I have a site hosted under two domains, example.com and example.net, can I have a Google Sitemap on both servers, or should I consolidate the site's various addresses? I want to consolidate several brands with Web sites hosted on separate domains and sub-domains on my main site, now I need a checklist.

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Having multiple URLs pointing to the same content is a very bad idea. Although search engines try hard to deal with those weird setups, most likely the duplicate content will result in invisibility on the search result pages eventually. Nowadays the engines look at content, and if they find identical or way too similar content under more than one address (URL), they list only one version, or, in some cases, they dump both URLs, because content duplication is a well known spammer tactic. Collateral damage is unavoidable in their war on index spam, thus legitimate sites should implement a strict one and only one URL per piece of (textual) content policy.

Multiple domain networks consisting of sites and sub-sites providing closely related contents often lack the power of a segmented mega site. Branding one domain is easier than branding multiple domains, and there are more marketing issues. From a SEO perspective most multiple domain networks come with a higher risk of penalties for artificial linkage and content duplication. Please note that there are many scenarios where multiple domain setups make sound sense, see a SEO expert for individual advice. For the purpose of this article lets say the decision to consolidate multiple domains is well funded.

Hosting identical contents on several domains and consolidation of multiple domains serving different contents are comparable tasks, that is you can follow the same checklist.

1. Put up the complete site on the desired domain and choose a canonical site address, that is either www.example.com or example.com. Say you choose www.example.com, the www-prefix has advantages. You'll stick with this decision forever (what is a short period of time nowadays). That is even your business cards and the toilet paper have a bold www.example.com imprint, you link to www.example.com only and you submit only www.example.com URLs to Web directories and so on.

Segmenting a huge site with sub-domains like topic.example.com sounds like a good plan, but sub-domains come with a bunch of disadvantages and negative side effects too. You really should ask a SE expert for an individual consolidation plan, before you unintentionally cut off your organic SE traffic.

2. Create a Google Sitemap for the new site, and submit it. Remove all other sitemaps from your Web servers. Remove them physically from the hard disk. In your Google account do not delete the verified sites from your site overview page, but delete their sitemap submissions. You'll find the crawler stats from the old domains pretty much interesting.

3. From all domains, sub-domains, free hosts and whatever you've used before, implement a permanent (301) redirect to the new main site. If those servers had content, inbound links and other references, you must redirect to the corresponding URI on the new server. The same goes for parked domains registered to protect trademarks, or to capture type-in traffic. Check the HTTP response of each domain. Most 3rd party services use soft redirects (HTTP response code 302) what is not acceptable. Move those domains to your hosting service and make sure they respond with a 301 error code and the fully qualified location "http://www.example.com/".

Sample redirect routes:
· example.com/* => www.example.com/* where "*" stands for a complete relative URL (path and file name [+ query string [+ fragment identifier]]), and URL components in [brackets] are optional, for example:
· example.com/somepage.html => www.example.com/somepage.html
· example.com/somescript.php?somequerystring => www.example.com/somescript.asp?somequerystring
· example.com/somescript.asp?somequerystring#fragment-identifier => www.example.com/somescript.php?somequerystring#fragment-identifier
...

· www.example.net/* => www.example.com/*
· example.net/* => www.example.com/*
...

· www.old-example.com/* => www.example.com/[topic/]*
· old-example.com/* => www.example.com/[topic/]*
...

· www.older-example.com/* => www.example.com/[topic/]*
· older-example.com/* => www.example.com/[topic/]*
...

· www.parked-domain.com/* => www.example.com/*
· parked-domain.com/* => www.example.com/*
...

· yadayadayada.example.com/* => www.example.com/yadayadayada/*
· topic.old-example.com/* => www.example.com/topic/*
...


4. Do not suspend outdated domains with Google's removal tool for 180 days. Just redirect.

5. Find all links pointing to your old sites. Contact the Webmasters/editors and ask them to change the URI to www.example.com. The redirects will take care of passed reputation and traffic, but some sites simply delete their links when they spot a redirect, without notification.

6. Try to stick with www.example.com. Creativity is great, but results in a huge work load for each move. And with every move you will lose a little traffic.




Thursday, January 12, 2006 by Sebastian

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