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I'm almost completing an online service where people can link their domain to. Think Squarespace/Wix/Weebly type. Visitors enter customerdomain.com that leads to mywebapp.com but keeps customerdomain.com/page in the addressbar and forward that to mywebapp.com/page. There is only one leading domain, content is technically accessible through both domains. Sites are dynamically identified by the domain name and generated without frames.

Currently I'm using a Alias Pointer and using the canonical tag pointing to customerdomain.com for SEO, and this technically works fine..

But I'd like to allow for SSL, subdomains, email hosting for each domain and keep in mind that my client or I will own the domain(s). Ultimately I'd like to automate adding domain names within the webapp by my customers.

How will this affect my (customers') SEO serving hundreds of sites through 'one' webapp? is Canonical enough? Other technical setup? More IP adresses? How much per IP?

  • You should avoid serving your customer data from your own domain name. One spammy customer can get your entire domain penalized. Your canonical sounds like it will mitigate most of the other SEO problems. – Stephen Ostermiller Nov 22 '16 at 13:34
  • What do you mean by "Alias Pointer" exactly? Otherwise, it's not clear why you can't redirect or even block access through mywebapp.com when a customerdomain.com has been set, since you already know how to construct the canonical tag. (?) – MrWhite Nov 22 '16 at 15:03
  • @w3dk I've tested the setup on a shared hosting account. Currently orientating for a dedicated server or VPS. I added the customer domain through DirectAdmin as Add New Domain Pointer and as type alias and everything was working fine. – vonUbisch Nov 22 '16 at 15:08
  • @StephenOstermiller I know Lightspeed uses *.webshopapp.com to serve their webshops under customer domains and use lightspeedhq.com as their mainsite. Is it wise to copy this approach? I was interested in the possibility in having everything on one site and domain like Wix or Weebly. – vonUbisch Nov 22 '16 at 15:16
  • Using a separate domain for customer data would be a very smart move from an SEO standpoint. I would also limit access on that domain when the customer has their own domain, although your canonical tag mostly mitigates the need for that. – Stephen Ostermiller Nov 22 '16 at 15:22
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The rule for indexing is to ask 'Where is the content?' and 'What's the fastest route to it?'

Cross domain canonicalisation is treated like a soft redirect. You state that content is served from webapp.com/page but the URI remains domain.com/page. If you're using an iFrame pointing to webapp.com/page, Google will see it as a link and index the linked content's address. If you use a cross domain canonical tag, it might index domain.com/page.

You can canonicalise a page to another but it remains a suggestion - not a directive. If the content on each page is similar, Google may decide to merge their indexes and 'think' of them as the same page. If the content is very different then it will ignore your suggestion completely.

The only way to force it to index another page is a 301 redirect. This acts as a harder directive. It also changes the request URI.

Here's a simple flow for you to follow:

  • If you ask a question of Google, where is the content that will answer it?
  • Is the URI for that content the one that is going to show up as indexed?
  • Will the server mess with that URI if a user clicks on it?
  • Is the content going to appear dynamic (different every time)?

These are the questions Google's algorithm will ask in order to find the shortest path from it's index to the content. Any attempt to subvert that in a way that lengthens that path or diverts it, and Google will either adapt or drop the index link.

IP addresses make no difference if you're attempting to index everything under a single domain. Google was originally trained to see subdomains as entirely separate sites and it still has issues interpreting if a subdomain is part of the main site or not. Think xxx.wordpress.com - where each hosted site has it's own subdomain. www.wordpress.com has no impact on these subdomains whatsoever.

Quick edit: Where IP address would come into SEO is if you wanted different domains to benefit each other without being seen as part of the same C-block (indicates a lazy PBN running from the same Network). This isn't relevant as you're using the same domain name - which categorically tells Google all the sites are from the same network.

  • Thanks for your in-depth answer. Both domains will always display the same content served through PHP without iFrame. Only customerdomain.com is used with customers with a domain name, customers without a domain name would use customer.mywebapp.com, there is only 1 leading domain for any site/content, but content is technically accessible through both domains. Does the majority of your information still apply? Regarding IP adresses; if customers are misbehaving or running porn sites, still no effect to my or my customers sites regarding SEO? – vonUbisch Nov 22 '16 at 9:45
  • If it's on a subdomain, it will not impact you main domain. They're seen as separate. You will receive no benefits or penalties. If you're hosting them on a /page, this counts as part of your main domain and content. Google will consider it part of your domain and apply any benefits/penalties. IP Addresses do help in terms of Google seeing them as separate sites. However, they're not necessary. You can achieve a similar disconnect running everything through Cloudflare's free DNS service. – L Martin Nov 22 '16 at 10:14

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