Some time after writing this article, a viewer kindly pointed out an error in my information regarding my use of the site prefix "www". To see the correction and links to threads discussing this topic, see my G+ post here.
Recently I asked Google+ readers to submit Google Sites questions they would like answered and stated that if I didn't have an answer I would try to find one. The very first required research though I had run across this term before. The actual question follows next.
“I would like to know more about how to mask sites on the domain. How to manage DNS records on go daddy for example....”
The answer has three parts. The first part asks about domain masking in general while the second and third ask for specific information about GoDaddy DNS management and Google Sites domain masking. The answers are organized in the same order. Read all sections or skip around as you like.
- What is domain masking?
- How is DNS managed in GoDaddy?
- How are Google Sites websites masked?
To use domain masking you need to know two key terms because both are used to mask a domain.
- domain forwarding: redirection of “www.a.com” to “www.b.com”, the url changes at the destination url
- viewer inputs www.a.com address but is forwarded to www.b.com, the viewer will see www.b.com in the address
- domain masking: same as above definition except url does not change but instead is hidden (masked) so users are not aware that they are being redirected to another website
- viewer inputs www.a.com address but is forwarded to www.b.com, the viewer will see www.a.com in the address
- domain shadowing
- domain cloaking
- stealth redirection
- url hiding
- url frames
- affiliate or other pages/sites that are not part of a website but need to appear as such
- forwarding one domain to another
- hide really long domain names
- improve search results for domains names currently using poorly chosen keywords
- point a better search engine optimized site to a dead site
Two methods are available with the first one being the oldest. See Resources section for more information about how domain masking works.
- frames are added to the Head of the document
- mod_rewrite command
- done in the server program
“Handling of domain name masking comes in two forms: Iframe method and through a mod_rewrite command. These things are pretty technical but just to give a gist, Iframing an old site in the newer domain page that is now masked would entail creating a webpage and a window to view the other site or page through that window. The mod_rewrite command on the other hand provides instructions to a web server which in the end allows serving the pages of the new website under the domain of the old one.”
Having two sites with the same content but with two different urls seems like it might cause problems specifically for Google products that collect and process data such as Webmaster Tools, Adwords or Analytics. I looked but could not find information though I did find one mention that it might violate Terms of Service for Adwords. Regardless, there are other problems associated with domain masking.
- Search Engines
- creates duplicate content that might penalize your site
- real site might not be the one indexed but may be the masked site or neither
- saw a mention of this but no specifics provided
- dual addresses might be confusing to viewers, if known
- bookmarks might not work
I wasn't sure if the part of the question was asking about DNS alone or in relationship to domain masking. So, I chose the latter. See the Sources section for links “how to” set up domain masking in GoDaddy.
There are so many “how to” tutorials for domain masking in GoDaddy, that a step-by-step tutorial is redundant. What might not be explained is what the three input boxes for title, description and meta tags are for in the Advanced Section of the “Domain Masking” section. These provide unique information to the page/site being masked to distinguish it as unique and not seen as duplicate content.
Domain masking is the final, third step of the domain name process. Set up is the same for both a stand-alone Google Account and a Google Apps Account except for step one. The Google Sites Help forum has several posts asking how to do this if you want more information. At least one such post is listed in the Sources section.
- step one: “add a domain name” to the Google Site website.
- Google Account
- log into account
- open website into the “Web Address” page
- enter the domain name into the input box
- watch for confirmation message at page top
- select the “add” link
- Google Apps
- log into Google Apps account
- “Settings” tab, top, right corner
- “Sites” link, left navigation menu
- “Web Address Mapping”, top, right, fourth tab
- “Add a new web address” link, top of page
- two input boxes display
- enter site name: yourswebsitename.com
- enter sub-domain: www (www.yourwebsitename.com) or knitting (knitting.yourwebsitename.com), for example
- step two: “map a domain name” to a site from the domain host via the DNS section by adding a record, row of data, to the CName table.
- top, right corner, select Black tab "My Account"
- page should open with the with the "Products" tab open (though there are others)
- find the domain name and select the "Launch" button next to it
- "Domain Details" page opens
- find "DNS Manager" in the middle, bottom of page
- select the "Launch" link
- "Zone File Editor" page opens
- page has several tables each with a name
- find "CName" table
- at the bottom, select "Quick Add" link, a new row is added
with empty cells, do the following
- input "www" without the quotes
- input "ghs.google.com" without the quotes
- leave drop down menu set to "1 hour"
- top, right of tables, "Save Zone File" button
- step three: “mask the domain name”, done in the DNS section.
- See tutorial link in the Sources section for GoDaddy.
You can also forward a naked domain name (yourwebsitename.com without the “www”) to your www address (www.yourwebsitename.com) if your domain host provides this service. This will direct viewers to www.yourwebsitename.com when using yourwebsitename.com. See the Sources section for instructions for GoDaddy and follow steps 1 - 7.
Though this was not part of the original question, it should be asked. According to Google's “Webmaster Guidelines”, see Sources section below, “don't use cloaking or sneaky redirects” and “Don't create multiple pages, sub-domains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.”
“. . . .illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise impacted by an algorithmic or manual spam action. If a site has been affected by a spam action, it may no longer show up in results on Google.com or on any of Google's partner sites.”
You have to answer this question for yourself. Do you want to take the risk? I don't have enough experience to comment.
If all you want to do is drive viewers from www.a.com to www.b.com, there is a right way to do it using domain forwarding. Research states that this is more search engine friendly and that you maintain your search engine rankings in the forwarded site.
If this is not what you want, I found a site that offered some creative solutions. See Sources below.
Researching this subject, I found a ton of sites explaining “how to” set up domain masking, most of which were hosting sites, but few that mentioned “whether you should”. So, beware. Just because this information is ubiquitous doesn't mean that it is a good idea. Hosting sites want your money and may not be concerned about the health of your site. Had I not researched this subject, I, too, might have been swayed by the sheer number of sites to try it myself.
I was tempted but have changed my mind once I read Google's Webmaster Tools guidelines. I don't want to damage my site's current rank but I might try it with a test site, though. If anyone has used this, consider sharing your experience. Was it helpful or harmful? How? For what specifically? I am curious if the warnings are valid.
Did I answer the question? Was it correct? No doubt I missed something and I might have errors. If you find either, please let me know and I will make corrections.