Ask the Experts: Will Domain Masking Impact my SEO? [Updated]

by Gradiva Couzin on February 14, 2014

Q: I have an established website for my consulting business (let’s call it my-boring-name.com.) I’ve recently added a really exciting white paper to my site, and I think I can get a lot of links to it – especially if I register a new and memorable domain for it (let’s call it really-exciting-paper.com). I feel strongly that I’ll get more traffic and links if I use this new domain! But I want to keep my old domain around too because it’s doing well.

My hosting company offers a service that they call a pointer domain. As I understand it, this means that users entering really-exciting-paper.com will always see really-exciting-paper.com as the URL in the browser address window, even when they click into pages on my-boring-name.com.

I’ve been reading on the Internet that pointer domain is also called domain masking, and that it isn’t a good idea. Why?

A: The warnings you read online are correct. The problem with domain masking is that it creates duplicate content in search engines, particularly Google. In the example above, Google would see the two domains, http://www.my-boring-name.com/page.html and http://www.really-exciting-paper.com/page.html serving the same content. Google (and other search engines) will identify these domains as duplicates and decide to serve one over the other; and sometimes it’s not always the one you want.  In short, it is not possible to have a search engine presence for two domains showing the same content.

Your situation is fairly common. Even our own website, at http://www.yourseoplan.com is serving the dual purpose of being a companion site to our book, as well as a corporate brochure for our consulting business. A separate URL, http://www.gravitysearchmarketing.com redirects to the services page using a 301 redirect.

Here are a few options that might work for you:

  • You could keep the two separate domains and build each of them up with unique content, and be transparent about the interlinks between them.
  • You could combine your materials into a single website. This is the approach we took with this site.
  • You could set up the two separate (and unique) websites and then wait for a period of time for links to really-exciting-paper.com to build up. Then you could set up a 301 redirect to pass some of the accumulated link equity to the other domain.
  • You could follow the pointer/masking approach that you describe, and ensure that one domain is not being crawled and indexed. The ideal approach here is with a canonical tag and will convey to Google these are duplicate sites, example:

Place a canonical reference on both domains pointing to your preferred domain:

http://www.my-boring-name.com

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.my-boring-name.com”/>

http://www.really-exciting-paper.com

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.my-boring-name.com”/>

What you decide is to do is based on the goals you want to achieve. We want to point out that contrary to some convention SEO wisdom, there is no real “penalty” from Google for having duplicate content or domain masking.  The negative outcome of domain masking is mainly the potential for confusing Google, and diluting your domain power which will negatively impact your SEO presence. We hope one of these ideas we’ve provided will suit your needs and preferences!

 

 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris February 15, 2010 at 11:34 am

So what if you don’t mask, but do point the site? I am a domain reseller and have 500 some domains all pointing to the same site. Buyers complained that when they went to the link (my main page) that they couldn’t quickly see their name so then questioned if we really held the domain, so I added masking a few months ago. Now, if I search “vistala,” a sample name I might own, my page doesn’t show up high among the searches, even though I may own “vistala.com.” To be honest, my site never seemed to rank high, before or after I did the masking. Yet, for one of my domains a “VistalaEnergy.com” incorporated. Before the company, I showed up pretty high. Now with their press relseases, I’m lucky to get 5th or 6th page. Does NOT masking help and/or any other hints?

Chris February 15, 2010 at 11:39 am

The domains of mine that rank high and the ones that don’t seem almost entirely random. Not sure if there are any things I can do with such a unique set up. My main site contains purchase information and lets people see our other holdings, but doesn’t win us any points with Google, I’m sure.

Doesn’t owning the .com of a search word put you higher in the search? It used to! If you look at “naming” you see “naming.net” and “naming.com” ranked pretty high (and have been for years), but the company that bought that .com never made it very high BEFORE they bought the name.

Just curious.

Dev August 25, 2010 at 8:32 am

Hi I bought new domain hireoscommercedeveloper.com and forward it to http://www.hideveloper.com, will it work for seo my keyword is “hire oscommerce developer ”

Thanks
Dev
Hideveloper.com

Tim Wilson August 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Recently I went to GoDaddy as I was considering masking one of my domains. As I was doing so it gave me a form to fill out that included a description, and keywords, etc. I don’t remember filling out such a thing before and was wondering if maybe that was a better option than it once was because of this.

