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Dividing a Website across Multiple Hosts Has No Negative Effect on SEO


One of the most incredibly naive and misleading myths circulating in the Web marketing industry today is that if you divide your content across multiple hosts (domains or subdomains) you weaken your search engine optimization and create extra work for yourself or your clients.

That is an outrageous lie based on ignorance and inexperience

The usual suspects are circulating this nonsense.  While I am accustomed to seeing purveyors of PageRank Sculpting, Flat Site Architecture, Guesting Posting for Links, Authoritative Domains, and other practices that lead Web marketers down the garden path of disaster preach nonsensical ideas, it still amazes me that people don’t even bat a single skeptical eyelash at these bald-faced lies and inaccurate representations of what goes on inside a mathematical calculation.

Frankly, why does anyone even bother to try to do the math any more?  There are trillions of URLs being crawled, filtered, and indexed every month.  Your best mathematicians on their greatest, most glorious days with choirs of pious Web marketers singing their praises cannot hope to unravel the spaghetti that is a basic search engine index.  You have absolutely no regression analyses that prove anything about anything.

You have a lot of mesmerizing case studies.  That’s nothing to write home about.

The Host Where Your Content Is Located Does Not Matter

This has always been true.  I was publishing content on multi-host Websites in the 1990s.  I published content on multi-host Websites throughout the 2000s.  Here we are halfway through the 2010s and I am still publishing content on multihost Websites.

I use microsites and dedicated product sites.  I use subdomains.  I do everything that your vaunted correlation study gurus tell you should fail and I keep growing my search referral traffic year over year.

What you should be asking is not why this works (it works for exactly the same reasons that putting all your content onto one host works).  What you should be asking is, “Why doesn’t anyone stop to think about how Website navigation works before putting their foot in their mouth?”

You Pay Thousands of Dollars to Be Told Lies and Nonsense Every Year

It’s true.  You’ll attend conferences, buy books, pay for special Webinars and training courses, and you continue to believe the most incredible nonsense that marketers can dream up month after month.  P.T. Barnum would have said a sucker is born with every click on the Internet, had he seen just how easy it is to bilk online marketers of their money.

All PageRank-like algorithms used by major search engines (such as Bing and Google) have to follow the links.  It doesn’t matter if the links are all collected on one Website or a thousand.  As long as the PageRank flows through the links the value that follows is the same.

What changes the equation is the filtration that is applied to the links.  The “if one is good for me then ten thousand are great” mentality is what led to Google issuing millions of manual Web spam actions last year.  They’re not citing you for using too many subdomains to publish your content.  They’re citing you for not publishing good content on your subdomains.

Website Navigation Works the Same Regardless of Where It Leads You

Links are links are links are links and they never become anything other than links when they lead you to a different host.  This idea that splitting your content across multiple hosts diminishes or weakens or dilutes your PageRank is patent nonsense.  It is absolutely and completely false.  It’s a load of hogwash.

Worse, it’s what many of you have come to believe is the God-given truth.  Well, God ain’t said nothing about PageRank flowing different from site to site.  When Googlers were asked if Google uses domain authority, they said “no”.  And yet somehow today in 2016 it remains one of the most highly valued (but useless) metrics to search marketers.

People even talk about or imply that there must be a “Host Authority” signal buried in the algorithms because “subfolders work better than subdomains”.

You can certainly choke the flow of PageRank from subdomain to root domain (more often what is being choked is the flow of PageRank from root to subdomain).  Many a “subfolders work better than subdomains” case study has proven that Web marketers do a wonderful job of screwing up their Websites with PageRank Sculpting (excuse me, — INDEXATION CONSERVATION –) and then, when they remove that sculpting in the process of moving subdomain content to subfolders, their case studies prove they never bothered to look at the source code of the old sites to see what was wrong in the first place.

You cannot conserve indexation.  You cannot hoard PageRank.  You cannot stop the flow of PageRank.  It’s leaving your site whether you want to hang on to it or not (and being able to hold it won’t do anything for you).  You got your PageRank from someone else and someone else will get PageRank from you even if you do not link out to other sites.  If you understand real technical SEO you should understand that.

Technical SEO is not “let’s redesign the Website because we can’t figure out how we screwed it up.”  Technical SEO does not channel PageRank because it’s leaking somewhere.  PageRank doesn’t leak.  Technical SEO doesn’t look for holes in the Website.

Technical SEO figures out why a Website is screwed up.  You do not stop until you have the answer.  If you don’t come up with the answer you’re not (technically) optimizing for search.

A Website is Just Documents Connected by Links

All links do is connect documents together.  Sometimes the documents link back to each other, sometimes there is only a one-way relationship between them.

You don’t need to run any complex site analyses to understand that links are the glue that binds the Web together.  You live and breathe links-between-documents every time you use a Web browser.  This should be easier than second nature to you.

If a Website is just documents connected by links, why would it matter if the documents are served from one host (subdomain or root domain) or ten?

This is such a ubiquitous circumstance that the number one reason for the failure of HTTPS to secure the Web is mixed content.  Contrary to what HTTPS advocates would have you believe, Websites are not safer, user experiences are not more secure, and nothing is really being protected from hacking or eavesdropping because nearly every Website on the Internet is still serving unsecured, unencrypted content.

