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We are attempting to determine why most of sites we do SEO work for are not ranking well or at all.

We have a WordPress MultiSite network with several hundred sites, and about 60 of them are SEO focused.

The network is on a dedicated IP address, but the same IP is used for every site, and it is setup as a subdomain installation, and each site has a mapped (alias) domain.

The sites are all for different companies, they do not link back and forth to each other at all.

Every company is in the same vertical, so the type of content is going to be similar, however I have been assured each site has 100% unique content...So sites are all the same niche/topic sites on the same IP trying to rank for the same keywords with significant amounts of interlinking.

Can this hurt SEO ranking etc?

Thank you much.

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    Duplicate content or not, links between domains or not, it is likely that much of the other signals Google looks for in spam site operations may exist. Please keep in mind that duplicate content is not measured in a linear parser model fashion, but through semantics. Too many similarities on a single IP address with similar registration information, and so on, can indicate that gaming is at least possible. This answer explains semantics some: webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/81551/… – closetnoc Jun 11 '15 at 3:48
  • Thank you for the info, yikes. So looks like it can have a negative effect...Guess it is time to find a new way to handle all these sites heh. – thatryan Jun 11 '15 at 6:20
  • It at least means that you are going to be under more scrutiny anyway and would have to mind your Ps and Qs a bit more. Google realized that spam sites had relationships that were fairly easy to find and they used semantics against any information that could tie sites together then use semantics against content to figure out even more subtle gaming. However, your scenario is not so unusual. There are plenty of companies that provide special assistance for niche markets. Unfortunately, there is some overlap in the metrics between honest businesses such as yours and spammers. – closetnoc Jun 11 '15 at 15:43
  • Any idea how other people do this? – thatryan Jun 11 '15 at 15:57
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Okay. This is a bit of a tough one. But I will dig in a bit so that hopefully, things will be clear.

Google figured out years ago that spam sites are all related and that relationships between sites can be determined. In science, the term realm is used to define a relationship between entities. In search, at least in the early days, a realm was a set of domains and sub-domains with a direct relationship. Obviously, example.com, www.example.com, and sub-domain.example.com can be related into a single realm. Over time, this changed so that site registrations, IP addresses, hosts, registrars and any information could also be used to add other related domains into a sites realm. Since then, this could also include smaller items such as e-mail addresses, phone numbers, authorship (not always), template usage, and so on to indicate relationships. Content between sites and language similarity can also be an indication. For example, it is possible to identify authors without a name associated with the work. Not everything Google will find will be clear, however with enough signals, Google can find relationships between sites rather well. They have a fair amount of experience these days.

So Google is looking for relationships between sites in the hopes of fighting spammers.

However, this is not a show-stopper. Not yet.

Site quality is paramount. So is branding. Google understands that there are companies that assist people within a specialized niche. Unfortunately, not all of these companies are completely honest. This can be especially seen in sites designed for attorneys. As well sites created using creation tools such as WIX can be a particular problem.

You will want to make sure of a few things. First, make sure your company site is well branded. I count 46 metrics associated with branding- too many to list here. The big elements are schema.org mark-up for company contact information that is easily found using a traditional page such as About or Contact or even in the site footer. It is best to have as much contact and location information as possible. As well, companies have a Products or Services page or another clear indication of doing business. Brands also have Acceptable Use Policies (AUP), Privacy Policies, Terms of Service (TOS) policies, and so on. At least one of these should exist. Also, sometimes personnel profiles exist. Think about what elements a company would have on their website and provide as many ordinary signals as you can.

Also, make sure your registration is not private and the registration contact information matches at least somewhat contact information on the site. This can be as small an e-mail address, phone number, or as large as the snail-mail address. You will want to do this for your customers too.

