively manage. I think this new set up will work out for me as I'll be able to cut down on my search engine marketing efforts which will in turn free up time to create new content. Creating content is much more satisfying since it has a permanence about it that maintenance tasks lack.
In this regard I now share similar views as Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz who tackled the same issue not too long ago. I also like to point to incredibly successful sites like About.com that have managed to combine hundreds of topics and tens of thousands of articles all under the same umbrella. However, none of this is to say that niche sites won't work. I know of many SEOs and affiliate marketers that have been quite successful. It's all just a matter of whether you have the time.