How To Trash Your Search Performance In One Easy Step

trashAs you can tell from the list to the right called  My Other Sites, I have a fairly busy online life.  I maintain a half dozen websites myself and contribute to a few others.  Until recently, I housed each of these sites in its own account at GoDaddy.com.  This was expensive, but it’s the cost of doing business.

A few months ago, a GoDaddy support representative thought he was being helpful by convincing me to consolidate all those accounts under one master account and reorganize my sites subdirectories. Then I would simply forward each domain to the appropriate subdirectory.  The cost savings were compelling.

I made those changes, although not without difficulty.  At one point, I trashed an entire database and had to rebuild it from Google cache pages.  But I eventually consolidated five sites into one account.

Look Back in Horror

Last week I decided to take a look at the search engine performance of all my domains using HubSpot‘s excellent Website Grader tool.  I was stunned to find that the consolidated sites had plummeted in search effectiveness.  While my two main blogs – this one and newspaperdeathwatch.com — both scored better than 98% on Website Grader, the consolidated sites ranged from 65% down to a pathetic 7%.

I couldn’t find any explanation for this, so I consulted the smartest search expert I know: Mike Moran, author of Search Engine Marketing, Inc.  He confirmed my suspicions.

“Redirecting domains to subdomains saves money but, as you saw, it can sometimes hurt search rankings a great deal,” he wrote. “My suspicion is that search engines downgrade these sites because anyone working this hard to save money is more likely to have a low-quality site, and might even be a spammer.”

This logic baffled me until I thought it through a bit.  Google constantly fights a war against spammers and link farmers who tried to game the search algorithm.  One tactic they use is to buy up thousands of domains and point them to sites that are nothing but collections of keywords and links.  It’s safe to assume that some of these scavengers try to save money by consolidating their sites in a single directory.  Google’s strategy actually makes sense.  Unfortunately, it can also penalize people whose motivations are sincere.

I’m now going through the tedious process of restoring all of my websites to their original accounts.  Please excuse the occasional 404 error.  And learn from my example: don’t try this at home!

5 thoughts on “How To Trash Your Search Performance In One Easy Step

  1. Paul, very interesting post! Were you forwarding or redirecting the domains to subdomains within your main hosting account as the quote above indicates, or actually changing the domain record so that its top level address is the folder within your site– as opposed to a subdomain? (Not sure I’m phrasing that exactly correctly…) I ask because I use that Web host, too, for my personal site, and I have consolidated a couple of domain names into directories under my main hosting accounts, but they are not set up as subdomains, they are top level domains. Not sure if this would have a made a difference in your situation… Also curious, did you see a concurrent drop in referrals from search engines, or just a poorer ranking from Websitegrader? I hadn’t noticed a hit on search traffic as a result of my consolidations, but I’ll certainly take a look back now and see if it has had an impact.

  2. I was forwarding, not redirecting. In theory, the domain simply forwards to the designated subdirectory and it looks to the browser like that is the root directory for the domain. However, that didn’t always work out. For example, the domain gillin.com pointed to the subdirectory paulgillin.com/gillin. The homepage was fine, but every sub-page had the same URL, as if the homepage was framing the other pages.

    In some cases, though, the arrangement worked fine. For example, the domain ssmmbook.com is forwarded in this manner and all of the sub pages display the URLs just fine. According to the GoDaddy rep I most recently spoke to, that’s not possible, but it works in this instance.

    On the whole, I’m very confused and having to rebuild everything.

  3. Hi Paul,

    This is my first visit to one of your many other blogs, never seemed to get passed Newspaper Death Watch till tonight. I can now see I still have much to learn and will be back much more often.

    Take care,
    Edward

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