Make sure the company domain has good trust scores. I count over 50 metrics- again too many to list. The big ones are site age, registration information including company/contact information that is not tied to spammers, quality registrar, quality host, outbound links, content quality, SERP performance, and a clear history of doing the right thing. You will want to do this for you clients as well. Adding SSL can really help too. Just make sure it is from an high quality issuer that vets it's clients. It is not a necessity, but does go a long way to say this site is reputable.

As well, you do want to tie your client sites to yours as much as you can. Spammers do not make things easy for search engines so clear links between sites can really help to indicated honesty.

The Google rules say that site-wide links are a "no no". Google pulls back from this making the entire topic muddy. It is okay to make natural links. Google understands this. Their advice is to do what any reasonable well intentioned webmaster would do. I advise creating some indication that the sites were created by your company. A citation (mention) is enough. You do not actually have to create a link. I would avoid creating site-wide links. However, simple text on the bottom of the page can really help.

It is advisable to create indications of relationship between sites and make sure each site is behaving well. You will want to avoid over optimization. One step over the line can effect other sites. So for this, just make sure that your SEO work for your company and customers sites are honest and not to close to the line.

Because there is overlap in the metrics between spam sites and good companies creating niche business sites, it is important to conduct good business. However, this does not mean that you will be found to be a spammer. It just means that you have to be careful. The key is to be clear about your business, behave well, and to make sure that you are hiding as little as possible. Google really is fair and wants to help you succeed.

Here are some answers I have written that might help with background knowledge. These will not cover everything you need to know, but it will spark the imagination somewhat.

How semantic links work. Why would a website with keyword stuffing rank higher than one without in google search results?

Establishing relationships between sites. Multiple sites, same markup, different content, tier linkage = SEO penalty?

Establishing trust. How to get Google PageRank (from the toolbar) to increase from 0?

Site wide links. Do 'Created By' links add values to my website?

Please, let me know if you have additional questions, ideas, or concerns. I am here everyday and will be glad to help as much as I can.

  • Thank you so much, I am still reading this over again :) Wanted to mention my confusion about interlinking. The sites should have no connection to each other right? We have main site, ourdomain.com and subsite1.ourdomain.com and subsite2.ourdomain.com. The subsites get mapped domains of course, but subsite1 never links to subsite2 or vice versa. – thatryan Jun 11 '15 at 16:36
  • @thatryan Links are okay if they fall within the realm of reasonable and do not signal manipulation. Site wide links would be a red-flag, but links in general would be okay. Just limit them. In your case, not having links between sites can indicate honesty and not wanting to game the system. This is a good thing. The idea is to be as open as possible as to who you are and your relationship with your sites and be as forthright as possible in what you do. Do not over optimize and stay on this side of the line. Also give strong branding signals. You should be okay. – closetnoc Jun 11 '15 at 16:43
  • Thank you. Yeah I am grasping trying to understand the problem. I am not an SEO person at all, just the company developer. Our marketing team is telling me that there is an issue and they are convinced it is the MultiSite and sinlge IP address setup. They assure me no bad practices taking place, all legit, but still not ranking. Yet, according to what I have read we should be all good. :( – thatryan Jun 11 '15 at 16:50
  • @thatryan It is not likely WP or necessarily the IP address specifically. It is likely a culmination of a bunch of smaller things. Google likely does not know WP multi-site from donuts. If it helps, ask the developers are thinking and update your question with what they see. I can update the answer to match. Without examining the site directly, we are only able to make semi-educated guesses. It may be time for an audit of the various sites. – closetnoc Jun 11 '15 at 16:57
  • Hey, does this info help understand our issue? lol "we used to KICK ASS then penguin 2.0 hit, about 5 of our sites received a penalty, many sites had duplicate content. As we worked for nearly a year to disavow the links to the penalized sites and request reinclusion (all reinclusion requested were accepted & the penalty lifted) alsorewrite every page of duplicate content on every site, we watched our other sites fall in rankings and we really cannot recover. Even on sites that never received a penalty or content warning, even new sites we just cannot get them to rank like they should be." – thatryan Jun 11 '15 at 17:14

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