301, Parking and Other Redirects for SEOs ( FAQ )

Ian McAnerin, Oct 2005

Parking VS Redirect

Let’s talk about redirects and parking. You’d think this would be a fairly straightforward topic, but it can be a very complicated issue, and is certainly responsible for a lot of questions I field every week. Hopefully this will clear a few things up.

One of the major issues is that SEOs tend to refer to “parking” in a different context than domain registrars, causing a lot of confusion.

Worse, a “redirect”, even among SEOs, can refer to a spam tactic, a helpful forwarding click to another domain, a sever level redirect or even other scenarios. Google specifically forbids “sneaky redirects” and yet encourages the use of 301 redirection for dealing with multiple domain names, for example.

No wonder everyone is confused – even the experts use the terms wrong! Hopefully I can help straighten things out. This series of articles was originally intended only for my clients, but due to popular demand I’m making it available to the public. I’ll start with a simple analogy and go into more details in the other sections.

Finding Fred

Imagine that there are 2 houses on a block. You want to talk to Fred. Lets say that Fred actually owns both of these houses, but you are not certain which house Fred is actually in.

Lets say that Fred is in the second house, and you go to the first one. What happens?

Scenario 1: You go to the first house, ring the doorbell, and ask for Fred. Although Fred is not there at that time, when you ask for him, he gets a page, walks over and meets you at the door. As far as you know, Fred lives in this house, since you knocked on the door, and Fred answered it. Fred would also answer if you went to the second house.

This is parking. In technical terms, you have a single IP address and both domains point to it, and the webserver will serve up the same website when asked for either domain. It’s the easiest way to do it, but now a visitor (including a search engine) has no idea what domain is your “real” one, and can therefore think you you have 2 different identical sites. One way to tell if a site is parked is that when you type in the domain, that domain stays in the address bar. It does not change to the new domain.

Scenario 2: You go to the first house, ring the doorbell, and ask for Fred. Since Fred is not there, the person who answers the door confirms to you that this is Freds place, but that he is next door right now. You now know that although you can find out where Fred is by asking at this house, you also know that Fred is actually next door. You then have to physically walk next door to talk to Fred. He doesn’t come to you.

This is a 301 redirect. In technical terms, you usually have 2 different IP addresses (or at least 2 different accounts) and you put your main address on the first one, and all the other addresses on the other second one. You then tell the webserver to redirect any requests for the secondary sites to the first one. What this tells a search engine is that the secondary sites are no longer active and the proper site is the main one. When you type in a secondary domain, the address will change when you arrive at the final site.

URL Cloaking

Some domain hosts offer a service called “URL cloaking” or some name similar to it. This allows you to “park” your domain name at another website (usually one with a long, ugly URL) but still show your preferred domain name in the address bar. Sounds good, right? Wrong.

How this is accomplished is they create a one page frame and point your domain at it. Then they load the other website with the ugly (or otherwise unwanted) URL into the frame, thus creating the illusion that you are using your preferred domain name and hiding the other one. Frames are not very search engine friendly. Not only is the probable result being your blank frames page being the only thing the search engine will see, but your titles don’t change (they remain the main frame page) which is not very helpful when trying to get your site to rank. Bottom line, “url cloaking” is not search engine friendly, and isn’t really even a redirect – you are just loading pages from one site into another and making people think it’s all one site. Not recommended if you are interested in showing up well on searches.

The Bottom Line and the Exception to the Rule

Yahoo seems to plain dislike the concept of multiple domain names. Always routinely check your domain redirection and how it is being handled by Yahoo, just to be certain.

Under normal circumstances, as an SEO you want a 301 redirect. It tells the search engine that all of the PR and links going to the secondary domains should be redirected to the main site. Otherwise, there will be a time frame where the search engine may think there are actually 2 sites and will only assign PR and link weight to the domains they are attached to, rather than the final destination site.

So, normally you want to do a 301 redirect as an SEO, since it tells the search engine that all the other URLs have been moved permanently to the new location.

However, if you do that with a ccTLD (country code top level domain) like .au, .ca, or .co.uk what will happen is that you will be telling the search engine that the old domain (including the ccTLD) is no longer valid and that the new one is the proper one to use. If the new one is not a ccTLD, then you will lose your localization. Basically, the 301 tells the search engine to throw away the old domains and use the new one instead, and to assign any links to the old domains to the new domain instead.

But if you park or 302 the ccTLD, then the search engine will be told that BOTH domains are valid and therefore assign the appropriate localization (geolocation) to the site.

Got it? Good. Now, there is one last thing to keep aware of. Search engine spiders don’t execute scripts. So if your redirect is script based (ie a javascript redirect), then the search engine will not execute it and will therefore not arrive at the new page.

To confuse the issue, the meta-tag “refresh” is followed by some search engines (it’s not a script, it’s a tag), and can be used, as well. The problem is that the search engines are notorious for not handling these very well. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they screw your rankings up horribly. Therefore, although they do sometimes work, it’s not recommended. Basically, don’t trust any redirection or forwarding that is accomplished by using a code or tag on a web page – only trust it at the server level, unless you have no other options.

Next: Domain Parking and SEO

Main Article

Detailed Technical Information

Specific Scenarios and How To Deal With Them

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