In the past few weeks we’ve been asked by several people if there are any SEO penalties associated with having your website spread across multiple domains. If I hear the same question several times, that’s usually a sign that the answer might make a useful blog post.
For example, travel photographer Gavin Gough has his own website using the domain name “gavingough.com“, and he has integrated his PhotoShelter website, which is using the domain “gavingough.photoshelter.com“. Is this an SEO problem, or an opportunity?
This may surprise you, but you (like Gavin) can actually benefit from an arrangement like this.
Part of the Google algorithm is a concept called “Quality Deserves Diversity” (QDD), a very real consideration made by Google to improve the results that appear on the first page of a Google search. To make it very simple, they don’t want one single website to dominate the entire first page of results. They want to provide diversity and balance, so they intentionally limit the number of results that will be displayed from a single domain.
If you search for “freelance travel photographer“, Gavin’s website shows up twice – in the first and second positions for his website “gavingough.com”. But if you search for the name “Gavin Gough” (which, a potential client may do if they’re looking for more information about him) he has all 10 positions on the first page of results.
How did he do this?
He’s using multiple domains and several other services that he directly controls. In addition to his main website, Google (in keeping with the QDD approach) is linking to his PhotoShelter website, his photo school website, his Twitter account, his Facebook account, his Vimeo account, and his member page on VisualPeacemakers.com.
From a brand management perspective, having control of every link on that first page is ideal – because you can control the message, and prevent any potential negative comments (or your competition) from showing up. Because you can’t occupy all 10 places with a single domain, you need other domains to help you out.
Trying to build up as much SEO “juice” as possible for a single domain name is an old-school mentality. (One that I very much subscribed to a few years ago.)
It’s not a bad thing to have results from many different domains as long as you “control” them. When we talk about SEO today, we also talk about “managing your online brand.” Maximizing where you appear is very important for your online brand because segments of your audience hang out in different places. For example, people find Gavin Gough because he has content on Vimeo — people who never knew about him wouldn’t have found him on his website simply because they weren’t there.
So, SEO aside, having a presence in multiple places means you can reach people who might not otherwise find you from your website. For example, if you are a still photographer who is transitioning into motion with your new D-SLR, posting your work on Vimeo is a great idea because it’s full of like-minded people, and media outlets like Engadget find content on those sites to post on their blogs.
Effective SEO is when you show up in search results using search terms that you want to rank for. Where it comes from is almost irrelevant, in my opinion, as long as you are controlling your brand effectively. If you gain a client who finds you through your Facebook page, or your PhotoShelter website, or a Twitter account, it’s a win for you.