Dumb SEO Questions

(Entry was posted by Kirk Fletcher on this post in the Dumb SEO Questions community on Facebook, 10/04/2013).

I have 5 sites with the same topic, each for its respected country, I want to link each of them, do you think it would harm SEO rankings?

Ok so we have a debate going on in the office, so before I let up where I stand on this I want to pose this question to the community, so here it is ...

Say you had 5 sites all aimed at different countries but covering the same topic all with the same domain name except the tld, for arguments sake we will call them redapples.com (USA) redapples.co.uk (UK) redapples.ie (Ireland) redapples.com.au (Australia) redapples.ca (Canada)

Now, on each website we have SITEWIDE links to each of the other sites, so on redapples.com we have 4 sitewide links in the main nav to the other tlds. Each website has unique content but is completely based on the same topic even the sites have almost the same navigation structure and the sites themselves are all pretty much the same template/design.

The links to the other sites are all do follow and the anchor text is Red Apples UK, Red Apples USA etc etc

So what are your opinions on this, do you think it would harm SEO rankings? Do you think Google would look unfavourably at this? Would a rel="nofollow" be required instead?

I am really interested to see what the community has to say about this.
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Selected answers from the Dumb SEO Questions Facebook & G+ community.

  • Kirk Fletcher: +Jim Munro ;or +W.E. Jonk ;Fancy having a stab at this?
  • David Kutcher: It would seem to me that that is perhaps a not-ideal means of approaching localization/internationalization. If you have to explain it as not spam there is a good chance an algorithm will be viewing as spam. I'd rethink your strategy and perhaps look into rel=canonical.
  • Kirk Fletcher: Thanks +David Kutcher ;for your reply :-) Admittedly the strategy is far from perfect, but as the content on each site is unique do you really think that a rel="canonical" would be of any benefit or actually make things worse? My fear would be that using a canonical would devalue/derank 4 out of the 5 sites.
  • David Kutcher: +Kirk Fletcher which begs the question: why 5 sites instead of 1, using localization?
  • Kirk Fletcher: +David Kutcher ;I would love it if this were the case (this is the way I would have done it from the start) but as the same old story goes, a client came to us with 5 sites yadda yadda yadda...

    The client is unwilling to move to one site and is adamant that they want to have a different tld and site for each country..
  • Simon Fryer: +Kirk Fletcher I think the solution you're looking for is rel='alternate'. It would remove any spam/duplicate problems and maintain each site's performance in its target area. You wouldn't need to nofollow either.

    I know that a Google employee has confirmed that it can be used at a domain level although I haven't tested it myself.
  • Simon Fryer: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/189077?hl=en
  • Kirk Fletcher: +Simon Fryer ;That sounds like a good idea except that we fall into a few issues... Even though each of the sites are pretty much the same there are a few pages on each that the other do not have, so these pages would be unable to have an "alternate" version. Another stumbling block is that each site has its own blog that is updated regularly but obviously has completely different content/posts. Ideas?? ;
  • Simon Fryer: +Kirk Fletcher ;Yep that's certainly the challenge

    You could try using rel="alternate" between homepages and top level category pages, including the blog feed, leaving the deeper (and more likely to be unique) pages alone. ;
  • Kirk Fletcher: +Simon Fryer ;Thanks for your suggestion, that certainly sounds like it could work, I will implement this and monitor the effects closely. We have noticed recently that ranking across all five sites have been dipping, not by much but certainly not in the right direction! All our efforts have pointed at the cross linking being the issue. Figers crossed :-) ;
  • Simon Fryer: You could also try making some of the content more uniform. ;

    If it's unique it won't be considered spam. If it's not unique it should get a rel="alternate".
  • Simon Fryer: +Kirk Fletcher ;No problem. If things don't improve it'll be time to sit your client down for a long talk and get all those surplus domains redirected to one :)
  • Jeff Smith: +Kirk Fletcher ;Learn from the masters: ;http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g60745-Boston_Massachusetts-Hotels.html - notice the page to page links in the footer, as well as the alternates in the source code. There is a perfectly justifiable reason to link, which is that a user who happens onto one version of the content can somewhat easily navigate to a version more relevant to them in their own language / country context.
  • Kirk Fletcher: Thank you so much for all of your help, It has helped me to formulate a test plan. Thanks +Simon Fryer ;for the original suggestion of rel="alternate" and thanks to +Jeff Smith ;for the example.

    I am going to try to make the sites more uniform, in terms of page name, url, structure etc etc (its pretty close already)  ;and then rel=alternate wherever i can. Again Thanks All
  • Chase Billow: I would leave it as is.
  • Tony McCreath: Maile Ohye from Google just made a video that goes into a lot of detail on this stuff. Hunt it down (I'm mobile at the moment so not that easy).

    No issues duplicating content over different ccTLD domains (recent Matt Cutts video)
    If content is the same use canonical tags.
    Use hreflang to indicate pages with transaltions and regional variations. It does not affect ranking but ensures visitors see the correct page.
    Cross linking between domains is natural and ok. e.g. links to change users language or region.
    Duplication does not cause a penalty in itself. It causes result filtering. As these pages target different regions there should be no issue.
    Duplication can cause division of your backlinks which could mean you have to work harder to get the same ranking over all the copies.
  • Paul Atherton: +Kirk Fletcher ;Although not TLDs, we worked on the multiple language pages for this site, using rel=alternate ;http://www.responsetap.com/

    So seems like you're on the right path. Not all pages are unique, slight language changes and not all products available in all countries.
  • Jim Munro: I think as long as the content has been selected because it is wanted by the demographic in each location, it should not matter that there might be some crossover.

    In other words if the marketer's intent is genuine and the marketing overrides all decisions, there should be no need to nofollow useful links between these sites.

    I'm not suggesting that gratuitous sitewide links would be a good plan. I think that might be like shooting yourself in the foot.

    I am not an expert and many people will disagree with this, but I think providing at least a contact phone number, if not an office location, and hosting in each country would also be useful.
  • W.E. Jonk: From the expert panel in this weeks SEO Questions hangout on air on 01:35:57 into the YouTube video: https://dumbseoquestions.com/q/i_have_5_sites_with_the_same_topic_each_for_its_respected_country_i_want_to_link_each_of_them_do_you_think_it_would_harm_seo_rankings

View original question in the Dumb SEO Questions community on Facebook, 10/04/2013).

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