Using Multiple Domain Names to Rank for Related Keywords

A few months ago I bid on an SEO project for a local contractor in the Seattle area. We had agreed on some terms and planned on moving forward. He seemed committed to the project, but for whatever reason I never heard from him again. I followed up a few times but then wrote it off as a dead lead.

A few weeks ago I decided to check out his website. He had a new one, plus at least four more nearly identical ones.

Clearly someone else got the job.

Too bad for him, though. The “SEO” who has been hired to do the work obviously is just in it for a quick buck. This “expert” has talked his new client into buying several keyword rich domain names, made near duplicate sites using the same WordPress template and linked them all together in the footer.

This hired “SEO” is a real gem. He is so cheap he didn’t even use private registration. Not that I condone this practice, but if you’re going to be so shifty you could at least try to cover your own tracks. It took me all of ten seconds to check the whois record and a quick Google search to verify who this ripoff is.

All of the sites used appear to be brand new (never registered before) domain names, were registered less than two months ago, and some are already ranking on the first page of Google for exact matches of the keywords in the domain names. However not for any of the keyword variants or when the keywords are out of order. And the company’s main website is still nowhere to be found. – original

Created On:18-Feb-2010 00:33:14 UTC

I didn’t want to disclose too much information, because even though I would like to expose this shady SEO, I would hate to see the client get penalized for what his consultant did. I don’t think it’s his fault he picked the wrong guy. He probably went with the cheapest, and that’s exactly what he got!

I’m starting to see a ton of duplicate content websites in the SERPS, mostly companies doing this very thing. I can see how it might be appealing to some – it took this kid less than two months to get first page ranking by linking handful of new sites together and pointing another cluster of spammy links at them. Even so, he didn’t do a very good job. I could have got him ranking for a lot more keywords.

There’s also a well-known attorney in the Seattle area who has about twenty duplicate websites, and he ranks well for most of them – at least the last time I checked. I still don’t think it’s very effective overall though.

But what’s saddest about this particular story is the client probably thinks his SEO is great because he is already ranking for exact matches of the targeted key-phrases, i.e., the domain names. Not with the actual company website still, though. Obviously it is a little too easy to rank keyword-rich domain names. Some of these duplicate domains are .net, .org, .com or whatever the so-called SEO could match the targeted keywords with. There is no consistency.

The client already had an established and aged domain name, it would have been pretty easy to rank him for all of those keywords on that website. Plus a lot more professional and a much better strategy for the long-term. The tactic used in this example really only benefits the SEO – potentially making him a quick buck or two. By the time the client gets penalized for these duplicate websites, the SEO will likely be long gone, and the client will be stuck starting from scratch.

Part of me feels like I should report this SEO and to say something to the site owner. But I figure I didn’t get the contract, and I don’t know the prospect any more than that, so It’s really none of my business. I guess maybe the best thing I can do is just not say anything at all?

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  • April 13th, 2010 at 12:20 pm Dan Smith said:

    Wesley, there is no real point in reporting the SEO — they will most likely just pop up again under a different guise and a little more wise in covering their tracks (unless they are a complete dolt)
    I believe the best track is to do exactly what you are doing and that is to promote the benefits of professional, long-term SEO techniques.
    There will always be a client base that wants only cheap and most of the time they get what they deserve.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 12:22 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Dan!

    I completely agree!


  • April 13th, 2010 at 12:26 pm Rudy McCormick said:

    There are some pretty unusual ways people “think” they will get to the top of google, and yes most “SEO” companies build link farms and as long as they don’t use paid links, the big “G” will find them and most likely find them attractive due to the number of linkbacks. Sadly this is so widespread today, and yet the consumer has no idea what is an approved practice and what is…like this situation seems to be…pure voodoo. I have found that when building links to individual pages within a site that its a lot cleaner and easier to use custom domains, but not in this way. I had a bigger resort client ask me one time to put a copy of their site on my web server to provide better local results, which would seem very “black-hat” to me.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 12:41 pm Aaron said:

    While he may have wasted the guy’s money with the domains, etc., I don’t really consider this blackhat seo.

    If he created duplicate sites with duplicate content, then most of them will simply suffer a duplicate content penalty.

    If each site is about a different topic, I don’t really see the ethical dilemma here. While he may have been able to rank site A for phrases xyz and qrs, he might have felt it better to create a site and site

    Or maybe he created them because he was having trouble with adwords quality score.

    I can think of a lot of reasons why someone might do this. The bottom line to me is whether or not the sites he created are quality sites are spammy trash sites.

