The line between subdomain leasing and alternative revenue strategy

The line between subdomain leasing and alternative revenue strategy

Sites operating under a subdomain or subfolder of another brand are attracting attention from SEOs as well as search engines. This trend has most recently involved coupon sites that use a subdomain of well-entrenched media outlets, but could potentially be applied to any number of industries.

nike_coupon_codesGoogle’s many updates, algorithms can be manipulated.

Partners or domain landlords and subdomain tenants?

It is unlikely that these sites perform so well organically based on their own merit. They do not exactly offer unique content — many feature the same coupons and are even structured very similarly.

@theloish first blogged about this phenomenon as it pertained to European publications in June, 2018. In their Medium post, they estimated that discountcode.dailymail.co.uk’s annual revenue was roughly £8 million (about $9.7 million) per year. Discountcode.dailymail.co.uk is a partnership between Global Savings Group and the Daily Mail; it is unclear what percentage of revenue each partner receives.

User @theloish has also compiled a Google Sheet of over 220 coupon-related subdomains and subfolders, along with their operators and traffic estimates. Discountcode.dailymail.co.uk receives more traffic than the vast majority of the sites listed, but it’s safe to assume that the revenue generated from these sites, for their operators and their media partners, is considerable. That also suggests that the potential loss of revenue for dedicated coupon sites that exist on their own domains is likely to be significant, although some dedicated coupon sites may not profit from coupons submitted by users.

The reaction

Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller fielded a question regarding this issue during the Google Webmaster Central office hours session held on June 28.

“Maybe the right approach is to find a way to figure out what is the primary topic of this website and focus more on that, and then kind of leave these other things on the side,” he said, elaborating, “When it comes to quality, we try to look at the quality of a website overall. So, if there are particular parts of a website that are really low quality …. then overall, that could be degrading the quality of that site a little bit.”

Google also addressed the practice via a three-part tweet from its Google Webmasters account on August 14. It stated: “We’ve been asked if third-parties can host content in subdomains or subfolders of another’s domain. It’s not against our guidelines. But as the practice has grown, our systems are being improved to better know when such content is independent of the main site & treat accordingly. Overall, we’d recommend against letting others use subdomains or subfolders with content presented as if it is part of the main site, without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site. Our guidance is if you want the best success with Search, provide value-added content from your own efforts that reflect your own brand.”

User @theloish and other members of the SEO community have noticed a substantial dip in traffic amongst some of these coupon sites, such as coupons.businessinsider.com, which has seen its visits decrease by nearly a third between June and July 2019, and gutscheine.focus.de, which experienced a 30% decrease between March and July 2019 (both according to data from SimilarWeb). Not all coupon subdomains are experiencing traffic decreases and it is unclear whether they are a result of actions taken by Google or other search engines.

Members of the SEO community have also been monitoring these sites as they spring up, which has facilitated conversations about the relevance of such sites and the ethics surrounding how they operate.

Some agree with Global Savings Group’s position that coupons and news publications provide value for all parties involved. Others point to the nature and accessibility of coupons that make it ripe for this type of arrangement between third parties and publishers. The tweet below even attributes the traffic reduction to the aforementioned @theloish’s publicizing of the issue, and the link within it accuses @theloish of “denouncing competitors as a last resort to seek justice for failure in the market.”

Agreed and I am not really that familiar with these, so might be wrong, but aren’t they serving user intent much like the coupon flyer in a newspaper used to?

— Kristine Schachinger (@schachin) August 29, 2019

The implications

Whether coupon sites are relevant to media publications and serve their audiences is just one scenario, and search engine algorithms will have to compare a countless number of match-ups across numerous industries.

For third-party content creators, where search engines draw the line may necessitate a new business model, or open the floodgates for a proliferation of subdomains with tenuous relationships to the main domain.

For site owners, renting out a subdomain to an unrelated, unsupervised third-party may have consequences on your own organic visibility, which may impact revenue. If it doesn’t, then we’re witnessing a new way for publishers to generate revenue — and, perhaps, a method for those publishers to use their influence in one sector to gain a questionable search advantage in other sectors.



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