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Domain Name Consolidation - Observations from the Field

Domain Name Consolidation

The market and marketing of Web property domain names is changing. Companies prefer to promote top level domains (TLDs), have the option of selecting brand-relevant domain extensions (e.g. SaaS.com), and no longer need country-relevant domains to optimize search engine result rankings. This provides an opportunity to reduce "domain name fragementation" but also presents business and technical challenges if a migration is required from the active use of multiple domains to one, two, or a few domain names.

I decided to write this blog post to address these challenge because I've seen multiple customers consolidate domain names. From a business perspective, domain name fragmentation has a direct  impact on increased operational expenses. However, if a domain name consolidation project is not done properly, it can drive the wrong crowds to the wrong site (or drive wanted crowds away) and impact conversions or the business objectives.

DevOps or other operational teams need to prepare for and address the technical challenges of domain name consolidation. It's interesting to see how most of my customers settle on a similar approach. This blog post will document that approach in hope this can serve as reference to any potential organization that is considering to address its domain name fragmentation challenge.

What is Domain Name Consolidation Anyway?

To answer that, let's start with domain name fragmentation. Domain name fragmentation is when an organization publishes its digital assets on multiple domain names. A classic example would be an organization which has country specific domain names that will serve content tailored to the relevant audience, such as www.customer.comwww.customer.co.ukwww.customer.co.jpcustomer.co.il, and so on.

Managing multiple domain names (I've seen customers manage more than 100 different domain names) requires complicated maintenance and administration, the need for simplified monitoring (think of an organization working with multiple registrars in multiple countries), and increased operational costs.

Consolidating domain name management reduces that complexity. If the customer can consolidate multiple into one or two domain names (customer.com and/or www.customer.com) without compromising search engine result rankings / SEO. In a later post I may also look into reducing the attack surface and some other security aspects of domain names consolidation.

How Can Akamai Help?

Most of my customers have migrated from serving content from multiple country-specific domain names, such as customer.de and www.customer.de , to a subdirectory approach, such as www.customer.com/de-de.

Steps to achieve this:

  1. Inventory the domain names to be consolidated, such as www.customer.co.ukwww.customer.co.jpcustomer.co.il, etc., by reviewing DNS records and monitoring tools. An example would be using DNS Dumpster, but there are other tools that can be used for this task.
  2. The destination domain name(s) is/are the domain name(s) which we want to migrate to; the original domain names are the existing, pre-migration domain names that we currently have.
  3. Decide on the destination domain names to which the original fragmented domain names will be consolidated, such as www.customer.com and/or customer.com.
  4. Determine and implement the subdirectory structure needed to  support the desired localization, language and/or marketing objectives. Google has a great writeup about managing multi-regional and multi-lingual sites.
  5. Decide how top level domains (TLDs) will be handled. DNS RFCs do not support CNAME alias records for TLDs and TLDs are often used for more than Web services (such as using MX records for SMTP mail). TLDs may therefore require an HTTP/S redirect which can introduce an additional network round trip that will have a performance cost and business impact. The zone apex mapping feature of Akamai's FastDNS authoritative name service can avoid this by providing different responses for non-Web queries while responding with a CNAME alias record when we want end users to connect to a CDN edge node for either the desired content (consolidated destination domain) or an HTTP 301 permanent redirect from the original fragmented domain names to the consolidated destination domain name. Managing redirects can be more efficiently performed via Akamai's Edge Redirector Cloudlet. (The benefits and some real life data from an Akamai customer who implemented Edge Redirector can be found in this blog post).
  6. Determine a method of monitoring domain usage over time and set targets for how long the original fragmented domain names will remain active. Monitoring can be done via your DNS provider, as well as by using Akamai reports that show traffic over time for a certain domain. While traffic on the original fragmented domain names should decrease immediately, it may not drop down to zero due to user habits and bookmarks, bots and automated tools.
  7. Deactivate the original fragmented domain names by removing DNS record entries and server hosts when the migration is determined to be successful.

Bringing It All Together

Managing digital assets and Web properties is no joke as it could have an impact on business KPIs. One must understand the end goal and its impacts, confirm a proper plan has been carefully laid out with proper execution and monitoring. As I've mentioned in the beginning of this blog post - several of my customers have been going through this transformation successfully, with Akamai in the background helping them to achieve the desired result.

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