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Redirected "vanity domains" - a problem?
europeforvisitors




msg:710117
 1:48 am on May 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I've got a site with several "sites within the site," using the following structure:

Widgets: widgets.com

Red widgets: widgets.com/redwidgets/

Blue widgets: widgets.com/bluewidgets/

Now, I also have "vanity domains" for convenience in identifying my sections on red and blue widgets:

redwidgets.com = widgets.com/redwidgets/

bluewidgets.com = widgets.com/bluewidgets/

My domain registrar redirects the Redwidgets.com and Bluewidgets.com domains (which have many inbound links) to the appropriate subdirectories on Widgets.com. The domain registrar's site identifies these as 302 redirects, although a support person described the process as placing the entire page within a frame and using a meta refresh.

My questions:

1. Is the domain registrar's use of 302 or meta refresh redirects likely to cause problems with Google? (I.e., might Google interpret them as 302 hijacking?) I received an e-mail from a fellow member that made me think about this possibility.

2. If the redirections are risky as currently set up, what's the best solution?

One technically simple option would be to set up separate accounts for each of the "vanity domains" and use an .htaccess file with a 301 redirect to the widgets.com/subdirectory/. This seems pretty clumsy, though, and I wonder if it might not introduce problems of its own.

Any suggestions? (I've searched through past threads on redirection of vanity domains but haven't run across any that address this specific problem--plus, the threads that I've found have been pretty old.)

Thanks for any and all insights.

 

hunderdown




msg:710118
 4:11 pm on May 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'll be interested to hear about this as well. I have a friend with a small personal site, which she would like to do more with. She has a domain name for it, but the files are actually on a verizon sub-directory, and there's a redirect that's exactly like the one that EFV describes for his sub-sites.

I've told her she should get real hosting, but if there's no penalty, then....

novice




msg:710119
 5:09 pm on May 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

A few years back I was forwarding a parked domain to my main site in the same manner that EFV is using. However the registrar was using a 200, which caused me all kinds of problems. Apparently the domain I was forwarding had quite a few links pointing to it, which caused that URL to show up on SE's. Not sure if the 302 does the same thing, but if it does watch out.

SEOtop10




msg:710120
 5:50 pm on May 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

I vote for setting up hosting for the vanity domain and then doing a 301 redirect to the appropriate subdirectory.

Robert Charlton




msg:710121
 5:23 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

I vote for setting up hosting for the vanity domain and then doing a 301 redirect to the appropriate subdirectory.

I concur, but let me take this a step further.

I'm beginning to believe that Google may be viewing new 301 redirects with some suspicion. Let's just say that domain redirects have recently been associated with sandboxed sites, perhaps because they could be a black-hat technique.

Conceivably, multiple 301s redirecting to the same domain might be viewed with even greater suspicion, perhaps seen as an attempt to funnel PageRank/ link reputation/ whatever.

My feeling, and this is an educated guess, but it's just a guess, is that if these truly are just "vanity domains," for type-ins, etc, then the really prudent thing to do would be to block them individually with robots.txt. Visitors could still get through, but GoogleBot would (theoretically) be blocked, and no flags would be raised unnecessarily for Google.

I'd love to get some other's thoughts on this, as I'm also contemplating what to do with vanity and write-in domains on some existing sites.

kpaul




msg:710122
 5:28 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

i also say use a 301.

the idea of blocking google and SEs with robots.txt on the vanity domains sounds like a good idea, though, to stay on the up-and-up...

jd01




msg:710123
 5:36 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

...which have many inbound links

Don't know that I would mess with the robots.txt. The 301 will redirect everything, so there is no real purpose... the site and/or pages can't be spidered anyway, but you might be denied credit for the links.

Justin

danny




msg:710124
 5:40 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm beginning to believe that Google may be viewing new 301 redirects with some suspicion.

This could be my problem. Five years ago I moved my book reviews do their own domain, putting a 301 redirect in place at the old location. There are still quite a few inbound links (which people are using) to the old addresses, though, so I'm loathe to remove the redirect.

Robert Charlton




msg:710125
 5:43 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

...but you might be denied credit for the links.

That's actually the point of doing this. You will be denied credit for any links that come into any of the vanity domains.

