Is it bad to have multiple URLs and Websites?
If you think your business has too many, it probably does!
One of the frequent problems we encounter when new clients come to us for Online Marketing Advice and Services is an underlying complex history of past online activities, frequently involving multiple URLs and sometimes multiple different websites.
This is sometimes the very reason a client first approaches us, i.e., they are already experiencing a problem because of things executed in the past, or they are worried about future problems arising and severely impacting business. Or just as often it’s a hidden secret unearthed by our team during background research in the prep stages of new campaigns.
So what kind of things are we talking about here exactly?
Multiple URLs are held with variations in spelling and Top Level Domain, e.g. com, co.uk, org. etc…..plus a few of the weirder ones.
More than one domain will point to the same website, for example, each featuring a specific product. For example, a business selling Storage Boxes in the UK may own and point storageboxes.com, storageboxes.co.uk and storage-boxes.com all at the home page and use red-boxes.co.uk to point specifically at red products and blue-boxes.co.uk at the blue selection.
Microsites may even have been created to represent these subsets of products – these are generally small websites that try and create the impression of a different seller, but ultimately lead through the same sales funnel and to the same customer service telephone numbers etc.
As you can probably imagine, almost without exception, all of these techniques are now frowned upon by the major search engines. This is not just because it is often an intentional attempt to circumnavigate search engine policies and have one company dominate the results pages with multiple listings, it can be confusing for customers and increases the search engines processing costs to work through the mire.
Sadly, good companies also get penalised by this kind of thing even if they had no dubious intent, and hence part of a good online strategy is acting like Sherlock Holmes and unpicking the past history.
Buying multiple URL’s is of itself not a bad strategy, in fact, it’s a sensible one to acquire logical variants of your business name or what you do, provided they are attached to good TLD’s and are sensible spellings. However, it’s what you do with the URLs that counts. So as an example, holding them simply to stop cyber-squatters having your lunch and holding you to expensive ransom down the line is a sensible low-cost precaution for any business.
Redirecting the URLs to your main site is also fine provided they are clearly not trying to simultaneously create the impression of being a stand-alone business.
- A big word of warning here – if you do try and create the impression of a separate business, even if you go to the trouble of having different addresses, different phone numbers, even different website hosting, engines such as Google can still work out it is you recently. It’s too complex to get into details about how in the confines of a short blog – contact us for a chat if you are in this very dangerous territory!
It may even be acceptable, if you believe some people will type in the secondary URL directly into their browser, e.g. red-boxes.co.uk, to build a one-page site and redirect this to your website, but this has to be done very carefully and it is essential to volunteer the information of what you are doing to the search engines. So you are intentionally telling the engines NOT to crawl this site and add it into their indexes as you do NOT want it to appear in the search engine rankings at all as it is not your main website. Techniques like No-Follow, Robots.txt and Canonicalization come into play here.
Big websites selling distinct product ranges each capable of sustaining a brand identity of their own are of course perfectly possible, but it’s the structure of how all these hang together safely that is the speciality of good Online Marketing Agencies, many web developers aren’t so experienced in this black art as you might imagine.
Does it matter if you get this wrong?
It does, we have had new clients join us who are operating four or five websites all selling essentially the same products or services under different sub-brands, each of which is performing adequately online but not spectacularly.
Redeveloping the strategy properly, as these legacies have often developed unintentionally over the years as entrepreneurs grab new opportunities and run with them, will lead to a total of business bigger than all the others added together. Also when the search engines get around to identifying what’s going on and seeing it as a problem, which they will, there is a high likelihood of ALL the websites being banned or penalised, not just the secondary ones. This has happened in the past to both BMW and the BBC so size is no protection.
If a website gets penalised by the search engines for bad behaviour or bad strategy (it’s the same to them) it is not unusual for traffic to drop by 90% almost overnight. It can then take years to rebuild the search engines trust by doing the right things. If you are banned, you don’t get a chance to rebuild things slowly – the best advice is to start a completely new business.
So if your strategy has become too complex over the years, intentionally or not, now is the time to seek confession with a good Online Marketer!
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