Addon domains are domain names, pointing to a website root other than the primary on a hosting account. They are most often used by bloggers and small site owners as a cheap alternative to purchasing additional hosting for a second website.
While it might be tempting to get more out of your hosting dollars, there are some important implications to consider before making this step. This post will help you understand, what it means to have an addon domain and how it affects SEO and website management.
What is an Addon Domain?
An addon domain is a domain name that you register just as any regular domain. What makes a domain addon, is the way the site under it is hosted. Usually, you must have a separate hosting account for each domain name, which is then called primary domain. In such cases, all resources and settings are tied to the primary domain. This is the most common setup of shared hosting.
When you purchase an additional domain that you add to an existing hosting account, such a domain is set as an addon. Addon domains share all of the hosting account’s resources with the primary domain.
Addon domains give you the opportunity to host two or more websites under two or more different domain names on a single hosting account. It is, however, important to understand that using a hosting account for multiple websites isn’t just a technicality but can have implications for SEO and business strategies.
What in fact happens, when you create a website under an addon domain, is that all its files end up in a subdirectory of your root directory. As a result, the system registers the domain pointing to it as a subdomain of the primary domain. In other words, the new website will be be accessible both at myaddondomain.com and myaddondomain.myprimarydomain.com. A subdomain created this way cannot be removed without removing the whole addon domain-setup.
If you are wondering, whether there is a difference between a subdomain and an addon domain, there is one: you can set up email accounts for each domain and addon domain, while subdomains will always have to refer to the primary domain.
Some try to prevent the subdomain-issue by placing the root of the addon domain outside the public_html folder. This tactic, however, doesn’t have the desired effect. Most hosting providers warn also against placing a root directory outside public_html and the reason is that the server settings might cause problems with indexing, accessing or editing your content.
Additionally, you won’t avoid the creation of a subdomain and you won’t achieve equal status between the two websites. The reason is simply that it’s the hosting account’s settings that define how the two domains and directories will be treated.
Likewise, the hosting resources will still be shared between the two websites precisely the same way. Keep it mind that most shared hosting accounts won’t allow you to regulate, how much resources are dedicated to the two websites. In most cases, this is either predefined or not regulated at all, meaning that resources will be used on first come, first served basis.
When talking about resources, it isn’t only disc space, RAM, and bandwidth that matter. Maybe even more importantly but often overseen limitations hosting providers set are the php limits: file upload, memory, and time. Often, secondary websites on a hosting account battle with lower limits than the primary website, making website management really difficult.
Besides the technical considerations in connection to addon domains, there are important SEO implications that must be taken into account before making the decision to develop a website under an addon domain.
Firstly, you are going to deal with a consistency issue due to linking your primary domain to the automatically created subdomain. Given that it is two completely separate websites you are building, you can bump into issues with:
- different programming languages
- different content languages
- different topics (branch)
- SSL certificate inconsistency
Even though Google claims to be good enough at identifying the role of subdomains as separate websites or website extensions, you are taking a risk by linking your main website to the new one. The two websites can end up sharing ranking signals in an unpredictable way.
You have to also be aware of the fact that, as long as Google can pick up the subdomain – and yes they can – they will show it to internet users. Unfortunately, you cannot do anything to prevent that because the classic solution, where you block crawlers’ access to the root directory by editing robots.txt, cannot be used here, as it would also block the access to the site under the addon domain. Do you want internet users to see and connect the new website with your established one?
Lastly, as long as you are using a single-domain SSL certificate on your primary domain, you’ll run into certification issues, once the subdomain goes live.
Secondly, the fact that the new website will appear both under the addon domain and the subdomain will cause duplicate content issues. While duplicate content isn’t always problematic, it’s most likely to cause troubles when it’s found on two separate domains, as would be the case here. Worst case scenario, this will result in removal of the site under the addon domain from the index.
How to Make it Okay to Use Addon Domains?
While it will never be an optimal solution to use addon domains, sometimes it might be your only option. Here are some steps you can take to diminish the negative SEO-impact:
- You must own and manage both domains, not outsource or sell the addon domain: this way you are not threatened by blacklisting due to illegal or spam activity performed via the addon domain.
- Treat the primary domain as a shell: some webmasters suggest to buy a cheap domain, which is basically unused, then create addon domains in the same account and treat them as primary domains. This way you won’t get your addons associated with an existing website – as such a website doesn’t exist.
- Make sure the topics of the two websites are similar: if you have a website or a blog about hunting, for example, and then create another one about cooking, guns, or something which can be related to the original topic, it might even be beneficial to use an addon domain.
- Purchase hosting plan that doesn’t limit you too much in terms of space, bandwidth, MySQL, php, etc. Blogs and websites can require a lot of resources and sharing already limited resources might cause everything from inability to develop further or update your sites to crashes, slow page loading, limited traffic, etc. You should also check whether your hosting provider allows you to use addon domains, as this isn’t a standard service.
If your websites or blogs are going to be about completely different topics, the server resources are not enough or you want to make sure that your domains’ ranks won’t get affected, you should go for the only available option: separate hosting plans.
The benefits of choosing this option are many, while the only benefit of using addon domains is saving money.
To summarize, addon domains are domains pointing to a subdomain but rendering as a regular domain. While this is not optimal from SEO point of view, it’s a good choice for a hobby blogger, someone creating similar or related content on multiple websites or blogs, or a small business trying to get more online presence without spending too much on it.