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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in 2011. As of May 2021, it’s been updated and republished to reflect current information. The article was cleaned up, recommendations were reassessed, and references refreshed.

It happens all the time and causes me to scratch my head in complete confusion:  someone I’m working with on SEO will own multiple domains for the same business. I don’t mean that they have a couple related domains, I mean they have the same business and same offerings or services on more than one domain.

(We also recommend these more recent articles about subdomains and the importance of domains for SEO.)

Owning multiple domains can be a real headache for SEO (duplicate content, splitting up domain authority, etc), but also just for the time and money it takes to manage them.

However, there is such thing as effectively using multiple domains (although I don’t recommend it).

There are some commonly employed tactics that are used with multiple domains, but the situations are very particular and not always worth the effort.

In the following examples, I’m going to keep an SEO perspective on these tactics and only lightly touch on other marketing sectors.

The Defensive Domain Buyer

Some businesses are worried that competitors will buy keyword-oriented domains and optimize websites on them, which could push their own site into obscurity. This can lead to a panicked shopping spree for domains that are even slightly relevant to their products or brand.

The idea is that if they own the available domains, there is less chance of a competitor beating them in the rankings.

While this tactic seems to make some sense on the surface, it will have no effect on your SEO at all. It’s also doubtful that it will really have much effect in blocking out your competitors.

You can’t think of all the domain variations and buy them all. Any competitor can outrank you by offering better content. Period.

As a side note, if you do this tactic, you had better make sure that all of your domains are redirected toward your main domain using a 301 redirect so that you pass full link equity onto the website where you conduct the most business.

Need help finding the right domain?

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The First Page Domination Strategy

If you have multiple sites on the first page, you can get so much more traffic, right?

In theory, yes, and it has, on occasion, happened. However, there are some fairly serious drawbacks to this: 

  • Duplicate content woes— Because you can’t use the content from another site, you will have to write all new content. In many industries, it’s hard enough to come up with content for a single site, and it becomes a greater challenge when you try to allocate resources to get it written, optimized, and promoted. I wish luck to anyone writing content for several websites.
  • Double branding all the way!— You have branding issues with two sites. Does one site become higher-end and the other the lower-end? Do you keep the prices the same? For that matter, what names are you even going to use on the site? Which site do visitors use to contact you? While there are certainly going to be exceptions (such as targeting different demographics), such a chaotic and divisive branding effort comes with a lot of risks and extra work.

Country-Specific Domains

This is less of a tactic, and more of a “must do,” and so we’ll make this my exception to the multiple domains rule.

It’s an exception because all of the problems above do not apply when you get into other countries. In fact, in order to have the best results in international SEO, you’ll need to have a country-specific TLD (or top-level domain). 

For example, if you’re doing business in England, you will have a hard time ranking without a “.co.uk” domain.

You can still rank without a country level TLD, but it’s an uphill battle. And by uphill, I mean Rocky Mountains-type uphill.

A Better Strategy: SEO Resources and Indented Listings

One final (and big) point to that I would like to reiterate. If you really intend to own and run multiple domains and get these sites to show up in the search results, you will have to double your SEO work.

There are no shortcuts, freebies, or quick rankings that you can get, even if you are already ranking well for your main domain.

In fact, a new domain and site will be significantly harder to rank than a site that has history and some authority already built.

Rather than focusing on an entirely new listing, I suggest that going for indented listings (or secondary pages for the same site showing up underneath the first main listing) would be far more effective than attempting to achieve multiple domains in the same search.

SEO and online marketing in general continue to evolve to keep up with consumer and user trends. While some of these domain strategies may have been effective at one point, the industry has moved on. Make sure you’re keeping up.