SEO

Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits

When it comes helping clients with natural search, I’m a firm believer that SEO technical audits are an incredibly important first step for most engagements.  I’ve already written about the power of technical audits and how they often can provide the most SEO bang for your buck.  The reason is simple.  In SEO, without a clean and crawlable website structure, you’re dead in the water.  You can build links and optimize content until the cows come home and it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

Although SEO audits detect problems with indexation, canonicalization, navigation and internal linking structure, content optimization, sitemaps, handling advanced functionality like AJAX, etc., there’s another important component that is sometimes overlooked – Domain Strategy.  Understanding all of the domains and subdomains being used by a company is critically important for maximizing SEO strength.  If a company overlooks domain strategy, it just might be missing an opportunity to make a strong impact, and without major development.  The combination of “fast” and “no development” is a great way to show results without signing a declaration of war with your IT department (like the rest of your audit might do.).  :-)

Why Is Domain Strategy Important for SEO?

Domains build search power.  For most companies, this involves building as much equity and strength for their core domain as possible (www.domain.com).  If a company ends up having twelve separate domains, all focused on the same vertical or subject matter, then it can be splitting its search strength across those domains. In addition, the excessive use of subdomains could be causing problems or exposing security holes for the company.  Between building search equity and minimizing security concerns, domain strategy can be a very important part of your audit.

For example, let’s say the twelve domains I mentioned above (all focused on the same vertical) each have 5,000 pages indexed and 5,000 inbound links.  They all have low to moderate SEO power and each is struggling to rank for target keywords.  Imagine you were able to combine those domains and organize them in logical subdirectories (where you can silo content by category).  Then you would have 60,000 pages indexed and 60,000 inbound links for one domain.  You can start to build more strength in the core domain and leverage all of your valuable content to build traffic, links, and ultimately more search power (and better rankings).

Splitting SEO Strength Across Domains:

domain strength Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits

Most website owners should focus on building strength and equity in their core domain (via high quality, unique content and then building topical and relevant inbound links).  If you split those efforts across a number of domains, then you can water down the effect (to say the least).  I’m not saying to always have just one domain (especially if you’re a large company that focuses on several verticals or has multiple brands).  But, don’t have 15 domains per brand, 250 domains for marketing campaigns, or 300 subdomains for random purposes.  More on situations like these soon.

Real-World Examples of When a Domain Strategy Was Needed

Below, I’ve provided several situations that I’ve come across while performing SEO audits where developing a domain strategy was desperately needed.

The Disconnected Blog

clip image003 0006 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical AuditsYour company is wondering why its blogging hasn’t impacted natural search power for its core site (where all of its products and services are listed).  Upon further investigation, the company has two blogs and both have been set up on separate domains (outside of the core website.) i.e. www.domain.com, www.domain-blog.com, and domain.blogspot.com.  All three domains are building up their own search power, and the two blogs aren’t building strength for the company’s core website.  And of course, the core website has the least strength of all. {I see this often by the way.}

The In-House Domainer

clip image005 0005 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical AuditsI was in the middle of an SEO audit and I requested a list of all domains actively used by the company.  The CTO dropped a ten page list of domains and subdomains on my desk.  That’s 10 pages of domains and not 10 domains… After being brought back to consciousness via smelling salt, I knew there was a big problem to tackle. :)  Ultimately, the CMS being used forced the company to set up subdomains versus subdirectories when adding specific types of new content to the site.  Don’t ask why… So, the company had hundreds of subdomains, and some only had one or two pages on the entire subdomain.  In addition, requesting the list and reviewing it with my client revealed about a dozen subdomains that shouldn’t have been active in the first place.

