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SEO Basics: When Your Domain & Homepage Are Not The Same
Recently, I ran an audit on 56 music industry websites and received a startling result. Sixteen sites, 28.6%, forward people from their domain name to their homepage using 302 Temporary Redirects. These sites are tossing away valuable link authority!
If your domain and homepage are different, determine how the domains forward visitors to the actual homepage. The correct way to forward visitors from one Web address to another is via a 301 Permanent Redirect.
A permanent redirect tells search engines to take the authority from off-site links pointing at your domain and apply it to your real homepage.
The most commonly used incorrect way to forward your domain to your homepage is a 302 Temporary Redirect. A temporary redirect tells search engines not to forward any authority from links. It’s like burning money. The authority evaporates.
On many websites, the majority of off-site links point to the root domain, with or without a preceding www.
Open Site Explorer
Page Authority: 76
Followed Linking Root Domains: 858
External Followed Links: 20,479
Open Site Explorer
Page Authority: 68
Followed Linking Root Domains: 231
External Followed Links: 2,828
This domain is not using 88% of its SEO friendly inbound links for homepage SEO authority!
What’s Happening? What Should You Do?
Bloggers and other online content creators like linking to brands. When not linking to specific content, they often link to the root domain as a default. It is in your best interest to make use of the search engine ranking authority these off-site links send your way.
Having A Different Domain Than Homepage
Having a different domain and homepage is not automatically a bad thing and there can be a good reason to do so.
For example, your website might forward visitors to the correct language or country version of your website based on their location. You just need to configure things so as not to block incoming link authority and within search engine terms of service.
Let’s look at another company, Denon.
- The root domain is denon.com
- Websites link to www.denon.com
- The global homepage is www.denon.com/Pages/home.aspx
- The USA homepage is usa.denon.com/us/pages/home.aspx
Denon 302 redirects visitors from the root domain to the global homepage. If you visit the USA page, the website sets a cookie. As long as the cookie is set, the site will:
- 302 redirect from www.denon.com to www.denon.com/Pages/home.aspx
- 302 redirect from the global homepage to usa.denon.com
- 301 redirect from usa.denon.com to Location: usa.denon.com/us/pages/home.aspx
But what if Denon automated which homepage it served based on my IP address location? The proper procedure would be to:
- 301 redirect the root domain to the global directory page
- Set a cookie
- Test for the cookie
- If the cookie is there, 302 redirect visitors to the appropriate custom homepage based on their IP address or another means of location
- If the cookie is not there, serve the global directory page
The key to any automation is to treat people and search engine spiders the same. Search engine spiders do not store cookies, normally. You treat the search engines exactly the same way you treat any visitor who has cookies disabled. It may seem like splitting technical hairs, but it is important to stay within the search engines’ terms of service.
Whatever you do, do not sniff for search engine user agents or search engine associated IP addresses. If a cookie-enabled search spider happens to visit your site, redirect it to the correct homepage based on its IP address. Rand Fishkin wrote a great article about this.
Search engines are doing some crawls with cookie enabled spiders, but I’m confident this passes the smell test and would pass a manual review because it is neither cloaking or deceitful.
Best Practices When Domains & Homepages Are Not The Same
Ultimately, you should be 301 redirecting all versions of your domain to the master homepage.
- http://exampledomain.com (non-www version)
- http://www.exampledomain.com (www version)
- http://www.ExampleDomain.com (mixed case versions)
Do not redirect everything to the www version of your root domain then redirect to the master homepage. One of the websites I polled 301 redirects all domain versions to www.domain.com then 301 redirects that to www.domain.com/homepage.
Every time you 301 redirect, a little link authority is lost. To conserve as much authority as possible, make certain there is always just one redirect hop and that it is a 301 redirect. It’s worth knowing too that search engines will likely stop following redirects after four or five hops.
If you want to forward people to a custom homepage, for legitimate reasons, do it from your master homepage only, use a cookie test and then redirect them.
How You Can Tell?
You can locate all redirects on your website by running your own crawl with tools like Screaming Frog. These will show you where the redirects are, where they go and whether they are a 301 or 302.
If you want to test one address, such as your root domain, I set-up a simple Web Page Server Response Code Test that will tell you if your domain and homepage are the same and, if not, what type of redirect your website uses.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.