Updated March 5, 2018
Ever worked with a lead management marketing system? There are many out there, for a monthly fee, you get a website complete with a choice of landing pages, auto-responders (often prewritten for you) and a contact management system. They work well with online advertising; where your banner, PPC ads drive traffic directly to your pre-built landing pages, generating leads for you.
So what about setting up your own domain and pointing it to your marketing system? Not a problem, for $10 or so, you buy a domain and then forward it to your marketing system URL.
This won’t cause any SEO problems for my new domain, right? Well, “it depends”.
Little did I know that when I wrote those words in 2011 I would get a flood of questions about Domains, SEO and redirects! This expanded post will help answer them!
One point of confusion is that when it comes to pointing one domain to another, hosting providers are not consistent with their terminology. Some use “forwarding”, others use “redirects”.
For example on Godaddy you will want to configure Forwarding in your DNS Management panel to redirect one domain to another.
DNS, an acronym for Domain Name Services, is the layer of the internet that maps your domain name to the IP address of the server where your content actually resides.
Conversely, on Bluehost and many other providers you’ll want to navigate to Redirects.
I really hesitate to add in this extra bit of confusion but it might be good for some of you to know this. To a web application developer, a Forward and a Redirect are indeed different things. A Forward changes URLs on the server without telling the browser, but a Redirect tells the browser to fetch the new URL.
But when it comes to DNS, you can think of a Redirect and a Forward as practically the same thing.
Clear as mud?
The simplest way to forward your domain is with a redirect (in Godaddy terminology: Forward only). This means that when a user visits your domain, say mynewdomain (dot) com, the server sends back a code to the browser that tells it to go to a new location, such as iuser (dot) marketingsystem (dot) com.
But say you have mynewdomain (dot) com and you want to show another site’s content (in this case the content from the marketingsystem) under your website domain. This is why people use masking.
Masking hides the domain URL you are forwarding/redirecting to. With a normal redirect described as described above, the user will see the destination URL in the browser after the redirect completes. Not with masking. Also called URL Frame, domain forwarding with masking will hide the target domain from the user, keeping mynewdomain (dot) com visible in the URL box in the browser. Sounds perfect, yes? Well, let’s look at what spider sees when it visits the domain. Here’s an example
<frameset rows='100%, *' frameborder=no framespacing=0 border=0><frame src="http://iuser.marketingsystem.com" name=mainwindow frameborder=no framespacing=0 marginheight=0 marginwidth=0></frame>
This code tells the visitor that the content is all coming from the marketingsystem (dot) com domain.
So the general consensus is this masking using frames are bad for SEO and most case studies agree with this. In any case, savvy users visiting with Chrome or Firefox might notice that the browser is getting a response from marketingsystem (dot) com, specially if it is slow (Waiting on ….). So the source domain is not completely hidden. And, although you can insert meta tags in the frameset code to try and optimize the “page”, if you really want hide the source domain you want the name server solution below.
With redirects there are two types of my website has moved codes. One is HTTP code 301 which says the new location is permanent, the other is HTTP code 302 which says the move is temporary.
If you browse SEO articles on the web you’ll see advice to always use 301 redirects to make sure that the SEO benefit passes through to the target domain. The truth is that the SEO value passes through for both 301 and 302s, but you need a 301 if you want the target URL indexed. For many situations such as the need to send a user to a replacement page because the original is deleted, a 301 redirect is what you want.
But is that really what you want in our marketing system case? If you are interested in building up the SEO power of your new domain, a 301 or a 302 redirect will defeat that goal as it just passes all that link juice to the marketing system, which may not be what you want.
In the comments below, I got a lot of questions on what to do when you have a collection of domains and you want to maximize their SEO potential.
I encourage you to read through the scenarios in the comments. Keep in mind that in today’s SEO landscape, a domain is unlikely to rank until it has some content and backlinks. You may think you have the perfect domain name that is a great match for a keyword phrase, unfortunately these don’t work like they used to.
Short, memorable domain names are easier to market than keyword rich domains like cheapfastcarinsurance (dot) com. If you are marketing online you want to take a long term perspective and build up a brand that people trust. That being said, having keywords in your domain can definitely help Google understand what is the topic you are writing about.
If you have some spare domain names that are related to your main domain, 301 redirecting them is a good idea. You will at the very least capture any type in traffic if you have a keyword rich domain.
Since masking doesn’t work well what’s left for our marketer who wants to build up his domain? Instead of forwarding the domain, you can map the domain to the target system’s nameservers (so that they handle the DNS rather than your registrar). By pointing to the marketing system nameservers you are transferring DNS control to the marketing system which will figure out what files to show your web visitor. Since in this we are trying to build the SEO value of our domain rather than the marketing system URL, this is a better approach than redirecting or forwarding with masking.
There are a couple of drawbacks however. One is that if both domains get indexed, Google may consider this duplicate content. You want to avoid having any links go directly to your marketing system URL. Also, as much as you can, customize the marketing system website. If your website looks like a hundred others, it will be harder to get it to rank highly.
Kathy Alice Brown is a SEO expert specializing in Technical SEO and Content. In her spare time she loves to get outside.