A visitor recently asked me whether it was possible to point multiple domain names to one website, more or less the conceptual reverse of what I wrote about in "Can I Create Multiple Websites with One Domain Name?". This article discusses why a person might want to do this, how it can be accomplished, and provides a practical guide on the additional steps you need to take in order to avoid losing potential search engine ranking as a result of doing things this way.
There are a few reasons why people get multiple domain names and point them to a single website. Frequently, this is to make sure that they own the 3 major international domain suffixes (".com", ".net" and ".org") of their name. Owning all the 3 suffixes is especially important if you want to develop your site using either the ".net" or ".org" extension, rather than the ".com" one. Many people, when typing in domain names, instinctively type a ".com" suffix instead of the other two, so if you don't want potential visitors going to the competition, you'll need to get all three and point them to your site.
If a domain name consists of a noun that has plural and singular forms, some webmasters also prefer to get both forms of the name, in case their customers or visitors misremember their domain. Other reasons include getting the common spelling mistakes for that name. If you want to go down this route, let me forewarn you that the list of possible spelling errors and other variants for any name is endless. Sometimes, you just have to trust your visitors to be intelligent enough to realise ("realize" in US English) that they've reached the wrong site. By all means get the usual set of suffixes for your site; the "usual" being the ".com", ".net" and ".org" forms, the singular and plural forms, and if your domain name involves different spelling for different variants of English, perhaps those variants as well. But I don't know if it's really worth your time and money to exhaustively corner every possible way your name can be misremembered or misspelled. It's a bottomless pit. You'll have to decide this for yourself, of course.
Note for the absolutely new webmaster: don't let all these possibilities paralyze you. Most people simply get the exact domain name they want, and that's it, without bothering about all the variants and suffixes. And they do fine with it. It's sometimes possible to worry so much about what might happen in the distant future that you never even get started.
There are at least 2 ways of pointing multiple domain names to a single website.
Many web hosts allow you to "park" multiple domains so that they all point to your website. (Note for new webmasters: this is a slightly different application of the term "parking" from that used by your registrar. Do not mix the two up. If you want to find out about domain parking as used by your registrar, see the article What Does It Mean to Park a Domain Name? Domain Name Parking Explained instead.)
An example of how this works out in real life will make it clearer. Type "example.com" in your web browser's address bar. You should reach a dummy web site specially meant to be used as an example site. (Yes, example.com really exists.) Look at your browser's address bar. It should now say "http://example.com/". Now open another tab (or window) in your web browser, and type "example.net" into the address bar to go there. This should take you to a page that looks exactly the same as "example.com", but you can see that you've actually reached "example.net" and not the ".com" version by checking that your browser's address bar says "http://example.net/".
The 3 sites, "example.com", "example.net" and "example.org", all point to the exact same page on the site's web host. It is done by hosting all three sites on the same web host, and arranging it so that they all resolve to the same account. If the webmaster of "example.com" were to add (say) a picture of a dog to the page, that image will show up in all 3 domains.
Update (January 2011): the organisation controlling the "example.com", "example.net" and "example.org" domains has just changed the behaviour of those domains so that typing those names into your browser no longer yield the behaviour I described above. Sorry, but it looks like you'll have to rely on my description above without a real life example.
Update of Update (January 2014): it looks like the example domains have reverted back to the behaviour I described above. Since I don't control those domains (they are sort of held in trust on behalf of the Internet to be used as examples), I'm leaving this list of updates around so that if the behaviour changes yet again, you will know what has happened. I wish they'll stop fiddling with it. What's the use of an example if it cannot be relied upon to serve as one?
This method of doing things creates a search engine problem popularly called "content duplication". I have written about this in the past, and one place you can find more information on this is from the How to Create a Search Engine Friendly Website article.
Essentially, by making it so that all 3 different web addresses show the same content, it now appears to search engines and casual visitors that there are 3 sites with identical content. This is not a problem in itself, but it becomes a problem when people find they like your site and start linking to it. Those who have reached your site using the ".com" version will link to the ".com" address, while others who have found it using the ".net" URL will link to the ".net" variation (since that's the address they see in their browser). And so on. Since search engines such as Google (as I explained in my article on How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking on Google) rely on the number of links pointing to your website to determine its importance, you will have effectively divided the links pointing to your site among the 3 different URLs. The end result is that none of your URLs will appear to be as important as they could have, had all the links been attributed to a single web address.
If you have already pointed all your domains to your website this way, don't panic. This problem is easily solved and reversed, even if you have been doing it for years. That is, there's a simple way to tell the search engines that all 3 domains point to the same site, and to add up all the links together and associate them with that site. Just read on.
There are 2 parts to pointing all the domains to the same website. One part involves changing the settings at your domain name registrar. The other part requires you to get your web host to add those additional domain names to your account. It probably doesn't matter which part you do first (unless your web host is fussy), but you'll need to get both done.
