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I was looking through a few websites recently and noticed a trend I am not sure I understand. Sites are creating unique referral URLs for customers in the form of: http://customname.example.com

(If somebody were to use http://www.example.com/customname it would function the same way).

I can see the sites are using 302 redirects at some point using Google Chrome then doing some sort of htaccess redirect, taking the sub domain name (custom name) and applying it as a referral parameter then keeping in session during the entire process.

However, there must be thousands of these custom URLs that people are typing in. How are each one of these "sub domains" not treated as separate URLs which in turn are redirected to the same page (in short, generating tons of links all pointing to the same page which Google would normally frown upon)? Additionally, the links also appear on the site themselves as click-able links so I'm not sure how these are not tracked. Similarly, the "unique" URL is not indexed or cached in any Google search results.

How is this capability handled?

  1. I know these are 302 redirects, I can see this on the sites network flow.
  2. These links do in fact appear on the page itself because in some areas, for example, the bottom of the page may say: send this page to a friend! http://name.example.com/ which in turn would again redirect to something like http://www.example.com?id=name so the id value could be stored in session
  • "the sites are using 302 redirects ... then doing some sort of htaccess redirect" - as an end user you won't know whether it's htaccess or something else. An htaccess redirect will be another 301/302/30? redirect. Why would the subdomains be redirected to the same page? Regarding sfgiants.com and 302's, this is an "off domain redirect". SE's will nearly always display the destination URL in this case to avoid URL hijacking. Matt Cutts blogged about 302 redirects in 2006 and specifically mentions the sfgiants site. – MrWhite Nov 6 '12 at 23:49
  • @w3d - perhaps a bad example to give. I tried to give an example on SO but people looked at it as me trying to poach referrals. There are several sites which use the format I show above (subdomain.site.com) then use subdomain as a unique id for 'referring credit' purposes. – JM4 Nov 7 '12 at 16:31
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There are not legality issues. Here is how it it breaks down:

From SEO Perspective All content on Site.example affects the score. So Site.example/User/Frank affects the score of site.example. frank.site.example is treated by Google as a separate site. Gets its own Google page rank.

So here is the rule. If you are running something you want indexed separately then use a subdomain. A good example if you have a web application that builds sites for users. Frank.myfreesitecreator.example or bob.myfreesitecreator.example. Then Frank could point a FQDN (domain name) to frank.myfreesitecreator.example and worry about his own SEO score.

If you have a site where you want everything indexed in one big ball, then use URL folders. 302 redirects help Google understand what is going on. That is it. Google will index the final result.

  • thanks for your post. Whether it be a subdomain or "folder" option (neither really exist, it is taking that identifier and checking if it matches to a userid on their system), Google is not indexing that information (they are 302 redirects). – JM4 Nov 14 '12 at 19:25
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Similarly, the "unique" url is not indexed or cached in any Google search results. How is this capability handled?

Maybe the webmaster has excluded them, either with robots.txt or through Google Webmaster Tools.

Additionally, the links also appear on the site themselves as clickable links so I'm not sure how these are not tracked

Maybe... rel="nofollow"

And finally, the 302 redirect is passing the "juicy" to the main site.

  • thanks for your suggestions - it would be impossible for the webmaster to handle this via robots.txt as the number of unique values is ever changing and in the millions (also I can view the robots.txt). Yes I agree the 302 redirect is passing the variable and being stored in session but the issue is how the millions of combinations of unique links don't appear in Google Search results – JM4 Nov 6 '12 at 23:19

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