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A client has a site since 1999 with a domain consisting of two, very descriptive of the business, words (let's say dog-toys.ie). In about 2001 he decided to change to dogtoys.ie (was running radio ads and figured the dash may add confusion to the site name). So without thinking too much about it, I just parked dogtoys.ie onto dog-toys.ie. Also, for both domains, we have not made www canonical so www.dogtoys.ie/example.html or dog-toys.ie/example.html are the same page.

We have read many times that Google etc do not like this, however the site has performed fairly well SEO wise for the last 10 year and the client and I are torn between leaving things as is, and fixing it to make www.dogtoys.ie canonical via mod rewrite (or would the dashed version offer better performance?)

Thanks in advance!

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3 Answers 3

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You're in a tough spot. You know what you're doing is problematic but so far it hasn't caught up to you yet. And you're doing fairly well in the rankings to boot so if you make any changes you risk hurting that.

So you need to decide:

1) Do you setup canonical URLs and make changes that can potentially affect your rankings?

When things are going well SEO-wise, it is generally wise to not make any changes as even an optimization can turn out to change things for the worse. But in your case you may be feeling the effects of duplicate content and not actually realize it. While you clearly have not been removed from Google's index or received any kind of catastrophic penalty, you may have some pages that are not ranking well or could be ranking better due to duplicate content. So using canonical URLs may actually improve your rankings. Unfortunately there is no way to know unless you actually make the changes.

2) Do you leave things as is and in the future potentially have your rankings plummet in the future due to duplicate content?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I've seen many webmasters asking for help here because they made changes to a site that was doing well in the search results but they thought they could do better. But in this case waiting could mean you suddenly disappear from the search results and it could take weeks or months to get your old rankings back even if you immediately add canonical URLs.

This is a business decision. Which risk is more acceptable to the business?

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Thank you John. Yes you hit the nail on the head, on one hand we feel to leave as is but on other hand think we might do better with a change. –  user602088 Mar 3 at 15:05
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Google would probably have already worked out these sites are duplicates of eachother and canonicalised them in some way. Do a site search for each site and see what is indexed. For domains parked on top of sites it can be very usual to see that google has already folded them into what they consider to be the 'main' site. ( And if you do decide to canonicalise them then choosing the site which google prefers/has better indexed could be best)

(Also, I have never heard of any site getting a penalty for alternative domain names as you describe. It is quite common.)

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Yes, both versions of the domain are in Google. Just done a search for "dog toys" (well the real domain words - did not get clients permission to post actual domain here) and dog-toys is #1 organic result with dogtoys being #5 (for local IE Google) –  user602088 Mar 3 at 15:13
    
Did you search like this > site:dogstoys.com, (or whatever) and compared the indexed pages and the difference between them ? –  user29671 Mar 3 at 15:15
    
I just did that with very interesting results - the dashed domain is giving about 10x the hits compared to the non dashed. Yet, dogtoys gets 3x dog-toys traffic –  user602088 Mar 3 at 16:45
    
How are you determining the traffic for each domain ? Maybe you have a particular popular page indexed on the 'alternative' domain. –  user29671 Mar 3 at 16:49
    
The hostname report on google analyitics –  user602088 Mar 3 at 16:50
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In an Ideal situation, the answer would be choose whichever you like the most, set that one as the canonical, check that all the redirections from one site go flawlessly to the other one and don't worry at all.

But, in this ever changing world, things are in a delicate balance, keep there by strange forces, so if you touch something, everything may still be OK, but they may not be OK any more.

If you don't mind the potential down on ranking, and you trust the site and its content to recover from any bump, do the change. I would.

If you think that the site is not going to recover, then don't touch what isn't broken.

In any case, the answer to which one is best to choose as canonical is in your hands, or better yet, in your logs. Check which one gets more hits/visits and use that one. I suppose is the one without the dash.

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Thanks - I feel my client will want to err on the side of caution and leave as is. And yes the one without the dash gets most traffic –  user602088 Mar 3 at 15:08
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