On the other hand, you won't be viewed as someone who's bought up a bunch of existing sites and is funneling PageRank into a main domain that you're optimizing.

Google has been sandboxing sites for domain name changes, and my thought is that they're doing it because of the redirected links or the potential thereof.

Robert Charlton




msg:710126
 5:53 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

This could be my problem. Five years ago I moved my book reviews do their own domain, putting a 301 redirect in place at the old location....

danny - I don't think so. I'm not advocating removing 301s at all, nor am I advocating not using them. If Google is beginning to look upon 301s with suspicion, it has allowed old sites, I believe, to be grandfathered in. Conceivably, if at some point you don't go back to get your old inbounds changed, I doubt that you'd be sandboxed, but, over time, they could lose their influence.

I am suggesting, though, that the prudent thing to do with new type-ins and vanity domains, whose purpose should not be to transmit PageRank anyway, might be to block them. They won't display after a proper 301 redirect, so no one should be linking to them in the future.

If you have a lot of old domains funneling links into your site, that's something that might also bear looking into.

canuck




msg:710127
 6:48 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

I have previously hijacked my own websites unwittingly with 302 URL-forwarding. One way you can check if you've done this is with G's site:www.vanitydomain.com (if webpages from your maindomain.com come up take action quick).

I solved this problem in different ways for different sites. 301-redirect for one site, and URL-forwarding to a noindex,nofollow webpage on another site (basically a copy of the target-page with noindex/nofollow metas).

SEOtop10




msg:710128
 10:11 am on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

Don't know that I would mess with the robots.txt. The 301 will redirect everything, so there is no real purpose... the site and/or pages can't be spidered anyway, but you might be denied credit for the links.

.htaccess based redirect will do this. However you can always have robots.txt and an index.php or index.asp or index.shtml (as the case may be) that redirects with a 301.

Vanity domains are in any case, type-ins or brand-names related. We should make serious efforts to make sure they don't get indexed and mess up the beneficiary domain.

europeforvisitors




msg:710129
 3:56 pm on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

Vanity domains are in any case, type-ins or brand-names related.

That's how I use them: "Widgettravel.com" is the overall name of the site, but a few vanity domains like "Bluewidgettravel.com" (which points to widgettravel.com/blue/) identify major "sites within the site" and are easy for returning users to remember.

We should make serious efforts to make sure they don't get indexed and mess up the beneficiary domain.

In my experience, they don't get indexed in Google; Google follows the domain registrar's 302 or "full-page frame" redirect to the actual page URL and indexes that. Vanity domains do get indexed in MSN, however, where I often see the vanity domain and actual widgettravel/directory/index.html URL listed on the same SERP.

Robert Charlton




msg:710130
 5:15 pm on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

Vanity domains do get indexed in MSN, however, where I often see the vanity domain and actual widgettravel/directory/index.html URL listed on the same SERP.

This is something that you should strive to avoid. It's effectively dupe content, and also leads to inbound link confusion.

What you describe on MSN actually sounds like a semi-"hijack" situation.

You definitely should move to 301s instead of 302s, and I would use robots.txt on each to block them from spidering.

..."full-page frame" redirect to the actual page URL...

What do you mean by the word "frame" in this context?

europeforvisitors




msg:710131
 5:21 pm on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

What do you mean by the word "frame" in this context?

I'm just using the phrase that a DirectNIC support person used to describe their redirects. He said they weren't using a 302 per se (though their documentation says they are); he said that, in essence, they create a full-page frame with a meta-refresh that loads the content of the specified destination website.

Robert Charlton




msg:710132
 9:26 pm on May 28, 2005 (gmt 0)

He said they weren't using a 302 per se (though their documentation says they are); he said that, in essence, they create a full-page frame with a meta-refresh that loads the content of the specified destination website.

Good gosh! The word "points" is vague enough, but this example takes it to new levels. ;)

You've definitely got to get rid of this arrangement, whatever it might be. It can't be helping you in any way... and conceivably could make you vulnerable to a a meta-refresh/302 redirect problem.

Are they in fact actually framing your pages? It's a holiday weekend and I can't quite get my head around this. I'm thinking they've got to be doing something else. Check with "view source." If it's a frame, you can see that. Also, what happens with your urls when you go from page to page?