Let’s assume the site is going forwarding and masked to a clickbank site. It would seem that masking where you have the opportunity to match some of the keywords of that website it’s being forwarded to might help your domain being forwarded to rank a bit better than if you didn’t mask it (in that case not being able to match keywords, etc.) Anyone care to comment?

Gradiva Couzin August 31, 2010 at 4:47 am

Hi Chris,
Most SEOs believe that having an exact match domain name does help the site rank well for that keyword. For example, if your top target keyword is “blue raincoats”, then having the domain name “blueraincoats.com” for your website may help you rank well for “blue raincoats.” However, it’s not known whether this is a direct factor, or if this is an indirect factor and the ranking improvement comes from the fact that many inbound links use the domain name as the linking text, so if your domain name is “blueraincoats.com”, you’ll get inbound links using the text “blueraincoats.com” as the linking text, and this will improve your rank for “blue raincoats.”
-Gradiva

Gradiva Couzin August 31, 2010 at 4:51 am

Hi Chris,
If you want each individual domain to rank well for the keyword that you have in the domain name, I would suggest not masking, and adding individual, unique content on each of these domains that is relevant to the topic. You could then link to each domain from your own business page, which hopefully has some legitimate power to share with these domains. Work on building power to your central business page (which you keep and don’t sell, so it will continue to be an asset for you in the long term), and then you’ll be able to pass SEO power to your domains when you need to.
-Gradiva

Jack Sanderland September 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Hi,

The question for me is does a keyword-rich-generic domain name with no website, no relevant content as a value in the Google algorithm. If it does then I’ll surely redirect it to my made-up-unknown-name domain to increase traffic. I doubt that’s the case since being the owner of a keyword-rich-generic domain name only says to Google that you had the money to buy it not that you have something relevant, interesting to publish in regards to those keywords. On the other hand if the website content of my made-up-unknown-name is relevant to the redirected keyword-rich-generic domain name, would that make the redirection worth it? I am still trying figure this one out.

Nice article.

Mary Sheridan September 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

There’s always something new to learn. I’ll have to check to see how I forwarded all my subdivision sites to pages on my main site. I have domains for favorite subdivisions and types of homes, and whether or not I’ve done it right, sellers are impressed to see their home come up on a domain that has info on their subdivision. I’ve used links to information pages on my main site, so there wasn’t a lot of work in setting up the seprarate pages, but I may not have done what I intended!

Omega October 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm

I am a newbie. So, pardon me for my obvious ignorance. I created a free website with GoogleSites several months ago, and built up a website with over thirty pages, and those pages include internal links that matched for SEO purposes, the automatically derived GoogleSites prefix and suffix category page names.

Now, I purchased a new domain from GoDaddy and am planning on “forwarding and masking” the new/shorter/SEO better domain name to the original site created with GoogleSites.

What I can’t tell from the discussion here is will my GoogleSite’s URL that has been indexed by Google for several months now and is being found by a few unique visitors stop being found, or will Google associate my original content with the new GoDaddy URL, and I won’t lose the content and keywords that have already been inexed/crawled?

Is it just simply the GoDaddy URL name that is substituted (for the original GoogleSite’s URL) on the Google SERP’s, but the content description for the keywords in the content remain the same?

Or, will I have to go back in and change each page’s SEO-friendly name (and internal links) when first built need to reflect the new Go Daddy URL for each category keyword?

Sorry if this is confusing, but I am trying to understand this all, and it just doesn’t come easy to me at all…

Kyle Henderson October 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Quick question, taking this idea a little further. What if you do the following:

1.) Use domain masking (let’s say 10 domains)
2.) Use php’s $_SERVER['SERVER_NAME'] to get the masked domain
3.) Pull dynamic content from a database where the content is tagged to a particular domain name.

That solves the issues of duplicate content, correct? Any other foreseeable downside to this technique?

