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I have a possible SEO issue at hand and I would really appreciate your advise.

My client has an online store (www.example.co.uk), which has been around for 15 years - it's never seen any design changes, it's never been specifically optimized for performance or search engines. Frankly, it's a bad site, but it still attracts a good number of customers, due to the niche products it sells.

Here comes the issue - I've created a new online store (based on the OpenCart platform), with contemporary look, and features, and SEO optimization (to the best of my belief). Unfortunately, the new site's content is really identical to the old site's one - it's got same domain name with a different suffix - www.example.eu, same items, only slightly different info pages and product descriptions. My client is really sentimental with the old web-site and specifically wants the two sites - the old and the new - running together until the new site starts getting some traffic, after which point we can completely re-direct the old to the new site.

Three days ago, we put a banner (with a hyperlink to the new site built-in) at the bottom of the old website. On average, there would be 3-5 orders per day at this time of the year, but in the past 3 days, there've been none. It may really be a coincidence, but I'm really, really worried there could be something wrong with the SEO. Before Christmas, while the new site was simply "out there", it attracted its first order, coming from Google, without specific effort on our side. Now, the old site hasn't seen an order since we put a link to the new site. Again, the old site's main asset is its age, because from a SEO point of view, it's never been optimized, whereas, the new one should be now. I'm aware the optimal scenario is to re-direct pages from old to new site, but it's not what the client would accept.

For what it's worth, looking at the Google Analytics for the old site, this week it appears to attract the same number of daily visitors as last week (around 50 / day).

Are we in SEO trouble and how can it be avoided? Is it just a coincidence no new orders have come through? Would it be best to take off the banner linking to the new one immediately?


Situation has come to the point where client most definitely wants the old site running with a banner linking to the new site - as hard as I tried to convince them, this is their team's final decision.

Having said that, would there be an appropriate way to minimize any SEO damage (or can it be avoided)? Would there be some combination of de-indexing the new site from Google Webmaster Tools, blocking engines with a robots.txt and adding certain on-page tags that would work?

I'm okay with the new site NOT ranking well (if at all), as long as the old site maintains its current performance.

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If the product catalog and product data is practically identical between the old site and the new site, this will undoubtedly have an affect on the performance of the websites. Either build a new website with unique content or choose one of the other to run. –  zigojacko Feb 6 at 11:30
    
also one main thing with the old site, domain age counts as a trust factor so keeping that domain would be better, Secondly if you add a 301 redirect you may notice traffic loss of upto 70% for a while (experience). You are however running this risk of duplicate content and risk knocking both websites down. With regards to the domain extension, this may also have an effect as .co.uk is geo-location for the uk. .eu for example is an international so isn't automatically added to geo-locate traffic –  Liam Sorsby Feb 6 at 11:36
    
Would it be safe to assume that the most immediate and disaster-preventing action I must do is to actually take the banner off the old web-site asap, until deciding on further actions? Also, what would your guess be, considering the old site has been linking to the new site for just 3 days: is there any chance that both web-sites (and specifically the old one) had been negatively affected for many weeks ahead? Would deleting the banner "repair" the situation with the old site? Thank you! –  Uncle Fester Feb 6 at 12:07

2 Answers 2

This method of deploying a newer version of a prior established website to a different domain is very much flawed as you've probably come to realize now from comments and posts above, mainly relating to the issues of Page Rank effect of aged domain and index history, the duplicate content issue and the 301 redirects.

I would strongly recommend your next steps to be:

  1. Change your .eu domain to use a 301 redirect pointing to the old domain.
  2. Either commit to publishing the new site on the old domain (taking the old site offline), or keeping the old site published for the moment, and taking the new site offline.
  3. Ensure that if any of the URL's have changed for the site in the process of your new opencart implementation and SEO work, make sure you setup appropriate 301 redirects in an htaccess at the root of your site for all currently indexed pages to point them to the right corresponding pages on the new site (this can be quite a big job if its a large product catalogue!).
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I assume you're obliged to use the same content on two websites.

As you know, in SEO point of view, having two websites with the same content is just not possible. Therefore and unfortunately, you will need to choose a domain name over the other.

That's why if I were you, I will try to do this in that order:

  1. If it's not already done, finish to develop the new site in local (if indexing of www.example.eu has already begun, delete the site, block indexing with a robots.txt file and mark all pages as gone with 410 HTTP status)
  2. Take off the banner from the old site or keep the banner (with no link to www.example.eu) just to announce a new site on the same domain name is going to show up (if your client is ok)
  3. Convince your client to migrate to the new design and well SEO optimized site (speak about money, it's the best argument you have because site better SEO optimized = more traffic = more money)
  4. Forget the new site URL (www.example.eu) and keep the old one (www.example.co.uk) to keep the benefit of old age domain name and not losing traffic from migration from the old site to the new one
  5. Migrate the old site to the new one by applying 301 redirects from all old pages (URL) to the new ones

When I speak about indexing of www.example.eu for the first action, it's very important because you avoid duplicate content issues with Google, you can do it ASAP.

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Thank you for a great answer! So, is there absolutely no way that two similar sites could co-exist together (even for the honestest and legitimate reasons)? example.eu has actually been indexed for the past several weeks - during Christmas, it even got its first sale out through Google. It is only since we put the banner, that orders stopped on the old site - could it just be a bad coincidence? Are you suggesting the wisest course would be to fully erase any evidence example.eu ever existed? (including possibly deleting it's WebMasters/Analytics account?) –  Uncle Fester Feb 6 at 12:51
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In my opinion, the banner has nothing to do with no new sales on the new site. I think Google has detected two websites with the same content and applies a negative effect on the new site. It probably generates problem of indexing for the new site, that's why you have no new sales from Google. Otherwise, you can have two non penalized websites with the same content but not two non penalized and indexed websites with the same content. –  Zistoloen Feb 6 at 13:16
    
Turned out, client most definitely wants the old site running with a banner linking to the new site - as hard as I tried to convince them otherwise. Thus, how can SEO damage be minimized? Would it be sufficient to use a combination of: (1) fully de-index the new site at Google & Bing Webmaster Tools; (2) add <meta name="robots" content="noindex,nofollow"/> at header for ALL new-site pages; (3) use <a href="example.eu/"; rel="nofollow">..</a> for the banner's link? I'm okay with the new site NOT ranking well (if at all), as long as the old site maintains its current performance. –  Uncle Fester Mar 4 at 17:59

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