    My complaint when it comes to creation of the kind of content you are complaining about comes in the form of squidoo lenses, hub pages, ezine articles, blog pages, and 8 million other content directories containing auto generated content using a content spinner.

    Anyway, I don’t think he probably went about things the best way, but I wouldn’t say he crossed any kind of semi imaginary line.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 1:56 pm Craig Severance said:

    SEO is much like the early days of website design. Everyone and their dead relatives are “Experts” and there is no QC in the industry. There also is no entity that can be used to find true experts and true bull shit artists. I think you should contact the client. Just because they did not pick you the first time around, by educating them this time you will be the first one they call when they realize they have been dupped. I spend the first hour educating my customers before I try to sell them anything. If they feel I am trying to make them smarter consumers then the sale becomes effortless and the sale is complete before I make my pitch. I recommend you do the same thing.

    On a lighter note, I am currently working which will be used by consumers to learn how to seo their own sites. I am seeking “Experts :) ” to write courses in our LMS (learning management system) and we will sell them to our customers. You will receive 50% of each sale just for writing the course. If you feel you are an expert and want to have your own course where members can learn from you the correct way then you should sign up as a course writer on the site. When a customer completes the course (you create the chapters, pages, quizes and final exam) they receive a certificate of completion. I think you should consider this since it would be a great way to show your potential customers that you are a published SEO professional which will go a long way in your sales pitch.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 2:06 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Thanks, Craig. I’ll check it out.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 2:57 pm SEO Brisbane said:

    Unfortunately an all too familiar story. We operate an SEO, SEM and online marketing strategy business in Australia and the practice you mentioned (and many, may others) is also alive and well in our part of the world. We specialise in the Small Business Internet Marketing sector and there is no shortage of less than honourable SEOers peddling a whole host of mistruths. Due to the proliferation of people entering this market (and the low barrier to entry), our sales process has had to adapt. We now spend a large amount of time (unpaid) simply educating the client just as much about what we don’t do in an attempt to educate them and forewarn them about the various out right lies and deception they are about have launched upon them.

    The most effective sales tool we have used to date has simply been our results. Being able to show a prospect what we have done and how we went about it and being transparent about the process as apposed to trying to portray SEO as some voodoo magic has proven to be a charm.

    We’ve looked at the problem of black hat SEO as an opportunity to differentiate our service offering from the charlatans – in fact the more it goes on the better placed is our business.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 5:23 pm LR said:

    The key issue here is that they are duplicate content websites. There is nothing inherently wrong with picking a keyword-specific URL and writing for it. New, properly written, properly positioned sites with unique content should be (and often do get) ranked highly. The crime in “SEO” is spamming for links, not for unique, fringe URLs. Obviously, I’m not the SEO you reference, but there are merits to micro sites that delve into specific topics, and that’s not necessarily ‘black hat’.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 6:07 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi LR,
    I agree. In some cases I wouldn’t consider it black hat. Mostly I think this guy is just dumb. He obviously doesn’t know how to rank one domain for multiple keywords or variants thereof, so he is taking a “short cut”. I mean only a suffix makes the difference between two of the domain names he’s using. They offer the same exact services and use the same text.

  • April 13th, 2010 at 7:09 pm LR said:

    Agreed. The tactic the ‘large yellow page index’ book locally (you know what it is — they advertise on the radio in Seattle) is taking is a unique URL to bypass whatever their client’s websites use in favor of a new site, then get their own link juice to feed their new sites. And G snaps this stuff up, especially if you feed in Citysearch… The general tack is that whatever web presence you have is bad, and we’ll use our directory muscle to add a new web presence for you and outrank your opponents.

    SEO today, in reality, is (a) following the rules of page structure and content readability so that your site does what it should do and (b) just one-upping whatever your competition is doing.

  • April 14th, 2010 at 12:22 am Jack Fisher said:

    Keep cool, no need to compete on a cheap price.
    He who buys cheap, pays dear …? think was the saying.
    keep us posted and keep up the good work.

  • April 14th, 2010 at 5:33 am Andy said:

    I have been involved in web design and development for 15 years and have come across this quite a number of times and even worked for a company for a while that was doing exactly as you state and then some. I left because I couldn’t lie to customers.

    In my opinion I would report the SEO, because if no-one takes a stand now, then no-one will and enevitably makes it harder not just for the SEO consultants out there, but also for web designers in general.

    We are talking about money and these so called SEO consultants will undoubtably be doing as cheaply as they can to get away with and leaves no room for legitimate competition.

