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Domain aliases and duplicate content

Domain aliases and duplicate content

For the month of August, I will be working on a range of affiliate websites covering performance knee pads, gardening mats, gaming headsets and cheap performance parts (url’s to follow). The additional income will be more than welcome, however my primary rationale is to provide additional ‘testing facilities’ for Smarter SEO.

It should go without saying that I hope to develop the company into a leading provider of search engine optimisation in the West Midlands. However, there are already many successful businesses providing SEO services in Birmingham, Coventry, Leamington Spa, Walsall, Wolverhampton and the rest of the region, so to make my job a little easier I am trying to differentiate from the competition.

Scouring a list of SEO companies within 50 miles, I don’t see many promoting affiliate websites. It is entirely possible these companies are engaged in affiliate activities and wish to keep them off the (tax man’s) radar, however I think this provides an opportunity: I can conduct real time SEO experiments, see how Google deals with them and then filter the best strategies into client websites. Even if the live testing environment doesn’t translate to a USP, it gives me some additional case studies to throw on the Smarter SEO website!

Question: Are domain aliases good or bad for SEO?
Answer: unknown.
Solution: test it out!

I have snapped up gaming-headsets.co.uk, xbox-headsets.co.uk and ps3-headsets.co.uk. Unfortunately, I spent the best part of the morning trying to work out whether I should use these as domain aliases or place a different site on each url.

A domain alias would mean that, for example, the following addresses would all show the same content:

gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/
xbox-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/
ps3-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/

Scouring Google Webmaster Tools I found a variety of opinions on the subject. In many cases, people seem to think that the use of multiple domains will result in penalties for duplicate content. Some cite the use of 301 redirects or canonical urls.

What are 301 redirects?

If we assume ‘gaming-headsets’ is set as the main domain, 301 redirects would appear as follows:

gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”
xbox-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”
ps3-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/ -> “gaming-headsets.co.uk/surround-sound/”

Clicking on the first url would display the second url in your browser’s address bar. From a user’s perspective, the content on their screen is identical to the domain alias example except for the domain displayed when a user enters the site via the ps3 or xbox url variants.

For assistance on how to set-up a 301 redirect, check out this page on Google Webmaster Tools.

What are Canonical URLs?

Matt Cutts is currently the head of the Google Webspam team. The following is quoted from this entry on his blog:

Q: What is a canonical url? Do you have to use such a weird word, anyway?

A: Sorry that it’s a strange word; that’s what we call it around Google. Canonicalization is the process of picking the best url when there are several choices, and it usually refers to home pages. For example, most people would consider these the same urls:

www.example.com
example.com/
www.example.com/index.html
example.com/home.asp

Applying 301 redirects or canonical URLs

Reading up on each topic in more detail, it seems as though 301 redirects are most beneficial when moving from one domain to another. For example, say company A is taken over by company B, and the latter wishes to integrate all products onto a single website.

Setting up a 301 redirect on Company-A.com/[url] to Company-B.com/Company-A/[url] would be a nice way to maintain any SEO brownie points without risking a duplication of content. However in this instance I am creating new domains, not moving content from one existing url to another.

Canonical URLs are clearly important and I already use them on all of my sites. For example, this post can be found as a direct entry on ceo.smartergroup.biz/[post name] as well as indirectly, via ceo.smartergroup.biz/[category name]/[post name] or ceo.smartergroup.biz/[tag name]/[post name]. I’m currently experimenting with canonical URLs to see which of the above routes is most beneficial to my blog.

The case for the domain alias

Amongst the guidance published on Google Webmaster Tools, country specific domain names are mentioned:

Use top-level domains: To help us serve the most appropriate version of a document, use top-level domains whenever possible to handle country-specific content. We’re more likely to know that www.example.de contains Germany-focused content, for instance, than www.example.com/de or de.example.com.

It could be argued that if a .co.uk and .eu domains would be beneficial for searches taking place in the UK or Europe, then keyword specific domains might have some benefit. The key point to note is that Google will only penalise sites for duplicate content if their algorithm perceives it to be an attempt to deceive the end user. Therefore, I suspect domain aliases – if disclosed and correctly set up in Google Webmaster tools, will provide SEO benefits.

Once I have investigated stand alone domains vs domain aliases vs 301 redirects (in each case paying attention to canonicalisation) on my own websites I will post a follow up to this entry.

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