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.

For example, 302 redirects to

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.

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 to
  • 302 redirect from the global homepage to
  • 301 redirect from to Location:

Denon fails the 301 redirect test from to but they get it right redirecting to with a 301.

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.

  • (non-www version)
  • (www version)
  • (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 then 301 redirects that to

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.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | How To | How To: SEO | Intermediate


About The Author: operates Schmitz Marketing, an Internet Marketing consultancy helping brands succeed at Inbound Marketing, Social Media and SEO. You can read more from Tom at Hitchhiker's Guide to Traffic.

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  • Yclept21
  • Jacob Stoops

    Great article Tom. I’d also add canonicalization as a way to help with some of this, albeit not a 100% replacement for proper 301 redirects…

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    Off topic: should the links to those external sites be target=”_blank”?

  • ScottyMack

    hmmm … lets say the original website,, has a decent base of loyal repeat customers but bad linking practices caused the site to crash and burn in the rankings. If I am reading this correctly, it seems like you might be able to have your cake and eat it too by setting up a new domain,, and using a 302 to re-direct customers to None of the ill effects from the bad links would pass on to the new website and you could start fresh and build solid links to the new website.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    Hi Scotty,

    Since you 301 URLs, not links, unless you carefully select which URLs to forward you’ll be redirecting evil links to the new domain. Of course, as soon as you set-up redirects Google will know about the relationship between the old and new domain. Right now, for Google, it’s better to start fresh once you burn a domain. Bing has a Disavow Links tool that Google may soon offer. When/if this happens you may be able to cleanse a domain in Webmaster Tools.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    For SEO this does not make a significant difference.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    I totally agree. To be honest, I was flabbergasted by all the 302 redirects I found in my small survey. I feel strongly that getting the word out about this one issue can have a widespread positive impact.

  • ScottyMack

    I did not say 301 the URL’s. That would obviously do no good. I said 302 them. If none of the authority gets passed along with a 302, none of the bad stuff will follow. At the same time, your customers will still be able to find you. This is obviously only a solution to a website that is unrecoverable because of bad links and the owner has elected to start all over with a new URL.

  • Una

    Could you explain why local redirect (based on IP) must to be 302, not 301? For example when a visitor who lives in France comes to a site a redirect to must to be 302?

  • Steve Johnston

    Hi Tom. I don’t buy it. Are you really suggesting that if a site 302s its root domain to its homepage.jsp home page that none of the domain authority will pass to it, and therefore the home page links will have no reputation to distribute into the site? I think Google is smarter than this.

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    No, but for Analytics, it does. Like I said, off topic :)

  • Thomas Schmitz

    I’m going to respectfully disagree. 302 forwarding a domain address, like to a dedicated homepage URL like cuts-off any off-site link authority pointing at the domain address from getting to the homepage.

    In the described situation, does it matter if the domain URL is indexed? Without content it is unlikely to appear in search results. The homepage URL will, so why not make certain the homepage has the maximum possible authority?
    As for mixed case, URLs are case sensitive. It is a risk for search engines to assume that a lower case version of a URL is the same as a mixed or upper case version of the same URL so I recommend playing it safe by rewriting all URLs to lower case.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    Thanks for weighing in John.
    Are you saying 302 forwarding a domain address, like to a dedicated homepage URL like does not cuts-off any off-site link authority pointing to the domain address from getting to the homepage?
    Why not make certain the homepage has the maximum possible authority?

    Does Google treat URLs as case insensitive? URLs are case sensitive. If memory serves me right, a Google engineer said search engines do not assume that a lower case version of a URL is the same as a mixed or upper case version of the same URL. We SEOs like to play it safe by rewriting all URLs to lower case.

  • Alec Bertram

    My reasoning would be to look at the behaviour of Google. i.e. If you have an image that gets into image search, that image will remain there until the URL returns a 404 status code – if you replace the content but keep it as status 200, the image remains in the index for a long time; this suggests that when Gbot is *sure* of something, it may only do a superficial crawl of the HTTP headers.

    By setting a local variant as 301, you’re telling Gbot that the local page is the permanent authoritative homepage for the domain – in the future, it may do a similar superficial crawl and skip straight to the local variant. By using a 302, Google knows that you mean the local variant is the correct one *this time* rather than *always*.

  • Thomas Schmitz

    Here is the bottom line for me: 302 redirects do not pass PageRank (aka authority, link juice, etc.) Since we do not know whether or not search engines make an exception for homepages — I have never read or heard a Google spokesperson say “We pass PageRank through 302 redirects in X, Y and Z situations” — why risk using a 302 redirect when we can set-up the forwarding as a 301 redirect?

  • Steven

    Interesting article, I need to do some research and see what I find out as I’m unsure either way if this redirect passes link juice or not.

  • Career IT World

    That is really cool


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