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Google rankings and Subdomains
Subdomains & SEO
skyewalk




msg:3287332
 4:14 pm on Mar 20, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi

I have a series of sites which are all subdomains of a domain I own. Each subdomain covers a different geographic area, whilst the root domain acts simply as a portal for all the other sites.

I started by building one subdomain with lots of unique content. It ranked well on google, MSN etc.

I then made a start on the portal and another subdomain, again lots of unique content.

I've now put about eight pages on each of the intended future subdomains. These pages do contain useful info for site visitors but there's not a whole lot of content on these subdomains until I get round to building up each.

My rankings on google have now plummeted (dropped from first for my best keyword phrase to over 100, also big falls on other keywords with no competition). Rankings on MSN have gone unbeleivably good.

Is this to do with creating the new subdomains? If so it seems unfair as they are not spammy. Do I need to block the subdomains which are not fully developed from Google bot?

Or maybe I need to start again and use folders instead of subdomains (a shame, as I think the subdomains are best for users, as most of them are looking for info on a regional site, rather than the umbrella site).

Anyone any strong ideas or knowledge on this?

 

Quadrille




msg:3288320
 1:06 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

You do not say how old the domain is, or the subdomains; if new, maybe the good ranking on Google was not the real thing.

Aside from that, many possibilities - but doing well on M$N and badly on Google instantly suggests a link problem.

Check that each of your sites has an independent, logical and html navigation, and its own incoming links, and that none of these are bad - if the sites are interlinked, a bad link could infect the whole shebang.

I don't fully understand your reasons for not using folders, which would spare you doing 8+ separate marketing activities, and share the value of incoming links.

skyewalk




msg:3288365
 1:57 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi,

The reason for the subdomains is that most users are interested in only one geographic area and would expect that to form a site.

Also it is better for linking in, as like my users other webmasters would only want to link to their own areas (i.e. only the relevant subdomain) and probably not the country-wide umbrella site.

The sites are _fairly_ new i.e. a month or so old, so could be that the initial no. 1 ranking was a blip. But I do have quite a few good quality inlinks and there really is no competition for my keywords, so I really would expect to rank heaps higher than 130+ in Google for lots of search terms (I'm 6 or 7 in Yahoo and no.1 in MSN); I'm assuming it's penalty.

However I suppose there is the possibility that the rankings could come back over time - but how long to wait?

Quadrille




msg:3288515
 3:52 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

A month is no time at all for Google; the initial success was almost certainly a blip - Google can take months (8-12) to fully place a new site.

Yes, it can be quicker - but no way to guarantee that. Suggestions include avoiding serious rebuilding for several months yet, add content consistently and regularly; work on link building - and keep your nose clean ;)

Quadrille




msg:3288524
 3:55 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

The reason for the subdomains is that most users are interested in only one geographic area and would expect that to form a site. Also it is better for linking in, as like my users other webmasters would only want to link to their own areas (i.e. only the relevant subdomain) and probably not the country-wide umbrella site.

I see; in that case, personally I'd have gone for spending few dollars per year more, and invested in a local domain name, thus completely localizing the service. An independent domain picks up links much more easily than a subdomain, in my experience. Plus it better meets the perceived need not to part of the umbrella.

But it's no big deal :)

skyewalk




msg:3288546
 4:10 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Many thanks Quadrille for all your comments - I've been struggling to get replies on this topic on various forums.

I'll sit tight then, and hope Google eventually comes to agree with Yahoo, or even MSN (which seems to be ranking us even better than I might have dreamt, for some reason).

The first area I did was on a completely seperate domain as I didn't have the idea of going nationwide at that point, and that site ranked reasonably on Google from early on (and very well now). Could I be getting penalised for this domain and the other new umbrella domain+subdomains cross-linking each other too much?

I've got a forum on the first domain which should really be on the umbrella domain (which would cut out much of the cross-linking) but it seems a lot of effort to move it, and a shame to lose rankings and indexing.

Miamacs




msg:3288548
 4:10 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I'm going to assume a lot of things so correct me if I'm wrong.

Your subdomains have relatively less inbounds than the domain you own, or perhaps one of the subdomains, the one you started out with had the lion share, and then linked back to the "directory".

Most inbounds were targeting a less generic theme, the theme of the first or first two subdomains, with an exact location.

You added some additional subdomains with very generic links to them. For example these links used an anchor text with the location names you had absolutely no inbounds for. The page which was OK in the eyes of Google for the theme you promoted first, has been penalized for adding links that were irrelevant to the theme it had been the strongest for: the location.

