Registering multiple domain names is, and should be, common practice for businesses wishing to protect their brands. I discussed buying alternative domain names earlier this week, but I wanted to address it again, this time from the context of duplicate content issues which may arise if you don’t set up your new domain names properly.
Domain Name Redirects
The first thing you need to consider after you’ve purchased additional domain names is to decide what you want to do with them. Not every domain name needs to have a site on it, though it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some kind of generic company page in place for lack of anything else. But for the most part, you will probably want to redirect all your alternate domain names to your main company site. This is especially true of many of the issues covered in the article linked above.
The question then becomes, how best to implement those redirects. There are many ways to redirect websites, most of them will often do more harm than good. One of the most common ways to redirect domain names is to “park” them and point them to your main site. How your web hosts parks domains is crucial to know, in order to make sure that the domains are redirecting properly from an SEO standpoint.
Here is an example of a improperly redirecting URL (note: the image is just for example purposes):
This is how most web host companies park domain names. Essentially, every parked domain will feed the user the content from the primary URL, but it keeps the visitor on the domain name which they typed in. This can lead to problems with branding, not to mention the duplicate page(s) created by this kind of re-direct.
Here’s what you need to know about domain redirects. This is important to be able to tell your web host, developer, or whoever else is in charge of your website. You want your alternate domains to “301 redirect” to your main URL.
A 301 redirect tells search engine spiders that the domain they tried to access has been “permanently moved” to a new location, which is your main URL. When implementing a 301 redirect both your visitors and search engine spiders will be automatically forwarded to the new URL.
If your web host doesn’t implement this kind of redirect when parking domains or doesn’t offer 301 redirecting, then you’ll have to do it yourself. The easiest way is to get a second web hosting account for ONE of your alternate domain names, and implement the 301 redirect by adding the following code to your .htaccess file :
Redirect permanent / http://www.mainurl.com
…then parking all your other alternate domain names to point to the redirected domain.
Checking for proper redirects
If you’re not sure if your alternate domain names are redirecting properly, you can do a simple check using a program such as WebBug.
This screenshot shows me that the domain www.projectinsight.com IS properly redirecting to www.projectinsight.net, returning an HTTP header of “301 Moved Permanently” which is exactly what we were looking to achieve.
Without implementing proper redirects on your alternate domain names, not only will you have duplicate websites, but you’ll likely be splitting all your link flow between each version of the site. This will potentially cut your site’s value (as determined by the search engines via incoming links) in half.
While it’s possible for the search engines to figure out that domain A and domain B are the same, you’re still forcing them to decide which of the two domains is the one you are trying to brand, and they have a 50% or greater chance of getting it wrong.