A Look at Domain Strategy for Businesses with Multiple Store Locations
July 25, 2016
Back when exact match domains had potential to significantly impact search results, many business owners went out and purchased as many industry related, keyword dense domains as they could with the idea that if they owned all the “good” domains in their industry, they would be able force their competitors out of the rankings. There was some merit behind this strategy, but very little, and now many business owners are sitting on, or even using a bunch of old, unnecessary domains when they could be using a single domain for their entire business. In this post will show you how a single domain strategy can help you refocus your brand, boost rankings, and increase traffic.
Why a Single Domain is Superior to Multiple Domains
Branding is all about consistency: consistent logos, colors, slogan, quality, etc. Your domain is no different. Having multiple domains makes it very complicated to keep this type of consistency across all of your marketing channels. For example, are you going to have separate social media profiles for each location domain? Being present on various social media platforms for one domain is a full-time job in itself, multiply that by each store domain and you are looking at hiring a full team just to cover your social media profiles.
Successful branding is directly correlated to memorability. You want people to see your logo and immediately know what your business is called and the services or products you offer. When you have multiple domains you could be diluting your brand because what someone thinks when they see exampleA.com may be different than what comes to mind when they see exampleB.com.
I am also working under the assumption that you are offering relatively the same products and services on each domain. If you provide different products at each, using multiple domains may be a better strategy.
SEO Efforts and Management:
It is very simple: the more domains you have, the thinner spread your SEO efforts will be. It is much more effective to have one domain rank very well, then multiple domains with average to below average rankings. If you allocate all of your online efforts into increasing a single domain, you can allow your location pages to piggyback off the success of that domain by using location category pages i.e. example.com/storelocations/locationA
Domains aren’t going to manage themselves. Even minor edits like alt image tags can take up a large chunk of time when you multiply it by 20. Yes, there are some CMS technologies which allow you to make certain changes to multiple domains at once, but that is just another cost you could avoid with a single domain, which leads me to my next point.
The cost of purchasing, maintaining and managing domains can add up quickly and are much better spent doing something like increasing your social media presence. Think about the long term. Maybe you only have three stores around town right now, but what if your business blows up and you start expanding outside of your current city?
Ever heard of domain squatters? If you are not familiar with the term, it is when someone purchases potential domain names in cities where large companies have not yet opened stores because they anticipate that when the time comes the business will need that domain and have no choice but to buy it off the “squatter” for a large chunk of change. So, unless you plan on preemptively purchasing every possible domain for cities in which you do not yet operate your business, you run the risk of getting into these unfavorable negotiations operating on a multiple domain strategy.
If you have multiple stores in a city, each with their own domain, and all selling the same or similar products, you are your own competitor. Ranking highly is difficult enough as it is; you do not want to make it any more challenging by competing against yourself.
But I Already Have Multiple Domains For My Stores; Do I Have To Start Over?
Unfortunately, in many cases businesses are already operating under multiple domain location names or suffering from canonicalization issues and are wondering what the best solution is, so let’s walk through an example case study using “example.com” as our primary domain and explain the ideal steps needed to migrate multiple location domains to a single domain.
Let’s say you have currently have three store locations, A, B, & C with domains:
Step 1: Check for Homepage Canonicalization
Does your homepage have more than one domain? (I.e. example.com, www.example.com, example.com/index.html.) Having more than one domain for the same page will cause duplicate content issues, which can confuse search crawlers and hurt your rankings. For the purposes of our study, let’s just say your homepage has www.example.com and example.com and you need to redirect your traffic from www.example.com to example.com.
Step 2: Create Location Pages
Create a category page that makes logical sense for your stores and can match up with your current domains for 301 redirects. For example, your top-level category could be called “store locations”.
Step 3: 301 Redirects
The model 301 redirect is from a page where the content of each page is identical; the only difference being the URL. In this perfect scenario, Google will pass somewhere around 85% of the original link equity. However, when webmasters start abusing 301 redirects to direct traffic from non-relevant pages, issues start to arise, so it is best to make sure your redirects make logical sense.
Before you begin your redirects, you need to determine which domain you want to serve as your primary site. A simple way to do this is to search for some of your keywords and see which one is ranking higher. If one or the other dominates the results, you know which one to choose. Let’s say we decided to go with the non-“www” version; your redirects would then be organized like the following:
exampleA.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/A
exampleB.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/B
exampleC.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/C
Since there is a duplicate “www” version of the site, you would also need to do the same redirects for the “www” versions:
www.example.com -> 301 -> example.com
www.exampleA.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/A
www.exampleB.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/B
www.exampleC.com -> 301 -> example.com/storelocations/C
And there you have it, all of your domains working together to create one super domain! This is a fairly simple example and can become much more complex depending on how many domains and redirects are involved, but this should give you a basic understanding as to the reasoning behind keeping all of your domains under one roof.