I know… “Why the heck would you do that?”, right? I have a bunch of websites where the structure is exactly the same, and would like to upgrade/maintain all simultaneously (just 1 server account, not 10). There will just be 1 central database, and ideally, 1 set of files as well.

Thanks in advance for comments & advice!

Kyle

(removed) December 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm

I personally don’t think its a good idea because I haven’t read much about it in SEO forums so people probably feel like its a bad idea. Even though it could bring you a lot of traffic.

Rahul Singh January 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Hii…I am confused with URL Masking .. suppose i have domain like http://www.abc.com and i want to open like http://www.abc.com.au is this thing affect my SEO Keyword Ranking …. i dont want to create another website for aussie domain…

one more thing i want domain forwarding without masking like someone type in address bar for abc.com.au he will redirect to abc.com but in browser abc.com.au will appear.
and someone type abc.com then by deafult my abc.com domain will appear and in browser same url will appear abc.com

these thing affect my seo ranking and brand reputation

(removed) May 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

Domain masking does not affect seo , This is something I have tested for some yrs

(edited - use a name, not a keyword) May 25, 2011 at 10:25 am

What if ‘masking’ is not used? Let’s say you have a web PAGE for which you buy a specific domain. You direct people typing that domain to this page without masking the page URL from users.
1) Would this cause duplicate content problem for search engines?
2) Would the domain get the same ranking as the page that it is directing traffic to for your desired keyword? Or better ranking if the domain name is set to your desired keyword?

Neil u123 Limited June 13, 2011 at 4:16 am

Please delete my older post

This subject still confuses most people in the SEO trade, I would suggest avoiding this measure in a production environment – if you would like to see the results do this with two test sites, the indexing will take some time but you will see the results.

I did consider doing this with my site http://www.u123.co.uk with another I purchased a week ago but thought better of it now. It would be better just creating new content for the new domain name.

Neil June 13, 2011 at 4:18 am

This subject still confuses most people in the SEO trade, I would suggest avoiding this measure in a production environment – if you would like to see the results do this with two test sites, the indexing will take some time but you will see the results.

I did consider doing this with my site [redacted] with another I purchased a week ago but thought better of it now. It would be better just creating new content for the new domain name.

Thanks,
Neil

RobbieTheK July 14, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Our situation is that we had an old URL with a hyphen and that is currently still the domain that has the CMS and files. But internally as a business we decided to no longer use in collateral material (and on the site, our email addresses, etc) the hyphenated domain name.

At the moment, we’re hosting with Google and using the DNS Manager simply have an A record from the non-hyphenated domain name point to the hyphenated domain name. But we have issues with a Google Map (GMAP) mashup, specifically the key looks for the hyphenated domain, and throws a Javascript alert that the GMAP key is invalid, when you visit it with the non-hyphenated domain name. And with Google Analytics, you can’t use the cross-domain feature as with the A record there’s no place to insert the GA code for the non-hyphenated domain name.

So we’d like to use the masking option, so people see the hyphenated domain name, but we also fear being penalized by the crawlers/spiders.

Thoughts?

kailash malav August 26, 2011 at 2:47 am

hello, my question is i have a two website’s suppose named one.com and two.com , both have a different content’s , when i click one.com then open url two.com with one.com content and when we click two.com then open two.com with two.com content then what effect arise Due to SEO purpose?

Tony Green November 9, 2011 at 7:30 am

Would someone just ask Google what we should do? Forward or Domain Mask? Their answer should solve all of our problems! I’m sure it’s a simple answer, right? Lol!

Tony Green November 9, 2011 at 7:38 am

But seriously, I guess my question is for affiliate marketing. Obviously, as an affiliate, there’s duplicate content. Since you don’t have a lot of control of the content, as an affiliate, is it better for SEO on your keyword rich URL to “forward permanently” or “forward with domain masking”? Thanks for the replies.

[edited] January 9, 2012 at 12:58 am

TWIMC:

There seems to be some confusion with everyone about this subject. As the article reads, if you have read it, states that masking your domains will ultimately end up being ‘sandboxed’ by Google. It’s not guaranteed though (lol) so make the decision you feel is cost effective.

