The days of the one domain internet are over. More and more webmasters have multiple domains and try to leverage their strength in numbers in order to achieve high search engine rankings. Over at the good old WebmasterWorld SEO forum, more and more users are asking for information on how to leverage multiple domains through a strategy called cross linking. The most common implementation of this strategy is to link to the other sites you own via the footer. You can see plenty examples of this in large corporations like Proctor & Gamble who have multiple brands. These big brands sometimes receive a free pass for strategies like this where normal sites would be penalized in some cases. For us “small timers” a simple footer link just doesn’t cut it anymore. So how can webmasters that own multiple domains link them together for better rankings and no penalty? The answer is below the fold…
This guide is intended to show you how to keep your domains separate in the eyes of the search engines. It focuses solely on reducing affiliations between sites. HOW you choose to cross link your domains once that is achieved is up to you. Two most commonly practiced strategies are footer/sidebar links and in-content deep linking. Let’s take a look at the main ways search engines create affiliations between domains so we can eliminate them.
IP Address – This is perhaps the most obvious and often thought of signal that creates affiliation. Each domain you plan on linking together needs to be on its own unique C-Block or C-Class. You may be able to get away with 1 or 2 being on the same IP, but the more unique the better.
Whois Information - Whois stores publicly available information on who domains are registered to. Let me emphasize that this information is publicly available, even to Google. In order to steer clear of affiliation, the domains you plan on cross linking need to be registered to different entities or people. An easy and common work around is to enable privacy with your registrar so that your information will be kept private. While this is the best option it comes with a cost, especially if your have a large number of domains.
Link Affiliation – Where your external links come from matters especially when trying to hide affiliation. This signal really needs to be abused for the search engines to catch it, but I’ve seen it happen. There is definitely some sort of percentage threshold in Google’s Algorithm to trigger this, but I obviously can’t say for sure. The basic idea here is as follows: If everywhere there is a link to site A there is also a link to site B, it is becomes pretty obvious that site A and site B are affiliated. This is especially true if the links appear near each other on the page and the anchor text is always the same. Ex. If the link to site A is always “toys” and the link to site B is always “rocking chairs”, it creates an even more clear affiliation. In order to avoid this, never link build to two of your domains at once. Changing up the type of links you are building across multiple domains can also help. If you are buying links, never buy 2 links on the same site.
Site Structure – This is one of the more ignored affiliation signals. First let’s start with the site structure. None of the domains should use the same template or even look the same visually. Obviously the fewer sites in your network, the more separation. You don’t need 1000 templates if you have 1000 domains . The layout of the sites should also be unique. Don’t use the same widgets and/or plugins on every domain. Don’t always have the widget bar on the right or left etc…
Site Architecture – The way files and URLs are organized is also a huge affiliation signal for the search engines. For example, if all of your image directories are in the same location this can tip the engines off. URL structures (which follow directory structures) should also be unique. If you use the same categories, sub categories, etc… across multiple domains, the search engines will translate that as potential affiliation. Link architecture is also a key affiliation factor. If your navigation links are the same across all sites and/or your footers all link to the same 3 authoritative sites, you are creating affiliation.
These precautions are slightly paranoid and should be taken with a grain of salt. You do not have to follow all of these recommendations in order to successfully cross link your domains; However, taking these precautions will make it almost impossible for you to get caught. You may even reach your dreams of Google Domination (Austin Powers Style) The two most important factors are the unique C-Class IP and different/private registration. Focus on these if you are crunched for time.
Finally I’d like to touch on 2 factors which people THINK create affiliation when in fact they do not. Let’s call these cross linking affiliation myths.
Affiliation Myth #1: Registrars have to be spread out and/or different. This is SO no true. Think about how many people use GoDaddy as their registrar. If the search engines use this to create affiliation, how could people using Godaddy link to each other safely? While you do need to have a more than 1 or 2 links to create separation, this method is too much of a broad stroke approach to be successful.
Affiliation Myth #2: You must use multiple Name Servers. The is false for the same reason as myth #1. How many sites out there have this as their name server: ns1.bluehost.com? The simple answer is ALOT. Again, this is too broad stroke to work on a large scale such as, I don’t know, the internet .