    I’ll tell you one thing. It’s downright hard and frustrating to do the right thing, when you have people like this, that basically rip businesses off. An old saying “when mud sticks”.

    An even more annoying feature I have come across is the ‘Adwords Professional’ badge you see on some web sites. Rules state that the badge needs to link back to Google in order to verify etc. Two businesses I reported had the badge on their site and were not ‘Adwords Professional’. It took a while but they were removed eventually.

  • April 14th, 2010 at 8:55 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Just to be clear: I wouldn’t really care too much if this SEO was doing it on his own sites. He can that chance if we wants to. But, I have a real problem with it when I see him putting his client’s business at risk.

    @Jack It goes something like that. Thanks for the compliment!

    @Andy Yeah, I don’t know how some people can recommend the things they do. I think I’m on a bit the paranoid side, so I play it really safe, especially on my client websites. No doubt displaying those badges when you haven’t earned them is about as shady as it gets.

  • April 14th, 2010 at 2:49 pm Dan Larkam said:

    Wow, sounds like sour grapes to me. Maybe you should convert your whine into wine.

  • April 14th, 2010 at 3:00 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    I’m not sour, just thought I’d put it out there for discussion.

  • April 15th, 2010 at 5:06 am Neer said:

    Well, I also face the same things when I go for bid…. Mostly clients look first to the bidders who quote cheap and most of the time bid just get closed with them and we get nothing. Well i think jack is right, we cannot compete to long with them…..

  • April 15th, 2010 at 11:19 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Neer! I see that a lot too. The funny thing is they’ll end up paying more in the long-run.

  • October 4th, 2010 at 2:40 pm piru said:

    He used absolutly the same content? I know a team which is making site networks, the only differnce they are making unique content (not 100% unique) I think they decided to get the 3 first rank with their sites…
    Is this black hat? Google penalyze for this?

  • October 4th, 2010 at 4:36 pm Wesley LeFebvre said:

    Hi Piru,
    From what i can remember he used about 98% of the same content, with the site name and pictures being the only real difference. Regarding the team you are referring to, it is tough to tell whether I would consider what they are doing as “blackhat” without being able to their web sites. At the same time, I’m not sure I really like labeling any technique as blackhat, because nearly everyone has a different perspective on what blackhat is. Some people can get away with exploiting certain opportunities within the search engine while others will get their hands slapped. Can a site be penalized for do what you are talking about? Possibly, but I’d definitely need to know more before I can say how risky it is.

  • October 5th, 2010 at 5:08 am piru said:

    What information you mean? Maybe i have them. This sitenetwork will go for one of my oldest clients keyword, and they are doing only for advertisments

  • October 5th, 2010 at 8:24 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    The actual website addresses.

    The most important thing I can suggest is to keep the content as unique as possible. Even if the services offered are the same, at least re-write the verbiage for each.

  • May 1st, 2011 at 3:56 pm bryan said:

    Nice link-bait article Wesley.

    It would have been nice if the article elaborated on HOW to properly use multiple domain names or even WHY what the other ‘SEO’ did was so bad.

    We can save the discussion on title’s being relevant to the content for a later date.

  • May 2nd, 2011 at 9:52 am Wesley LeFebvre said:

    PROOF why this method is stupid. All of these websites have gone offline now. This SEO completely wasted this guy’s money. Unfortunately for this business owner, his main site still links to all of these domain names in the footer section. The SEO probably wasn’t performing, got fired or the contract ended, and now this business owner is out a bunch of money and has a bunch of broken links on his site.

    If you’re an SEO currently looking for clients, this is a great opportunity to for you to contact this business owner and tell him about his broken links. I don’t think it appropriate for me to list the business owner’s information here or share those websites with you because I don’t want to out this SEO publicly. But, if you’re interested in figuring it all out, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll tell you what the four now-offline domain names are.

    Is it always wrong to try and rank two separate sites for the same keywords? No, it happens all the time. There are many major media brands that own several websites within the same niche. However, most of them use brandable domain names and offer some unique services and a lot of unique content on each (which is the real key). They don’t buy multiple keyword rich domain names with mild variants just to try and rank for those very similar keywords. If you look pas any short term “possible” gains, in the long-run it is going to be much harder to manage, maintain and rank all of those websites, when you could have just focused on one of them. In this case, they didn’t give them any real unique content. Just several identical websites with different pictures, and the same text. It didn’t work! This is exactly why SEOs have a bad name.

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