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I have to design a help centre for my company's product.

I noticed that many sites place their help centres on a separate domain. Why do they do this?

Does it make UX better for users?

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    From what I understand, HelpDesk sites are typically different from the main company's website. This kind of differentiates between the usage which adds to the user experience. Just my thought. – DarkBlaze Apr 24 '18 at 13:29
  • (Slightly) tongue-in-cheek (although something similar happened where I work long ago): a company's "main" website is often under the control of sales/marketing (with carefully trained/constrained techies to implement it). A "help desk" / "support" function tends to be run by techies. Marketing people would never let "random techies" near the main site, so the support/help site is stuck safely out of the way on a different domain. – TripeHound Apr 24 '18 at 14:10
  • @TripeHound Makes Sense :D – DarkBlaze Apr 25 '18 at 8:54
  • Help and Support sites are usually on a different domain because it is hosted with a different vendor and/or uses different software than the main website. – Dave Nelson Nov 21 '18 at 18:02
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Depends on the type of product you're working on (maybe add it into your question for other people). From my experience in Ecommerce, sending users to a separate domain can be risky as they are being forced away from your site which is where all the money is generated! (using my marketing brain here). In terms of UX, being sent off-site can be an inconvenience to many users as you are creating extra steps in their journey to get back to their original path.

Saying this, if your help center is going to be huge and your product allows for sending people off-site, then a separate domain will prevent the 'main' site from being too cluttered.

Couple of extra ideas for you:

  • When sending people off-site, it may be worth providing them with a notification of some design to notify the user what is about to happen - promotes trust.
  • Always make it easy and obvious to navigate back to the main site to prevent large drop-offs.
  • Make sure the help center is designed in the same style as your main site so users can instantly recognise the link between the two. E.g. same logo, colour schemes, button designs etc.
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    I wouldn't have thought most people would even notice if a help site was on a different domain (assuming you don't go from HTTPS to HTTP, and consequent change in the "secure"-ness markings of their browser). Whether you go from shop.example.com to help.example.com, or even example-shop.com to example-help.com seems unlikely to be noticed more than going from example.com/shop to example.com/help. Obviously (I hope) you'd have links back from the help site to the main site, but that would be the case whether it's a different domain or just a different part of the same domain. – TripeHound Apr 25 '18 at 8:12
  • I agree - if the site is styled the same and the new domain loads within the same window then I doubt most people will notice. But if it opens in a new window with a very different URL then people will notice, I've seen this in user testing labs. – sclarke Apr 25 '18 at 8:18
  • When on another domain, help website often opens in a new tab or window. I think this behavior makes sense. This way, the user doesn't lose track of where they're at on the main website while reading / browsing the help. – celinelenoble Sep 22 '18 at 16:26
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It is a common practice to put the helpcenter on a subdomain. Using a different top level domain is less popular and not recommended. -See @sclarke's answer.

There are two reasons combined. Typically the main website or shop runs with a CMS like WordPress and is istalled on the own server. The helpcenter is a SaaS, for example zendesk. But as the business owner you don't like to use a generic zendesk subdomain to handout to your customers for the helpdesk. So you add a new subdomain and map it to your zendesk account via DNS. -BTW: you'll see this for newsletters also.

The other reason is more UX relevant. You can print "help.example.com" on your product, on your manuals, put it into emails or simply tell this your customers via phone. This let your customers/users dive into the helpcenter directly, instead of visiting your mainpage and searching for the link to it.

Even if you don't use a SaaS but integrating it into your website you should use a subdomain and redirect it to the relevant subpage.

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