LOST – The Disappearing Campaign

clip image007 0000 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical AuditsYou know those killer marketing campaigns that sometimes build thousands of links (like the one you just shared with all of your friends on Facebook and Twitter?)  The domains used for those campaigns can end up having an important impact on your SEO efforts.  Viral content can be great for attracting a lot of links as campaigns take hold.  Unfortunately, some companies (cough, larger brands) tend to use campaign-based domains.  So, if you were launching a campaign for a new golf driver that could add 50 yards to your drive, then you might use a domain like www.cannon-driver.com or something like that.  As you can guess based on what I’ve written above, this new domain won’t help your core website (as it’s on a separate domain) and it also won’t leverage your core domain’s search power.  To makes things worse, many brands that use campaign-based domains turn off those domains when campaigns are over.  This can waste thousands (or tens of thousands) of hard-earned links!  If you are forced to use campaign-based domains, then you could implement 301 redirects after the campaign is over to make sure the pages being taken down point to new pages on your core domain (like the section about a new product).  You would want to do this on a page per page basis.  That said, I almost always recommend setting up campaign landing pages on the core domain.  i.e. www.domain.com/cannon-driver/.  Then you don’t need to worry about the 301 redirection plan down the line.

The Security Risk

clip image009 0002 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical AuditsI ran across a situation during an audit where I found about a dozen subdomains being used.  In total, there were a few thousand pages indexed and also a few thousand inbound links.  When I presented this to my client, they weren’t aware that some of the subdomains existed, and definitely weren’t aware of the content residing on them. In a nutshell, some of the data indexed on the subdomains could be considered a security risk, and the engines should have been blocked from indexing it.   After dealing with the security risk, we planned to 301 some of the other subdomains to directories and pages on the www subdomain.  So, the company quickly moved to close a security hole and then was able to leverage content they didn’t know existed to help their SEO efforts.

On a similar note, I’ve also seen situations where test servers were indexed.  Yes, the new content you were planning on launching during the next website release was freely available for all for competitors to browse.  Needless to say, you would want to lock down those test servers by authenticating users and blocking the search engines from indexing any content.  That’s if they needed to be accessible in the first place.

Domain Strategy Recommendations:

If you are working on an SEO audit for your company or client, here are some quick recommendations that can help you identify all of the domains and subdomains being used by the company you are helping.

Ask About Domains

Ask your clients or IT department for a list of all domains and subdomains used by the organization.  Although you can probably find them during your audit, the initial list they provide can be a great place to start.

Dig and Then Dig Some More

I’m an inquisitive guy, which part of the reason I love performing technical audits.   During the process of auditing a site, you will naturally come across several of the domains and subdomains used by the company.  Checking indexation and inbound links typically reveals hidden content, rogue domains, excessive use of subdomains, etc.  Checking the IA and internal navigation can also reveal paths to subdomains and separate domains used.  So dig, document, and create a list of all domains used.

Competitive Tools

There are a number of tools you can utilize to reveal subdomains used by a company.  For example, Compete and Quantcast provide the ability to view subdomains for a given domain.  That said, these tools don’t catch everything.  They can help, but don’t rely on them for the full list.

clip image011 0000 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits

 

clip image013 0000 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits

Google and Yahoo

Using an advanced Google command can show pages indexed without the www subdomain.  For example:

site:http://domain.com –inurl:www

Yahoo Site Explorer can also reveal subdomains indexed.  Just make sure the tab for “show all subdomains” is active and that you don’t enter www when typing the domain.  You’ll have to do some digging here, but you can often find several of the subdomains being used.

Dedicated Tools

Some developers in the security community have built tools to quickly check the subdomains of a given domain.  Here’s a good one:  http://www.magic-net.nl/dns-and-ip-tools.php.  The second field labeled “search subdomains” is the one you want.

Summary

I hope this post helped explain the importance of developing a solid domain strategy for SEO, while providing some real world examples of when one was needed.  After completing your research, you just might find that the company you are assisting doesn’t know all of the domains being used (or the power of each domain).  Developing a strategy for removing, blocking, or leveraging those domains can help build more natural search power, while also decreasing security risks.  At a minimum, it could stop your competitors from checking out your latest content before it’s officially released. :)

Glenn Gabe is an online marketing consultant at G-Squared Interactive and focuses heavily on SEO, SEM, Social Media Marketing, Viral Marketing and Web Analytics. You can read more of Glenn’s posts on his blog, The Internet Marketing Driver and you can follow him on Twitter to keep up with his latest projects, news, and updates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits
Featured SEO Writer for SEJ   Glenn Gabe is a digital marketing consultant at G-Squared Interactive and focuses heavily on SEO, SEM, Social Advertising, Social Media Marketing, and Web Analytics. Glenn has over 18 years of experience and has held leadership positions both in-house and at a global interactive agency. During his career, Glenn has helped clients across a wide range of industries including consumer packaged goods (CPG), ecommerce, startups, pharmaceutical, healthcare, military, education, non-profits, online auctions, real-estate, and publishing. You can follow Glenn on Google+ here.

