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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