This is speculation, and I'm only trying to get more information out of you if you don't mind.

Which site gets the most inbounds, do these have the location or any other keyphrases in them, and how do the sites link to each other?

What is the text of the links? ( eg.: location theme / theme location / location / theme / click here )

Quadrille




msg:3288566
 4:22 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

The first area I did was on a completely seperate domain as I didn't have the idea of going nationwide at that point, and that site ranked reasonably on Google from early on (and very well now). Could I be getting penalised for this domain and the other new umbrella domain+subdomains cross-linking each other too much?

I've got a forum on the first domain which should really be on the umbrella domain (which would cut out much of the cross-linking) but it seems a lot of effort to move it, and a shame to lose rankings and indexing.

It's conceivable that Google could misinterpret what you see as 'internal' linking, but it's unlikely, so long as you are not in any kind of 'network' with external / 'other' sites.

If you are still growing, then remember that moving the forum will only get more difficult; use a 301 permanent redirect to minimise losing visitors and rankings, and compensate by diverting a little time to specifically promoting the forum at its new URL (forum directories, etc).

That alone may reduce the risk to minute proportions, else just remove links that are not strictly 'relevant'. I use my sites to promote a new site until it can 'stand on its own feet', and I know many others that do, too - I don't think it's 'wrong' to cross promote in that way (within reason!), and I don't think Google does, either. But it is something to keep an eye on.

skyewalk




msg:3288573
 4:25 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

OK Miamacs, I'll try to describe (hard without mentioning URLs!)

Let's call my first site with its own domain DOMAIN_A. This site ranks well still in Google as well as everywhere else. The inlinks commonly contain both the region and the topic (that is common to all my sites)

I then decided to do sites for other regions. I bought DOMAIN_B. First of all I started on just one more region SUB1, at SUB1.DOMAIN_B
In links for this usually contain both the region and topic as before, and it ranked well for a couple of weeks.

I then set up SUB2, SUB3 etc. SUB2 is well developed for content, the other subs (there are 10 in total) less so but not spammy. These sites don't have external links from other webmasters (I've called a halt as I was starting to think I needed to change my structure).

I've also set up WWW.DOMAIN_B. This contains a small amount of content and sort of acts as an index to all the SUBs and to DOMAIN_A.

DOMAIN_A also has a forum. This was originally just for DOMAIN_A users, but I've now extended it to be the forum for all other sites. Because of this, all my SUB1, SUB2.DOMAIN_B sites link to the forum on DOMAIN_A, which also links back via a navigation bar.

Still following me? Is any of the above likely to have got me a google penalty?

skyewalk




msg:3288593
 4:43 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Bit more info:

All the sites (SUB1 etc and DOMAIN_1) have (relevant and in fact useful) affiliate links on some pages. For the well developed sites (DOMAIN_1 and SUB1.DOMAIN_2) the affiliate links are on only a small subset of pages. As I've said, DOMAIN_1 still ranks good, SUB1.DOMAIN_2 ranks bad.

SUB3.DOMAIN_2 etc. are only set up with a few pages so far, but the affiliate pages are there (none of them are duplicates of each other), so the affiliate links per page are much higher for these sites until I've done more work.

So another theory for SUB1.DOMAIN_2 poor performance: Could the affiliate-heavy SUB2.DOMAIN_2 etc. subdomains be putting a penalty on the whole DOMAIN_2 structure (whilst leaving DOMAIN_1 intact).

Quadrille




msg:3288642
 5:24 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

A subdomain is treated by the SEs as any other full domain; if one is not doing well, while others are, there is no point looking at the others. A linking penalty would have damaged more widely in the case you describe.

Look at it this way.

If I own widgets.com, wodgets.com, wedgits.com and dingos.com, all with a similar linking policy, I'd be alarmed to find that wodgets.com was performing badly. But why would I look at dingos.com for a reason?

If you were being penalized for link farming, all would be suffering. Maybe the site is too new, or does not have the same quality links as others in your collection.

skyewalk




msg:3288653
 5:30 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

But all the subdomains on DOMAIN_2 rank poorly, and I thought google might be bunching them together more closely than just via the linking. DOMAIN_1 is the one which ranks very well, so it is only connected to the other sites through linking, not through the domain name.

BUT you are probably right, I like the idea that I haven't done anything wrong and things will come good for SUB1.DOMAIN_2 in time on google.

I won't reorganise the site or robots.txt block the other subdomains for now.

Quadrille




msg:3288654
 5:31 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

These sites don't have external links from other webmasters (I've called a halt as I was starting to think I needed to change my structure).

