Imagine being able to lease space on a high-value domain name like Attorney.com with the exclusive rights to your geographic area.
RootOrange is making it happen by showing different websites on a generic URL based on the browser’s IP address. Basically, if I browse to Attorney.com from Richmond I’ll see a local attorney’s website, while if you visit the site from Seattle you’ll see a Seattle-based attorney’s website instead.
In geek-speak, the different sites are served in an i-frame and targeted based on the browser’s IP geo-location.
Is This a Bad Idea?
From an SEO standpoint, I can think of many reasons this is a bad idea for local businesses concerned about SEO and long-term sustainability:
- No Ownership or Equity in the Domain – Businesses essentially lease the domain name from RootOrange. At the end of the lease (or when lease rates become unsustainable), the businesses are left with nothing of value. No domain name, no website, no way to tell repeat visitors where to find them in the future.
- No Visibility in Search Engines – Maybe RootOrange has concocted a solution, but currently search engines either ignore content in i-frames or attribute the content to the site that serves it, not the site that hosts the i-frame. The proposed implementation would seem to indicate that the generic domain (i.e. Attorney.com) would have no unique content of its own. Currently it is a parked domain with ads on it and no apparent content strategy to rank well in the organic search results.
- Potential Cloaking Issues – Cloaking occurs when human visitors are shown different content than search engine crawlers in an attempt to manipulate search results. Again, maybe RootOrange has figured this out but I can foresee issues when these previously high-ranking domains are penalized for serving different content to humans and bots.
Is This a Good Idea?
Then again, domain leasing could be the equivalent of leasing a prominent office location on your town’s Main Street. Type-in traffic (web users typing in attorney.com) would be equivalent to drive-by visibility or window shoppers that notice your business just because it’s there.
It also may be a cost-effective alternative to the industrial-strength SEO required to compete on generic, high-volume keywords.
But to the sophisticated marketer that knows the value of “the long tail” of search queries, location-based domain splitting may just be a short-term distraction that delays the inevitable leap of faith into SEO that gives your competitors a few more months or years head start.