The first part involves setting the DNS of all your domains so that they resolve to the same website. To do this, follow the method given in the article How to Point a Domain Name to Your Website for each of your domains. For example, first follow the method for your ".com" domain. Then use the same method for each of your other domains, the ".net", ".org" and/or whatever other domains you have. Don't worry if you don't know what "DNS" means. That article explains all the things you'll need to know, even if you're an absolute beginner. (In fact, it was written for the absolute beginner.)
Next, you will also need to arrange with your web host to host all your domains so that they point to the same website. As mentioned above, many web hosts call this "parking" a domain at your website. But the terminology used differs from host to host. For example, at the time I write this, the web host thesitewizard.com currently uses employs the term "IRO" to refer to the operation. If you're not able to find out how to do the operation from your web host's documentation, contact their technical support to find out. Don't worry. This is such a common practice that any competent web host will surely know what you're talking about as long as you give them enough details describing what you want to do.
After pointing all your domains to your website, you'll have to decide which of those domains is going to be your primary or main domain. This will be the domain you use to refer to your own site, and it is the domain that you'll use when you advertise your site. You will be redirecting all the other domains to this main domain. For example, the main domain for this site is thesitewizard.com. If you were to type the ".net" variant, you will be redirected to my ".com" version; that is, you'll end up at a web address beginning with "https://www.thesitewizard.com/". (Contrast this with the example.com website, which was probably deliberately set up to work the other way.)
After you've made your decision, follow the tutorial How to Redirect from Your Root Domain to the WWW Subdomain and Vice Versa Using mod_rewrite to redirect all your secondary domains to your main one. Although the tutorial talks about either adding the "www" or removing the "www" from your domain name, the problem it solves is essentially the same one: that of multiple domains delivering the same content. However, since you have to solve your multiple domains problem in addition to the "www" issue, you should use the second block of code given on the page, namely, the following:
This will cause all your domain names to be redirected to the "www.example.com" form of your name. You'll of course have to change "example" to your actual domain name.
If, however, you don't like the "www" prefix, and want your domains to be redirected to the "http://example.com" version of your domain (ie, without "www"), you'll need the following block instead:
This latter block is not given in that article. In any case, even though I've supplied all the code here, you should still read that article for the detailed explanations, as well as information on how you can actually implement this on your web server. Remember: you cannot use either block of code as it stands; you have to modify it, unless you want all your domains to literally redirect to example.com.
The kind of redirection employed above is recognised by search engines as an indication that all your different domains have moved permanently to your primary domain. Over time, the engines will collate all the links pointing to those separate domains and count them as linking to your main domain. In other words, the above solution not only preemptively prevents the dupicate content problem from surfacing, if you already have such a problem, it will solve it.
Another way to redirect all your secondary domain names to your primary domain name is to do it at your domain name registrar level. Instead of setting the DNS of all your domains to your web hosting account, just set your primary domain name. Again, for those who forgot what I said above, this is done by following the procedure given in the tutorial How to Point a Domain Name to Your Website (Or What to Do After Buying Your Domain Name).
For your secondary domains, don't set their DNS. Most, if not all, domain name registrars allow you to use something called "URL Forwarding" or "Redirection" to forward requests for those domains to your main domain. Log into your domain registrar's website, and look for either "URL Forwarding", "Forwarding", "Redirection" or something to that effect. Each registrar has a different name and method for doing it, so it's not possible for me to give you the exact term used or even a detailed description of what to do. Select the domain you want for redirection, select that service, and enter your main domain name's web address (eg, "http://www.example.com/" or whatever) into the field provided. Note that you'll have to follow the format required by your registrar. If the registrar asks you to enter with the "http://" prefix, do so. If they only ask for the "www.example.com" portion without the prefix, do that.
Some registrars may give you the option to enable cloaked or stealth redirection. Do NOT enable those options. Let me say that again: do not enable cloaked or stealth redirection. It will defeat what you're trying to accomplish here. It's possible that the registrars may refer to this with a different name, eg, they may ask you whether you want to put the redirection in a "frame". Again, do not enable this option. If you're puzzled by what those terms mean and what they're used for, see my article Should You Use Cloaked Domain Redirection to Point to Your Website?.
If the registrar gives you the option of choosing either a permanent redirection or a temporary one, choose the permanent one. If they ask you whether you want it to be a "301 redirection" or a "302 redirection", choose the "301 redirection" option. Both the "301" and "permanent" redirection options refer to the same thing, and are necessary before the search engines will add all the links from your secondary domains to your primary domain. By choosing the "301" or "permanent" redirection, you're in effect doing what I mentioned earlier in the section on how to solve the duplicate content problem.
After setting the above, wait a couple of days for your changes to spread (or in the technical jargon for such things, "propagate") throughout the world, then test your secondary domains in your web browser. This is very important. I notice that some domain name registrars have bugs in their interface so that the redirections you set don't always work correctly. Instead you end up at their domain parking page. If you experience this, contact the registrar for help. Alternatively, just use the first method described above.
Buying multiple domain names and pointing them all to your website is a more common practice than most new webmasters realise. The procedure is relatively simple to implement (depending on which method you use), and it's important to carry it out so that you do not lose search engine ranking unnecessarily.
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