You Might Also Like

Comments are closed.

13 thoughts on “Domain Strategy – Why It’s A Critical Component to SEO Technical Audits

  1. Excellent post. Immediately thought of a potential client who I need to have read this as they have multiple domains wasting energy. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Bill. I’m glad my post was helpful. For most companies, building strength in their core domain is extremely important. As they grow, additional subdomains or separate domains might come into play when the amount of content (and focus of content) requires them.

  3. Glenn, great piece. Very informative as always.

    Question. What if the site can’t hold a blog for various reason and you have to put the domain on a separate host and domain. Can you do a sub domain and cname and 301 redirect it to the other domain?

    -Seth

    1. Thanks Seth. You bring up an interesting question. Taking a step back for a second, placing a blog on the core domain is optimal for most sites, with using a subdomain coming in second place. I’m not sure the scenario you listed above would work well. There are several small issues that could arise that might throw off the setup (and possibly down the line). I’d have to see exactly how it was going to be set up to see if it would work. That’s a good question, though. :)

  4. Serious considerations Glenn. I find it critical to take the time during the audit process to evaluate domain factors like this. The concept of one domain vs. many can get complex and requires serious understanding of the company’s mission, brand strategy and market.

    Personally, I do sometimes advocate niche domains under highly controlled circumstances, yet beyond SEO, as much as there are times when I think it’s wise to go with multiple domains that are truly niche, the amount of time it can take to build individual domain value is far outweighed by the more immediate value in building that content right into the existing main site as far as end-customer exposure is concerned.

    1. Thanks for your comment Alan. I definitely agree with you. Domain strategy can get complex, especially with larger companies or brands. Depending on the client and site, there are times when subdomains or separate domains make sense. But for many sites, building content, links, and strength across domains is not feasible (resource-wise). Like you said, you need to take time during the audit process to evaluate the situation at hand. Thanks again!

  5. Great post and one I will direct clients to read. I’ve worked for many years on domain strategy (branding, using them for traffic purposes). IMO the only times it make sense to use multiple domains are 1. When you can acquire keyword word domains where the keywords get searches and build up “simple” pages. Time and again, we’ve put this to the test and it can result in #1-#5 rankings. 2. When doing an offline marketing campaign as a REDIRECT to a subdirectory on your main site. Anything else and you end up diluting.

    On the domain side, we’re now working with a handful of new clients a week who have us do the research on keyword domain acquisition for them. This is really a growing area.

    1. Thanks Sharon. I’m glad you liked my post. You make some great points about keyword domains and using vanity domains (301 redirecting to a subdirectory). The latter is a great way to use a custom domain in your messaging, but still be search-friendly.

  6. Good post.

    One area that is not addressed here is multi-lingual websites, and the impact of the Google Webmaster Tool “this website targets user in…” command (which can only be applied to domain or sub domains, not directories) on search results.

    1. Thanks Michael. I’m glad you brought up international SEO. It’s a growing area and I’ve helped several clients with how to best tackle it for their specific businesses. That might be a topic for another post actually. Regarding Google Webmaster Tools, you can geotarget by subdirectory (and subdomain).

      Here’s a video explaining more about it. Geotargeting in Google Webmaster Tools

      I’m not saying that’s what I would always recommend doing, but again, that’s for another post. :)

    2. Michel,

      If you use a non-country TLD – such as .com, .net, .org and the likes – you *can* set up target countries on a directory level in Google’s Webmaster Tools.

      Not that would help you much in markets where Google is not the predominant search engine.

      Frank

  7. Great post. My company initially plan to have 2 domains to work with, the company and the main product. Now, I am sure that a single domain would suffice. Probably would make a 301 redirect from the product domain to the main site of they insist on using 2 domains. Thanks.