That is just the way it is.

That is because most Websites today are constructed from resources that come from everywhere: fonts, Facebook Open Graph things, images, videos, audio files, stylesheets, widgets that do things, iframed documents, and stuff most of us cannot even begin to imagine.

Someone, somewhere, figured out a way to do something in Javascript or Node and some developer included calls to that remote code in the theme you are using, the plugins you install, and the pages you assemble.

Tell me again how your Websites are only coming from one host.  Go ahead: LIE TO ME.

There Is No Excuse for This Widespread Ignorance Except a Lack of Standards

I’m saying it again.  The Web marketing industry falls in love with the dumbest, most stupid of ideas because the majority of you choose not to participate in a standards-adoption process that will help you rise above all these crappy ideas that screw up your Websites.  If you don’t know anything about how real standards are proposed and adopted, Bing and Google stand ready to assist you on that journey of discovery.  I suggest you begin by reading up on the International Organization for Standardization.

Standards would really help every Web marketer (regardless of experience and training) accept why it doesn’t matter where the content is hosted.  Yes, the Web browser vendors are trying to make sure that content from site ALPHA cannot inject malicious code into site BETA’s visitors’ browsers, but they are not trying to get everyone to abandon the remotely-hosted content we have all become so dependent upon.  The problem is not so much that these deep matters are incomprehensible.  I think most people understand the basic issues once they are explained.  It’s just that no one is interested in being correct; it’s too convenient to let someone else be wrong and take all the heat.

The search engines don’t care if you split your content across multiple domains or subdomains.  You can link them together.  Don’t believe me?  Just go browse CNN’s Website.  And spare me the “Google favors big brands” response.  Google favors anyone who understands how the Web works.

We all understand how the Web works at some basic level.  For some reason, a lot of people are simply not using that knowledge to filter out egregious marketing claims. If you do understand how the Web works, if you are cognizant of just how widespread content tends to be when you embed videos and Tweets and uploaded documents in your Websites — then why are you paying attention to the people who are telling you it all works some other magical way?

Standards would force the Web marketing industry to abandon the demagogues who keep setting up the next round of search penalties and downgrading algorithms.

A Website is Defined By Its Navigation and Other Internal Links

Yes, there are patents from search engines that divide the Web into hosts (subdomains and domains).  Yes, there are academic papers that divide the Web into hosts (subdomains and domains).  These are convenient fictions that help theorists define and explore concepts.

The real Web is far more complicated than any patent or academic paper. I’m pretty sure that the engineers at Bing and Google realize that.  It just amazes me that so few marketers act like they understand that for more than a few seconds.

You’ll get far more insight into learning how the search engines index the Web by just looking at how the Web is constructed.  Leave all the 50-self-appointed-experts roundup link bait articles in the dustbin of time-wasting nonsense and just go look at some Websites.

Start with your favorite news or ecommerce sites. See how many subdomains and embedded host references you can find.  You don’t think of the CNN-YouTube-Pastebin-Vimeo-Twitter Website.  You just think of CNN.

Oddlly enough, that is really all that Bing and Google think about.   They know what CNN.com is, where to find it, and what they’ll find on it.  They know they’ll find a lot of stuff hosted on subdomains and foreign domains, but they still treat it all as part of CNN.com.

And that’s not because “CNN is a major brand”.  It’s because that is how Websites work.

Please Don’t Ever Spread Nonsense about Single Domains Being Better than Multiple Hosts Again

Yes, there are stubborn, ignorant people who will hem and haw and try to rationalize what they have said.  These guys never admit to being wrong.  They usually just quietly change the subject.  And that works for a while until they come up with new labels for the same old dumb ideas.

They have correlation studies that prove you’ll believe anything as long as it’s presented in a correlation study.

I should not have to categorize this article under “Advanced SEO and Algorithm Analysis”, but that is where I feel it belongs.  If this were basic SEO there would be no need for someone like me to point it out again and again.

But Doesn’t Designing Two Websites Require More Effort Than Designing One?

Yeah, that’s true.  You could create 10 blogs and publish similar content on them all.  How long would it take you to come up with a distinctive design for each of them?  I could do it in a day.  It’s not like there aren’t tens of thousands of ready-made themes to choose from.

The effort to build two separate, distinct Websites is insignificant compared to the power of the Force — the Force that Web marketers use when they promote their businesses, such as when they tell you to:

  • Like our Facebook Page
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Subscribe to our RSS Feed
  • Pin us on Pinterest
  • Watch our YouTube Videos

Thank goodness the Wise Gurus of Web Marketing have told us not to divide our content across multiple domains.  Who knows how much extra work we would create for ourselves if we started adding subdomains for blogs and forums to our Websites.

Gosh, Aunty Em, it looks like trouble is blowing our way with this dedicated site for our customer dashboards.  Maybe we should just stick it in a subfolder somewhere and pretend the Web is safer and the search engines will pass more PageRank to the login page than if it’s on its own domain.

We sure are lucky to have “ SEO Experts” to tell us how to channel PageRank instead of reliable standards, aren’t we?

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