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I have a proposal for a site, where for technical reasons the project manager proposed to run the site on two domains.

It's a Moodle learning site, and we have a Moodle supplier hosting the actual courses, and need pages outside of moodle to do the marketing, branding and surfacing of other content, which Moodle doesn't easily do. So the idea was to host moodle on a subdomain of the parent NGO and have a separate domain for the home page. Needless to say we are doing all of this on a tight budget, otherwise the technical problems wouldn't really be problems.

So the learning site's homepage would be at www.example.org, where you can read about courses, audiences and objctives, as well as log in. On choosing a course you would be forwarded to example.ngo.org. If you clicked home, you would be sent back to example.org

Regardless of the technical reasons for doing this which we might be able to overcome, I'm interested in the UX view. What does this do to users and what reaction can we expect?

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Is the interface consistent (does it look the same) across both hostnames? –  Matt Obee Oct 23 '12 at 9:55
    
Hi Matt,they are not 100% the same. The colours are the same, but the layout doesn't align perfectly. –  small_change Oct 23 '12 at 10:27
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2 Answers

If all the internal linking is correct and the navigation is seamless, then there is no problem.

But if there are many different designs and schemas in both sites and it feels like jumping from site to site, then you have serious problems.

As you know, keeping the colour schema similar, helps, but most important is the positioning of the blocks and the wording used, if the titles ans styles are the same, the user never will notice the change in the url.

If the changes are quite notorious, then the user will notice the url and may feel like they are two different sites and that he took a wrong turn somewhere, most probably will try to go back and recheck, which may be annoying and confusing. Once they go back, they may realize that they took the right path and that the url doesn't matter or still feel that something is wrong. In both cases, the design fails, one worst than the other.

But even if you keep everything right, most probably that will happen to somebody any way, and then is when you have to react, check the logs and find the pages that cause the trouble, plus the links they follow and the possible destinations they want, change those pages according or create redirects.

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It's certainly acceptable to have a short, descriptive URL to help for memorability and have it link to your homepage. However unless it's a "minisite" or otherwise completely distinct from your hierarchy, I'd recommend redirecting it to a page on your main domain since nothing really exists at the first domain. Users often ignore the URL, but changing the base of the URL should be done as little as possible.

As for the looks not being 100% the same, it's common for the homepage to be slightly different. Unless the actual branding is clearly distinct between the two, I wouldn't recommend having two distinct domains for no reason other than "it's easy to remember the URL". That's what redirects are for. Just make sure that going to foo.com and finding a foo.site.com page makes sense; the homepage should clearly be about foo (the URL I put in).

Technically a simple 301 redirect from example.com to example.site.com is really all you need, so technical constraints really shouldn't be an issue.

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