You can also use Brett's server header checker to see if they've used a 302, which is what most registrars use.

Robert Charlton




msg:710133
 12:47 am on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

europeforvisitors - Just to clarify my reaction on this. I'm not smiling at you. That smiley is for DirectNIC support. Can't believe what some hosts and registrars will do when they say they are "pointing" a domain. I think it's a very dangerous word.

europeforvisitors




msg:710134
 1:20 am on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

You can also use Brett's server header checker to see if they've used a 302, which is what most registrars use.

Thanks. I just checked, and the vanity domains come up as "303 - see other," not 301.

SEOtop10




msg:710135
 9:54 am on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

IMHO, it becomes dangerous when some newbie webmaster gets a few links to the vanity domain, trying to get multiple listings on the SERP.

Dupe content penalty is jsut round the corner then ;)

Dayo_UK




msg:710136
 1:16 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

EFV

It looks like your vanity domains are returning a 303.

You can check at:-

[searchengineworld.com...]

and the explanation regarding a 303 at W3.org:-

[w3.org...]

Notice this part from W3

Many pre-HTTP/1.1 user agents do not understand the 303
status. When interoperability with such clients is a concern, the
302 status code may be used instead, since most user agents react
to a 302 response as described here for 303.

Googlebot uses HTTP/1.1 for Mozilla Googlebot while HTTP/1.0 for normal Googlebot - you do not seem to have any problems with the Vanity domains in Google. Msnbot uses HTTP/1.0 - might explain why you get double listing in MSN. Yahoo! Slurp is also HTTP/1.0 as is Jeeves. So I assume that most bots except Mozilla Googlebot are getting a 302 - can you see in your logs if this is true?

Personally - I would set up domains pointing to a folder and use 301 via .htaccess as mentioned above - or ask in the Apache forum.

Perhaps Moz Googlebot has got a purpose!

[edited by: Dayo_UK at 1:20 pm (utc) on May 29, 2005]

claus




msg:710137
 1:20 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

EFV you shouldn't do that in the first place; pointing a vanity domain "deep" into your site. This is one typical example of something that might be nice for users, but is frowned upon by SE's. Why? They think you're trying to game their system.

Always remember this: Only one URI per page of content for the SE's.

You will see trouble in each and every coming update until you get all your tech issues fixed. Unfortunatley it's a general trend for most of the "content people" in here, as they think too much in user benefits, so they forget to take precautions against SE wrongdoings.

Search engine bots are stupid. Really, really stupid. They do not know that you have a great site, and they don't care about intent - if they see known signs of gaming the system, that's what they'll act upon. And... very often they are simply wrong, but that does not stop them. Add standard bugs and errors into this mix and you'll see why I always recommend utter caution.

Updates are good times to identify problems, as that's where all known elements of each of your your sites (read: URI's) will be turned upside down. For each update, the thin line becomes just a little bit thinner, so what has not harmed you in the past may suddently harm you now.

---

So:

  • Either you need to move the content that these vanity domains point to out on the vanity domains themselves (removing said content from your main site), or:
  • You need to point the vanity domains to the root of your main site with a 301 server status code.

I will not recommend option 1, as (although it's a very sensible thing to do for a lot of user-related reasons) it will only lead to trouble regarding Googles treatment of these pages. They will tank, and possibly disappear from the SERPS for a long time (you know the drill).

So, point those vanity domains to your main URL and make sure each of them returns a 301 status code.

>> the vanity domains come up as "303 - see other," not 301

You've got a problem. There's absolutely no precedence for -- or genereal consensus on -- how the SE's will handle that server status code. Disregarding the "thin line" mentioned above, this is what I would call "being on really thin ice" (with the extra dimension that you don't really know exactly how thin the ice is until after you have set your foot on it).

[edited by: claus at 1:25 pm (utc) on May 29, 2005]

claus




msg:710138
 1:22 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> Perhaps Moz Googlebot has got a purpose!

Indeed it has, but it's not limited to what you're suggesting above. Ask yourself: What is this "Mozilla" thing [mozilla.org], exactly?

---
Edit: Added link to official Mozilla documentation. This is what a "Mozilla" user agent does.

