Multi-topic conundrum — One site or two?

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The choice between organizing content within one single site or maintaining two separate sites is a challenging one. Creators from all walks of life run into this dilemma. A common example I’ve encountered is with authors when they end up publishing books in different genres or have multiple ongoing series. Do they keep it all in one site or setup a separate website for each? It’s the same for creators who specialize in different art mediums or styles. Then you’ve got artist/writers who are doing two entirely different types of creation. 

Often the concern is that creators will lose followers who are interested in Topic A if the site is also publishing content on Topic B (that the follower isn’t interested in).

But let’s consider all the many news type sites online. At the end of the day, these are just elaborate blogs, with multiple topics, all in one site. Do you avoid these sites because they include content that doesn’t interest you? Or do you frequent them because they also include content that you are interested in? The same will hold true for your followers as well.

It’s not that it’s a bad thing to have a site that addresses multiple different topics. The trick is in the organization of the site and how easy it is for your followers to find what they are most interested in. But you also need to consider your end goal for the different topics and the website(s) you want to create, as well as who your audience is.

As you’ll see, I lean toward most site owners keeping their content (multiple topics and all) in one site. But let’s explore these options a bit more.

Theme and layout

In the past, the first question I’ve asked is whether the separate topics need to have entirely different looks? Such as the need for a different website theme, with a different layout and color schemes.  A website can only have one active theme. So if you have two (or more) different topic threads, and they need to look entirely different from each other, then it used to make more sense to set up separate sites with different themes.

However, with the new Full Site Editing (FSE) feature introduced with WordPress 5.9, that is less of a concern, because every single page (or post or category page of posts…) can have its own unique look and feel within the same site by utilizing custom Templates and Template parts. The site would still have one theme, and one global color scheme – but you can control those components independently per Template as well.

So now, it’s more a question of time investment, and how much a site owner is willing to learn new tools – because it does have a learning curve. Fortunately, WordPress.com is creating more and more learning resources to help with that learning curve. We have FSE documentation, webinars, and YouTube videos available to help with every step.

So, if you have more than one topic, and they need to have completely different looks, and you don’t want to learn how to use FSE, then two sites might make the most sense.

That said, if the separate topics don’t need to have completely different looks, and both sites would end up using the same theme and be similar visually, then there’s no design based reason to split it into two sites, whether you use FSE or not. Proper use of categories and menus will keep the content organized for your followers to find what they want.

It’s also extra work and potentially an extra cost to maintain two sites, so those are other factors to keep in mind when making this decision. 

Keeping multiple topics together in one site does require a bit of organizational planning, but perhaps not as much on going maintenance as you might think. 

Organization

In keeping to one site, it’s typically a good idea to set up a custom Homepage that clearly identifies each topic. You could use the Columns or Layout Grid blocks to set up grids, you could Group some blocks and put a background color behind them, you could create horizontal panels using the Cover block or add Separator lines between Rows of content. The organizational layout of your Homepage really comes down to your creativity and understanding of the many different blocks available to you. WordPress.com also provides Page Layouts and Block Patterns that can make the creation of attractive layouts a quick and simple process.

But the most important aspect of content organization is to use the Post Categories feature to organize the different types of posts. You can pre-plan and set up your categories in advance so that you have all the necessary pieces in place before you start writing.

With categories set up, you can then create custom Category pages and with the use of the Blog Posts block, the Query Loop block, and/or the Posts Carousel block you can control which categories will display on the page, as well as what the layout of the posts and the overall page looks like. 

With FSE you can create default templates for these pages, and you can also create templates with unique layouts for each single post page based on the category.

The last piece in organizing your site, is a well thought out menu. Setting up your menu to have parent items that are your top-level pages, and then adding sub-items for a drop-down menu effect, will keep your menu clean while making sure that your visitors can find all the right information of what they’re interested in. It’s also possible to create multiple menus, and with the use of the Navigation block, you can add topic specific menus to specific pages and posts by building them into your FSE Templates.

The initial set up might take a bit of effort, but once the foundation is in place, then moving forward you simply need to allocate the correct category and template to each post when you write them. Those posts will then automatically show up exactly how and where you want, and where your followers will expect to find them.

Content distribution

It’s also possible to set up multiple social media connections and you can control which social media accounts specific posts share to using the Publicize feature. There are many options for integrating and cross connecting your social media presence with your website, and we have a special topic webinar replay called Supercharge your Social Media that is worth watching as well.

It is true that the default, new post email notifications will go to all followers, but if that’s a major concern, you could consider using a service like MailChimp to create a custom newsletter that separates your different content topics into sections (they have a free account option).

Or, if you’re able to install plugins on your site, I recommend MailPoet as it integrates completely within your site, and you manage it from within your WordPress.com site dashboard. You can create separate email lists, and dedicated forms for specific topics, and your followers can choose which email notifications/newsletters they receive – and the delivery of these post notification newsletters can be automated as well.