I do nto think this is the cause of your present troubles - but it is a time bomb for the future.

This is where the difference between your policy and folders matters - you are operating a minature link farm.

As it's entirely enclosed, I doubt Google will care much at this stage - but once you start getting a few links with outside sites, you may get into trouble if just one of those is a bad link.

You have chosen to use separate domains, so you must follow the 'rules' for such domains - and that means each requires its own links, its own directory entries and so on. It doesn't hurt while you are small - it will as you grow, and that's a promise.

You CANNOT have separate domains (=subdomains too) and treat them like folders, without a small but growing risk.

skyewalk




msg:3288669
 5:41 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi - thanks again - can you expand on that a bit as I didn't understand.

My SUB1.DOMAIN_2 site already does have external links (as does DOMAIN_1), and one I've decided on structure I will go above growing external links for each of the other SUBs - and getting more DMOZ and Yahoo directory listings.

Why might Google think I'm a link farm? Is it because all the sites are interlinked too much?

Quadrille




msg:3288673
 5:45 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I thought google might be bunching them together more closely than just via the linking. DOMAIN_1 is the one which ranks very well, so it is only connected to the other sites through linking, not through the domain name.

So far as Google is concerned, all that links these sites is, er, links. For google, sub1.domain.com and sub2.domain.com are no different than pepsi.com and coke.com subdomains are treated for all intents and purposes as full domains by the SEs

The only time it could conceivably be a 'domain connection' is if the SE is doing some kind of human investigation - and even then, it won't HELP you - in day-to-day events, there's NO connection - except links.

skyewalk




msg:3288678
 5:51 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

OK I got that;

but why might my sites seem like a link farm?

Just too much interlinking? Is it not good to have a 'family' of interconnected websites?

Sorry to keep banging on, but I want to get this right, and if I'm to move to folders for DOMAIN_2 it should be done soon (I'd be really reluctant to move anything from DOMAIN_1 into a DOMAIN_2 folder as it ranks so well)

Quadrille




msg:3288696
 5:59 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi - thanks again - can you expand on that a bit as I didn't understand.

My SUB1.DOMAIN_2 site already does have external links (as does DOMAIN_1), and one I've decided on structure I will go above growing external links for each of the other SUBs - and getting more DMOZ and Yahoo directory listings.

Why might Google think I'm a link farm? Is it because all the sites are interlinked too much?

It's about balance. A few interlinks from your own sites will not hurt you; but being dependent on them is another story.

You have chosen to not to use folders (ie one site), because, you said, your visitors wanted a local service. So give them one; each site (=subdomain too) MUST be treated as an individual local site. And therefore the scope for linking to non-local non-connected sites is rather limited; if your readers needed multiple links to your other sites, then you have to ask why they need separate sites in the first place. You have to choose your policy, and act on that policy. Multiple sites is fine, but there's a limit to the amount of interlinking that is acceptable.

"No external links" - ie sites are totally dependent on your interlinking - is not going to cut it for long.

Stop thinking you have two sites; you have many. And as the number increases, so does the risk attached to interlinking.

skyewalk




msg:3288697
 6:01 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

So your strong advice is to move all the SUB1.DOMAIN_2, SUB2.DOMAIN_2 etc. to DOMAIN_2/SUB1 etc?

Is it then ok to otherwise have exactly the same structure as I have now?

And is it safe enough to keep DOMAIN_1 interlinked but separate?

(Although DOMAIN_1 is my best ranked site, the domain name doesn't enable me to use it to cover outside it's geographical area)

Quadrille




msg:3288714
 6:08 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

You need to ask yourself why you are linking.

If it's for visitors, it's fine.

If you are doing it for SEs, then you are looking for trouble.

There's no "Right answer", it's matter of what works for your sites. If they cannot stand alone, don't make them try. If you expect them to grow, then better to split now, and build separately towards that future.

Only you can make that choice; all I'm saying is that you cannot have it both ways. If you feel the need for serious interlinking, then a single site is the safe option.

The best way to find your answer is to look forward; build for how you want to be in a year or two. Lay the foundations to be as future proof as you can be.

skyewalk




msg:3288720
 6:13 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Argghhh - very difficult to make a decision.

I think users would mostly rather see the regional sites; I think those linking to my sites would rather see the regional sites.

My search engine strategy is to go after searches for #topic# in the regions, not nationally.

BUT - I think my users would like to be able to find my other, sister sites for when they want to find out about a new region.
So I think I need the interlinking.

