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A "digital agency", call it Acme.com, provides a broad range services from web applications through to copywriting. It wants a single website with separate areas for each department/service area, each with its own top level "landing page" acme.com/webapps, acme.com/copywriting etc.

The company intends to trade as brands Acme Web Apps, Acme Copywriting etc. It wants to get backlinks to the individual landing pages so these have their own Google PR and score well on Google for their own search terms and so visitors come to the appropriate page rather than the home page. Backlinks will be from places appropriate to the particular landing page e.g. from industry sites to the app landing page and writing sites to the copywriting landing page.

However there is a problem, because most websites want to link to a domain not a page. To get round this I would like to register additional domains acmeapps.com, acmewriting.com etc to get backlinks to and configure the webserver (nginx) on my VPS to do 301 redirects from these domains to the landing pages.

Has anybody heard of this approach or better still tried it. Can anybody think of any reasons it would cause problems in terms of SEO, actual implementation or anything else?

I hope I'm not being crazy or missing something here. I am unable to find any mention of this method anywhere on the Web. Your thoughts please.

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I think the answer to your question lies in your phrase

"To get round this...".

As soon as you try to get round Google you are asking for trouble.

Build a site or sites based on business sense, not SEO. Publishers tend to have a separate website for each magazine because that makes sense. Amazon has one site but many unrelated departments because that makes sense.

Anyone linking to your content will be doing so because they are saying 'this page on your website is relevant and has great content' they are not going to link to some intermediate page that redirects to it as that would be unnatural. If you build links that look unnatural to Google then you are asking for trouble.

When you say

"most websites want to link to a domain not a page"

I think you are referring to directory type sites where you are registering your business and it just makes sense to register the homepage there along with exact match name, address, phone.

In fact often the page that attracts a natural link is not the home page but a sub page or blog post. Within that page, where relevant, you can link to your 'important' ranking page for the topic so as to pass on the link juice.

So yes, make sure you have different landing pages for topics and target keywords, only build them on different domains if and only if the businesses are truly different with different target markets, don't confuse matters with crazy redirects. Otherwise stick to one domain that's organised by topic with clear & simple navigation for easy crawling and good user experience.

  • "...build them on different domains if and only if the businesses are truly different with different target markets...". Yes I think this is the crux of it. The situation where a company undertakes complementary but distinct activities that need to be marketed both separately and together is surprisingly common. – Gary Robertson Oct 27 '14 at 12:56
  • It would be interesting to know if Google does regard a domain structure reflecting this reality as unnatural. – Gary Robertson Oct 27 '14 at 13:13
  • Thanks. Sorry I don't have enough cred to vote you up yet. – Gary Robertson Oct 27 '14 at 14:25
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I found this quote in this article on using single vs multiple domains http://bit.ly/1zdAHh3

Deep links are hard to promote. Websites will often just link to your homepage, even >when their visitor would be better of landing on a specific page deeper within your >site. With multiple domains they are less likely to link off-topic. This also makes the >right page within your websites more likely to rank.

However I am a little unsure whether the final sentence of this really is implying the setup I am describing or not.

  • I remember this... nice find! I think there is not much difference between sub-domains or separate domains expect that some value is passed from the sub-domain to the parent domain though it is slight. You will find that a lot of links will be your home page no matter what. This is because of all the list sites (even honest ones). However, the content creation part of my suggestion should help to create deep links to the parent at least. You can do the same on sub-domains or separate domains. People tend to make make deep links if content is compelling to them. – closetnoc Oct 27 '14 at 15:21
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Each domain should compete on it's own merits. If you 301 redirect, the value of the domain name kind of disappears and any metric for the domain name would be hard won and keep in mind that the foundation of SEO begins with the metrics for the domain name. These day, the domain name matters less in that exact match to search terms, while it still works, weighs less. That is to say that any site that performs better for the search terms will outperform a domain with exact terms within the domain name. As well, domains must build trust metrics which is a sub-set of site metrics. Some metrics such as domain age are important for trust just to name one.

However, a site (single domain) can become muddy with content or services that are not complementary. Hence why sub-domains are sometimes used. Books, music, and videos are complementary, however, SEO and post production video may not be.

Here is what people do not know about SEO.

Google, and I assume Bing, are looking for relationships between domains. It uses current and historical registration data, citations, names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, IP address, host information, and other data to figure out what site is related to what other site. There are two advantages of this: one, it predicts spam sites and low content quality, and two, it helps to tie brands and high quality content together to increase search satisfaction.

This means that sub-domains and domain names are tied together.

Assuming that your brand is unique enough to stand out from others and not actually ACME, there are three options.

Option 1: If the potential site topics are complementary, make the site perform where each topic has it's own sub-directory that is clear in topic.

Option 2: If the potential site topics are not complementary, make a sub-domain for each topic and tie the parent domain and sub-domains together with a link structure that is as transparent to the user as possible. This tells Google that these sites are related. Google is passing some value from the sub-domain to the parent domain.

Option 3: If the potential site topics are not complementary, make a site for each topic and let each site perform on it's own merit with a link structure that is as transparent to the user as possible. This tells Google that these sites are related.

Keep in mind that if Google determines that one related site is low quality or worse, spam, it will effect all the sites that are determined to be related.

For both options 2 and 3, each sub-domain or each domain (site) could be tuned specifically to perform well in search based upon the topic and would not be muddied or diluted by other topics.

Other things you can do:

Use mark-up for company information including name, address, phone number, e-mail, personnel, etc. This helps Google with establishing relationships.

Create a blog style or help style portion of your parent domain (assuming options 2 and 3) or site that will drive how-to or other users seeking information. Remember that giving away information does these things: keeps users coming back to your site, encourages reciprocation, encourages loyalty, encourages conversion, encourages organic links, encourages social shares.

What you have to decide is whether your topics are complementary or not. Then you have to decide whether sub-domains or separate sites are preferred. The trend these days is toward sub-domains while it is clear that some larger brands are using separate sites. It can really be a toss-up. Your choice may come to personal preferences. However, separate domain names do cost money and sub-domains do not. You also have to explore the cost of implementing certificates for purchases and other secured transactions if that applies and remember that mixing secure and non-secure elements can cause users to jump-ship. This includes using images, CSS, JavaScript, and so on. Each would have to be segregated and duplicated which could be more work though minor.

  • Thanks for your detailed answer. Sorry I haven't got cred for a vote up. BTW it's complementary not complimentary see bit.ly/1rLoZCE – Gary Robertson Oct 27 '14 at 14:30
  • @GaryRobertson I am going to blame that on the spell checker... is that okay... can I get away with that?? Thanks. Updated. – closetnoc Oct 27 '14 at 15:52
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@closetnoc, @PeteS_UK thanks again for your help, and here's an update. I was lucky enough to get a short one-to-one with a Google SEO guru employee through a business organisation I'm involved with.

The long and the short of this was that Google have no problem with different domain names 301 redirecting to different pages within the same website. I assume this means that they regard this as being perfectly natural, which I suppose it is given how common it is for companies to merge and take each other over, create new divisions and brands etcetera.

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