This, combined with an organized Homepage that showcases the specific sections of your site, and a menu that makes the sections clear, will allow you to build a following in one site of people interested in different topics — while potentially exposing them to new areas of interest as well.

Audience

So far, I’ve been leaning toward the idea of maintaining a single site. However, there are a couple of caveats that I would make to this. One is if you have a specific reason to keep them separate, such as not wanting to cross-connect your audiences. I have seen that situation with authors who use pen names and don’t want them to be associated with each other. In this situation, it makes sense to maintain two separate sites.

Another caveat I would make is if the topics are vastly different. As in, they are topics that are appealing to entirely different audience segments. The trick to a successful multi-topic blog is that the topic varieties are still targeting a similar audience. Where you might find audience overlap between travel and art topics, you might not have audience overlap between business tips and crocheting. Unless you’re running a high-volume news site, it might be far too much work to be creating sufficient content in vastly different topic areas, targeted at entirely different audiences.

This then also begs the question of whether you would have the time to successfully manage two separate sites on entirely different topics and properly build an audience for both.

One of the biggest challenges new bloggers run into is deciding what they want to blog about. But if your goal is to build an audience, then you need to understand what audience you want to attract, and then make sure that your content is appealing to that audience. In this regard, it’s less about the topics and more about the audience. We all have a wide variety of interests, so having multiple topics available isn’t an issue. The trick is in understanding your audience and which variety of content topics may be of interest to them.

One last thought on this… let’s say you’ve settled on creating a travel blog and that is the primary focus of the majority of your content. But, you also dabble in the arts, and would like to be able to showcase your art, without necessarily making it the main focus of a site.

It’s fine to have a special or feature section of your site that is available for inquiring minds, but isn’t a predominant aspect of your site. You can do this by creating a separate page dedicated to this special feature, and really jazz this page up to shine. You can still create posts, and exclude them from your main Blog page. You can choose to not send these posts to your social media accounts and you can leave them out of your MailPoet newsletters. You can make them something of a side note, a smaller list of “you might also be interested in” type of thing at the bottom of your Homepage or in your email newsletters. You can also not use “posts” at all for these pieces of content, and simply create static pages that are grouped together under one menu item. But they can still be included in your main site, even if they fall outside the main interest area of your target audience.

Not only does it allow for potential exposure to this content from your existing audience, but it also makes it easier for you to maintain and update in an area that perhaps you don’t have as much content for.

Thoughts on design

When it comes to choosing a theme, I recommend going with a newer theme and one that supports full width options (any that are listed under the Recommended tab in the WordPress.com Theme section). Many of the older Classic themes have fairly narrow content areas that waste a lot of screen space, that could be used more effectively. With a wider content area, it’s easier to utilize column layouts to organize the content on any given page.

I would also recommend avoiding page layouts that display the full content of posts in one, long scrolling page. Utilize the post blocks mentioned above to tighten up the content that is displayed on a page to make it easier to see what’s available, and add some variety. Do some sections as just a list of titles, some with just a featured image and title, some that include an excerpt. This can really help to guide your followers to the most current and most important content, while still making additional content easy to find.

Conclusion

Based on all of this, my personal vote is to keep it all in one site (aside from the above caveats). Long-term it’s worth the time and effort to set it up. It’s also more cost effective.

Plus, even if you think certain visitors aren’t interested in certain content, is there a strong reason to prevent them from at least having access to it? Because maintaining two separate sites might create that situation. And if you’re going to cross-link the two sites within the menu so that they do have access, why not just keep it all together in the first place?

Thank you to @judy-tulloch for raising such a thought provoking topic!

Steps for a multi-topic site:

  1. Create a custom Homepage organized into sections
  2. Create a solid list of categories to assign to your posts
  3. Create custom category pages to display specific category posts
  4. Create a well organized menu that includes your category pages, with drop-down items
  5. Optional: Share posts to specific social media accounts based on category
  6. Optional: Offer custom newsletter options per category using MailPoet
  7. Bonus: Utilize FSE to create unique templates per category

Published by Tanya Thibodeau

30 years ago I was teaching people how to play piano, now I teach people how to play WordPress! I'm a techie who speaks non-techie and my passion is helping beginners. I write YA/Fantasy novels, play the piano, and love to read. I also love animals, which is a good thing considering I have 3 cats, a rabbit and a dog.

One thought on “Multi-topic conundrum — One site or two?

  1. Thank you for this very informative post. I developed two blogs because of different audiences. This post introduced the possibility of combining the blogs on one website. I like the example you gave about a news website that not all posts come under one specific category. Thank you. I’ve saved the post and will read it again and reconsider how to move forward.

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