It’s amazing how often we will take over website management for a business, only to find that they have previously gone out and purchased every domain name under the sun which could possibly relate to their business.
Often they have not only purchased a raft of different extensions (such as .info .biz .net and .org), but they have also included their location in the domain or what product / service they sell too (eg. www.mybusinessessex.com or www.mybusinesspostcards.com) because they think their Google ranking will be higher with these terms in the URL. This comes from a fundamental misinterpretation of how Google works and what using these domain names will do.
Before we get into that though – there are two and ONLY TWO sets of valid reasons for purchasing more than one domain name for a single site.
- Your company name has changed and you want to redirect people towards your new website. Using separate URL’s is not advised (for reasons we will cover later) but in the majority of cases is a perfectly valid reason for having more than one URL pointing to a single website.
- You are concerned that competitors may try to copy your domain (or a similar name). Alternatively you want to reduce the chance of users mis-spelling. Google, for instance, also own www.gooogle.com, google.net, google.org etc. In SOME circumstances this is a wise move that can be used to protect your business.
There is one more potentially valid reason which we will cover later but for 99.9% of cases these two are the only valid reasons for wanting to own more than one domain name for a single site.
INVALID REASONS INCLUDE: ‘It will help my SEO’, ‘It will give me more than one listing on Google’, ‘It will make me easier to find’. In many cases owning more than one domain name will not help these factors – this will be covered in the next section.
A quick lesson on Google and Domain names
Google is a big database of websites – that’s all. When you run a search, you are asking the Google database to provide for a list of results that match what you are asking for.
The results it provides are then sorted by Google’s own filter (otherwise known as an algorithm) and this is what gives the user the response. Improving your websites position (based on this sorting method) is better known as ‘SEO’ or Search Engine Optimisation.
NOTE: Google works this way independently as a business – it does not recognise different active domain names under single sites, but rather registers each domain name as a completely different website in normal circumstances.
Lets keep it simple – what does Google actually do when it looks at a website?
Each name (website) in Google’s database has a indexing score or QUALITY SCORE based on set criteria such as mobile responsiveness, data security and the domain name’s age (creation date). It also has a record of any minus or exclusion factors such as bounce rate (if people don’t stay on your website), complaints about advertising spam, malpractice blacklisting or content duplication (copying and pasting text or stealing images from other websites).
Google also has a dynamic value known as a robots.txt indexing score or SERP (Search Engine Results Page) score. This is the element many people know about. It is calculated by a matrix of items such as website traffic, referrals from other websites, the number of keywords on that page, whether a keyword is in the URL and whether the word is in the page’s description. This is the bit that SEO companies focus on. A SERP changes DAILY, based on regular Google updates – for instance they may introduce a penalty for using a keyword more than 5 times in one paragraph. This makes it very difficult and time consuming to manage.
NOTE: On the 25th of March this year, Google added a penalty (reduction in SERP score) for companies which try to manipulate Google search by using specific keywords within the URL. To make it clear, having the name of a product or service in a URL will no longer improve the ranking for that product or service. Google has been moving in this direction for some time. It should also be noted, however, that while it no longer boosts the score, Google ranking is not actively reduced by containing the keyword – it just no longer offers the advantages that it used to previously.
So what will having more than one domain name do for me?
If you have more than one domain name, you will primarily be achieving two things :
- Splitting up your website traffic between however many different domain names you have. This will hurt your SERP scores – making your sites less likely to appear at the top of Google because they will appear less popular.
- Creating dummy websites which do not rank on Google because they have duplicate data. This factor will kill your quality score – users will simply not be able to find any websites which use duplicate data unless they type in the url manually.
- Paying for hosting of domain names and hosting (typically without using them).
- Possibly being inconsistent with your marketing materials – sending people to different locations. While this may not directly affect sales, it may appear confusing or unprofessional for customers.
What is best practice for domain names?
The best idea is to have only one true domain name for your business. This will make sure your website ranks as highly as possible on Google and that there is no confusion on the part of customers. It will also reduce your ongoing domain host costs, remove administrative need for managing multiple domains and ensure best practice for Google – who may penalise multiple domain forwarding in the future.
If you are based in different countries, then we recommend having different websites for each country. This is because Google tries to offer websites which are in the same language and are local to the user. If you have different locations or parts of the business, then you may want to consider a Child site (eg. Companyname.com/business1 and Companyname.com/business2) to overcome and difficulties you may face.
“For many, the best plan is to simply host all of the sites on one domain, with sensible use of second-level domains and sub-directories. For the offline business using the web as part of it’s marketing efforts it is rarely worthwhile to register more than one domain name, except perhaps registering local and global .com suffixes.” – Choosing the Right Domain Name: A Marketing Perspective, Alan Charlesworth
What if I want to keep my domain names?
If you don’t like the idea of getting rid of them, or you don’t want to go back and change a bunch of links which may have been setup previously (perhaps on social media or from other websites) then there is a simple solution that will not affect your Google ranking. To do this, you just need to do a permanent HTTP redirect (otherwise known as a 301 redirect) to your main URL. This is different to a CNAME redirect which just changes the URL name that you see at the top of the screen.
A 301 redirect will tell Google that you are pointing that domain to another site – that essentially it is empty. You should note that the URL for these domains will have NO BEARING on the SEO of that website. For instance, mycompany.co.uk with a 301 redirect to mycompany.com will not receive a geolocation bonus for its URL if the user is from the UK – only a separate site or subdirectry will get this gain.
Choosing the best domain name for my business
There is a wide difference of opinion when it comes to what you should call your website URL. Some people say that strong branding is best, because it limits any competition. Facebook.com, Google.com and Twitter.com are good examples.
Others say that keywords are the best, because there can be no confusion about what the business does. Others still would say that funny or quirky names are far more memorable and are unlikely to be misspelt. Blogs often employ this technique. B&Q use www.diy.com, Author: http://allgroanup.com/
In real terms this decision rests with the owner of that business. Matt Cutts – Former Head of the Web Spam Team at Google, now Director of Engineering at the United States Digital Service – gives his advice:
Keyword Exact Match Penalty: https://www.shoutmeloud.com/exact-match-domain-penalty-added-to-google-algo.html
Choosing the Right Domain Name: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qpJNAgAAQBAJ