I find it quite interesting however that people wouldn’t want to take the time to build multiple sites if they are considering masking anyways. We’re talking apples and oranges here. If you have an awesome site with great content, and then strike a light bulb for a new look or branding idea go for the new look with the support of the old one! Which is described in this article.

Please, Clearly create two sites that TRANSPARENTLY link together. If you are worried about possible issues with the users then in my opinion it kinda sounds like you don’t have decent content anyways. Personally, if it were me I’d make a majority of those ‘clarified links’ banner ads in the first place and ultimately attempt to get my seo from outside my own network. As I believe in only creating great ‘generic’ content on every website of mine(unless it is a branded domain). Since you don’t know what your seo campaign will do in the first place, or if in the future you may just lose interest all together wouldn’t you like to sell or lease your domain complete and turnkey?

SEO TODAY SHOULDN’T BE YOUR FOCUS IF YOU ARE REALLY USING SERPS TO GENERATE USERS IN THE FIRST PLACE. THINK ABOUT, TAKE A SECOND. SERPS NOW EXTEND YOUR CONTENT PARALLEL TO/WITH ALL SITES WE CURRENTLY USE JUST LIKE http://WWW.YOURSEOPLAN.COM -FACEBOOK -TWEETIE TWEETS- AND GMAIL FOR INSTANCE. LET IT FLOW;GET YOUR OWN;AND LASTLY IF YOU REALLY WANNA HAVE A SITE MASKED WITH HUNDREDS OF DOMAINS i RECOMMEND MAKING IT AN AFFILIATE SITE! BUT THATS A WHOLE OTHER TOPIC.

I feel we often make things harder than they really are. 301′S are the way to go if your just trying to rebrand. Look at overstock.com, great example, are branding as o.co, but just uses it to redirect. Think of it as another billboard pointing to the good stuff.

[edited] January 9, 2012 at 1:17 am

I’d like to add a bit reasoning behind my idea of creating new sites instead of masking it if your main goal is just to rebrand in the first place.

Real seo content comes from constantly developing legit links from legit domains. You can’t fool the search engines guys. So don’t even consider it. If your users are hooked on the old site, and then create an extension(the bright idea) on a completely new kwr domain. YOUR USERS WILL FOLLOW I PROMISE. This fix is easy, simply snip content from the new site and write about the snippet on your old site. (think twitter)

TWO THINGS JUST HAPPENED here! You get a link to new domain(which will help those big 3 rankings) and you can slowly over time get your current users to know your new look by slowly converting them.

Now you might be saying I don’t want a new site, and that you just want to create a new keyword rich domain for your non-rich domain. It’s gonna take some work my friend. Ensuring that a website that has stayed current (meaning your updating regularly) will not get hurt in the serps in the long run if you mask and simply attempting to change the site from index to no index will never happen. Adding the 301 is possible but I hope you have good seo/techs on your side. Cuzzzzz we’re talking time over here.

Do you wanna really know how to get it done? Pay the guys teaching you for their guidance! Better yet, get them to take care of it for you. You’ll quickly learn it’s better to hire a good team rather than figuring it out yourself. Not to mention it can be very cost effective if your time is valuable.

Simon February 14, 2012 at 9:03 am

Hello,
my situation is a little different:
our main domain is http://www.iltgroup.eu, but we also registered http://www.iltgroup.it
iltgroup.eu is a multilanguage site, so we want national domains to point to the main site.
I’ve pointed iltgroup.it to iltgroup.eu through domain masking.Is Google going to apply penalties??? What is the best solution for me?
Thanks a lot

Guy Manningham July 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

What about iFrame the site within the other site?

Don October 15, 2012 at 10:20 am

I know pretty much nothing about the SEO stuff. I keep hearing over and over about sending all these domains to one site or making multiple sites or whatever.

I have this one site for which they assigned a domain name and I already have a domain name from godaddy I want to use. I redirected the godaddy domain towards this site I built. I want to know if I should use masking or not use masking. Will one get better ranking and one worse?

I don’t want to hear that I have to make another website. I spent tones of time on creating this website and I do not want to make another one. I’m very happy with the site I have. I just want people to click on my godaddy url and be brought to the site without destroying any ranking in google.

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