I'm going to be pulling hair out on this one.

skyewalk




msg:3288732
 6:22 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hang on a minute...

what about websites that have subdomains for things like a forum; every page on their main domain might link to the forum and every page on the forum link back.

But some very successful websites seem to do this?

Martin40




msg:3288736
 6:26 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Stop thinking you have two sites; you have many. And as the number increases, so does the risk attached to interlinking.

Interesting thought, Quadrille. I do observe that a subdomain inherits the superdomain's trust, while an external domain doesn't.

Sometimes Google puts some additional (related) links below the #1 search result, pointing to other pages on the same site of the #1 result.

If that's the case with a free hosting subdomain (as in [widgets.examplehosting.com),...] then Google will sometimes add links that point to pages on the webhosting domain examplehosting.com. So below the widget-related search result, links to webhosting resources are shown. This suggests that Google sees the subdomain as being part of the super-site.

Also, it's still anything but a fact that Google penalizes moderate interlinking of sites, let alone subdomains.

Then again, search engineers are aware of the problem of subdomains from the same site ranking multiple times on the same key-phrase. Internal pages don't rank more than twice in the top10 of the same key-phrase, but subdomains can (or could, espacially on MSN).

[edited by: Martin40 at 6:27 pm (utc) on Mar. 21, 2007]

skyewalk




msg:3288740
 6:31 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Also google's subdomains (www, news, video etc. etc) are massively interlinked, so surely it would be unfair to penalise other sites for this?

Martin40




msg:3288761
 7:04 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Good point.

I'd say any geek with a webhosting account will want to make subdomains.

skyewalk




msg:3288771
 7:13 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

sorry?

This is a serious questions for me; probably my last chance to abandon using subdomains if it is going to lead me to disaster.

Quadrille




msg:3288831
 8:10 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Also, it's still anything but a fact that Google penalizes moderate interlinking of sites, let alone subdomains.

I do so agree; and I've said so above.

However, in my experience - and all that I've read elsewhere - a site is a site is a site, sub or domain. I'd be very wary of making any other assumption.

The issue here is not moderate interlinking, which I do - and recomend - but heavy dependence on interlinking - to the exclusion of external links, in some cases.

There is a balance; and the best test is "who are you linking for, people or SEs?". If multiple sites (sub or domain), require heavy interlinking, then there's a very good case to take the advantages of a single umbrella domain, and lose the risks that excessive interlinking may bring.

As I've said above, I believe the risks in his current scenario are small - but if, as I gather, he intends to grow his 'local site' estate, then he needs to consdier the future. And the future should not be interlink-dependence. That's the only point I was making. :)

skyewalk




msg:3288848
 8:20 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

I've taken some of your advice, and migrated the forum.

Both sites are with the same host (though on different servers) Strangely moving the forum seemed to work simply by copying the files and then changing the settings on PHPbb. I've put a 301 redirect on the forums folder of the DOMAIN1 site.

This helps to cut down the interlinking.

Each SUBdomain and the DOMAIN1 site now only have two links on each page to the DOMAIN2 umbrella - one for the forum, and one for the DOMAIN2 homepage (in the banner).

The DOMAIN2 umbrella still links to every site, but not from every page - I've cut back the interlinking.

Will this be enough to avoid ever looking like a link farm, or do I really need to move from sub domains to folders?

Martin40




msg:3288880
 8:35 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

sorry?

This is a serious questions for me;

I know you're a serious individual, but what I implied is that creating subdomains is a natural thing to do. I created them because my hosting account offered the possibility. I put my two main domains on separate IPs, not because I expect an SEO advantage, but because I had two IPs available.

k?

then he needs to consdier the future

I agree. It's best to make your site "forward compatible".

Quadrille




msg:3288980
 9:59 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Will this be enough to avoid ever looking like a link farm, or do I really need to move from sub domains to folders?

Sounds more than peachy to me!

:)

trakkerguy




msg:3288987
 10:08 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

skywalke,

A site I've been helping to try and bring back from the -950 penalty on Google has 4 subdomains that probably should have been done as folders under the main domain. It did have the majority of external links to the main domain.

It ranks #2 or 1 for all keywords on Live. Much better than it should, I think, and seems to be just due to the subdomains. Yahoo has it #3-10. Google hit it in December and we've been totally restructuring to try and bring it back. Am now moving (via 301) the subdomains to folders, one at a time. The two that have been moved are now coming out of the penalty, and main domain is ranking better for the keywords they target most.

They may be treated as separate domains in most respects, but they are seen as more related than domains that merely share some links - particularily in the "trust" factor.

This 45 message thread spans 2 pages: 45 ( [1] 2 > >
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