[edited by: claus at 1:31 pm (utc) on May 29, 2005]

Dayo_UK




msg:710139
 1:26 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>>Indeed it has - ask yourself: What is this "Mozilla" thing, exactly?

A little red dragon. ;)

Erm - I cant see the purpose of Mozilla Googlebot - it visits pages and then very rarely lists them. Unless it is still in testing or does something behind the scenes.

EFV should have read your posts in full - you already worked out the pages were returning a 303 - doh at me

europeforvisitors




msg:710140
 4:04 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

So, point those vanity domains to your main URL and make sure each of them returns a 301 status code.

That isn't an option, because the "vanity domains" are for specific sections of the site--e.g., mydoughnuts.com represents mybakedgoods.com/doughnuts/ and mymuffins.com takes the user to mybakedgoods.com/muffins/. It wouldn't be good for the user or for me if users were redirected away from a targeted "site within the site" to a home page that deals with a wide range of topics.

One possible option is to set up separate $5.95-a-month basic accounts for the mydoughnuts.com and mymuffins.com domains and use an .htaccess file for each with a 301 redirect to the appropriate mybakedgoods.com directory or site within the site. That's probably the simplest solution from a technical standpoint; it wouldn't require an M.S. in Apache to implement. And it would cost only about $30 a month, which is chicken feed in the overall scheme of things.

FWIW, I guess I need to learn more about how my hosting service handles multiple domains that point to subdirectories of the main site. That might be a solution, too.

europeforvisitors




msg:710141
 4:41 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Side note:

- Can anyone think of why Google should treat "vanity domains" or "subtopic domains" pointing to a subdirectory as being any different from crosslinked subdomains or independent domains? Certainly we see many networks of subdomains and freestanding domains being used successfully in Google. (About.com is a network of subdomains, for example, and booking sites often have independent crosslinked domains such as city1-hotels.com, city2-hotels.com, etc.)

claus




msg:710142
 11:16 pm on May 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> That isn't an option

Well, then at least change your current setup so that it returns a 301 status code.

>> subdomains and domains

I'll take that in a sticky in stead...

europeforvisitors




msg:710143
 1:30 am on May 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

OK, I think I've got it figured out:

1) I've added virtual domains at my hosting service under my existing account, each with its own IP address. These are mapped to new subdirectories in the top level of the account. Cost per domain: US $11.04 per year + $15 setup fee.

2) In each subdirectory, I've placed a one-line .htaccess file that reads:

redirect 301 / http://example.com/topic/

3) On a test domain (an existing "vanity domain" for my own two-word name), I've changed the nameservers. As soon as I know that the test domain is redirecting properly when typed into a browser (it's already working when I type in the virtual domain's IP address), I'll update the nameserver info for the other vanity domains that are currently being handled by the registrar.

Once everything is working, I should have permanent (301) redirects in place for those vanity domains that have had 303 redirects up till now.

Thanks to all who have supplied advice here and via stickymail!

jd01




msg:710144
 6:43 am on May 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

http://example.com/topic/

Make sure you adjust to www.example.com for the real thing.

I believe there is a redirect from yoursite.com to www.yoursite.com, so if you do not add www to the redirect, you will be redirecting twice to get to the final page...

Once to from vanitysite.com to yoursite.com, then from yoursite.com to www.yoursite.com.

Justin

newbies




msg:710145
 7:16 am on May 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

Hi EFV,

I have the exact same situation as you and I have set up multiple accounts on my server for those vanity domains which redirect to my main domain. Because my main domain is a two words domain and recently I acquired a short domain for the BBS part of my main domain site. Same as you I hope visitors to access the bbs through the new domain so it would be easy for them to remember. But the problem is if people link to the bbs using the short domain instead of long-domain/bbs, we won't get credit for the inbound links. Is that right? So I hesitate in announcing the new domain to my visitors.

I hope somebody correct me if I am wrong.

europeforvisitors




msg:710146
 7:23 am on May 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

jd01 wrote:

I believe there is a redirect from yoursite.com to www.yoursite.com, so if you do not add www to the redirect, you will be redirecting twice to get to the final page...

Actually, I redirect www.example.com to example.com (I'm of the "www is a hangover from the days of Cello and Mosaic" school.) But you raise a good point: It's worth paying attention to details.

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