Linking between domains

Why you should not try to outsmart the search engines with link networks. Keep it simple and focus all your efforts on your main domain.

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Is there something in the air this week?

I am fairly long in the tooth and have been ‘in SEO’ for longer than I would like to admit. I have therefore lived through the evolution of search engine optimisation and am happy to report that, for the most part, we are now living in a world where old-school SEO tactics have died. Website publishers are thinking about their users rather than trying to game the search engines.

My optimism has been dented this week as I have been asked, on 3 separate occasions, about a tactic that I believe to be a very poor strategy.

What is the issue?

The particular tactic that I want to explore is linking between domains that you own. More specifically, having domains that exist for the sole purpose of linking to a ‘mothership’ domain (the main site that you wish to drive traffic to).

Something along the lines of this:

link network

What is the theory?

The idea behind this tactic is that it is an easy way to build links to the mothership. Anyone who has tried building links knows that it is not easy, so having other domains under your immediate control gives you an easy way to build links and you can control the anchor text used for these links.

Being blunt, this is a very old school tactic and Matt Cutts was showing that this is unlikely to be a good tactic last year:

If I have 20 domains, should I link them all together?

Yes, there are plausible occasions when you can defend linking between multiple domains, but you should definitely not do it purely in an attempt to boost rankings of the mothership.

Evolution of the tactic

Thankfully, the ‘bulk’ approach has died off (a vote for the SEO is dead campaign?) but I have been asked three times this week about having a secondary domain that is used as a vehicle to link to the mothership.

This is a shift away from volume towards quality – the logic being that you can create a really good secondary site so the links from that site would be worth a lot more. By investing time and resource into creating an excellent secondary site, that site should attract links in its own right and thereby pass more value when linking to the mothership.

Something along the lines of this:

internal linking strategy

Why do I think that this is a bad idea?

There are a number of reasons why I believe that this is a bad strategy:

  • It is costly to create, host, maintain and market multiple sites
    • Resource that is required to build up the secondary domain is taken away from the mothership (unless you want to double your budget)
    • Each domain has to be treated as unique, so you have to work twice as hard to build up domain authority
  • Whilst the links from the secondary domain may be more valuable, it is still only one domain
    • I would opt for more domain diversity in your link profile
  • Content that may be placed on the secondary domain would be far better off on the mothership
    • Why would you not want to make the mothership the best site in your industry? If content is good enough to attract links, you want it on the mothership
  • You can be fairly confident that the search engines will see straight through this and are likely to devalue the links from the secondary domain
  • You are doing this for search engines rather than for your users
    • Remember the golden rule – humans first, search engines second
    • Anything that is done for search engines rather than users is likely to be the target of a future algorithm update

If it feels wrong, it probably is and this tactic reeks of trying to outsmart the search engines. In the post Panda era, that is risky. Domain authority is important and links to any page on your site will help all pages on that site.

The answer?

Personally, I would always recommend keeping things simple and focusing all efforts on building the domain authority of the mothership.

That will require links. You should aim to earn those links (through epic content). You should not do anything that may dilute the value of the epic content by hosting it all on a secondary domain.

Don’t do anything that doesn’t make sense when considering the needs of your users. Humans first, search engines second. Above all, keep it simple.

Something along the lines of this:

earn links SEO



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