I've been asking my readers and subscribers for feedback on what they find to be obstacles to finding success with affiliate marketing. As a result, I've been learning a bit about what I take for granted as far as SEO knowledge goes.
At the top of the list? The concept that you should never blog on a free subdomain (i.e. yourblog.wordpress.com).
Believe it or not, the most common “defense” I hear from folks when I tell them this is that Seth Godin does it.
So, let me head that off at the pass and say that if you are an award-winning author and world-renowned marketer revered by an entire industry? Then you can get away with it. That said, even Seth Godin still shouldn't be doing it.
Because if you ever have to make a change, you'll lose all (or most of) the work you've done – at least in regards to ranking in the search engines. You'll also lose all of your social shares as far as the “counts” go.
The danger free subdomains pose to your search engine rankings
Search engine algorithms are built largely around inbound links and what those links tell
the various search engines Bing and Google about your site. The links to your site from other sites on the web tell the engines what your site is about, what words it should rank for and how important other sites on the web consider you. The more important those links infer that you are, the better you rank regarding the words the links imply that you're about – and the more search engine traffic you get. And while times are changing, and links are no longer the only factor, they are still an insanely large one.
So what does this have to do with blogging on a free subdomain? After all, people can link to yourblog.wordpress.com just as easily as they can to yourblog.com right? And the engines will still rank the site accordingly, right? And you have none of the hosting or domain registration fees!
And that's correct. But it's also dangerous. Why? It's dangerous because you can't move your site and keep all those links (and your resulting search engine rankings) while doing so.
Whenever you move a site (or page) from one address to another, you need to tell the search engines that you've done so to keep the credit from all your old links. And you do that with a 301 redirect.
Think of a 301 redirect as a change of address card. A 301 redirect tells the engines that your site (or page) has moved, but that it should transfer all of the “link credit” pointing to the old address to the new one. So when the search engine finds the 301 redirect on the old address, it knows to give the new address the same link credit (and hopefully rankings) that it gave the old one.
Free subdomains usually don't allow you to have access to .htaccess files – which is where you need to place the 301 redirect command for the search engines.
Essentially, you're stuck from a search engine perspective. You can put up a message for your human visitors, but the search engines won't know to credit your new site with all the link building and promotional work you've put into your old one. As far as the search engines go, it's an entirely new website because you can't notify them via the .htaccess that it's a change of address.
Building a site that you won't be able to move without starting over means you're putting a lot of trust into forever being happy with your subdomain provider.
They could shut down
Does anyone remember when Netscape hosted websites for free? They were a trusted provider in the days of yore. And then they shut down – and so did all the sites.netscape.net free subdomain sites they hosted. While they gave you ample warning, you were only able to move your site – not the credit aimed at your sites.netscape.com/yoursite address. The bottom line is that what is a trusted and popular subdomain provider today could be tomorrow's Geocities (also a free website provider of yore.)
They could start charging fees
Back in the day, a company called Homestead offered a WYSIWYG site builder and free hosting. But they eventually went the fully paid route. So if you wanted to keep your site.homestead.com website going – you needed to pay the monthly fee. While you were free to move your site if you didn't want to become a paying customer, you couldn't institute a 301 redirect to let the search engines know. So you end up having to choose between paying or having start over from a search engine rankings perspective.
They can take over your subdomain
Not every subdomain provider is reputable. “Your” website address belongs to them. If they want to delete your website and put something else (that they profit off of) in its place, they (usually) ensure they have every right to do so.
They could get banned
If a subdomain provider becomes a mecca for online web spam, the root domain as a whole could end up being removed from the Google index. If the root domain gets banned, then your subdomain (and all the hard work you've done promoting it) would be banned along with it.
“We absolutely do try to be granular, but I wanted to mention that if we see a very large fraction of sites on a particular freehost be spammy or low-quality, we do reserve the right to take action on the freehost as a whole.” – Matt Cutts, Principal Engineer at Google
You may simply decide you want to own your domain name
So maybe you know you want to host your site on a domain name you own in the long run but are using free subdomain hosting for the time being to save costs. The problem is that the five dollars per month you save now by not using a real host will end up costing you later. That “free” hosting means you have to either stay with the subdomain provider or face losing months or years worth of link building and promotion efforts if you decide to move.
Seth Godin may be able to survive all of the above without worrying about the loss of the 2 millions of links he's built, but the average person (me included) will not.
So why take the chance?
(If you need inexpensive but reliable hosting, I'd recommend you check out Netwisp.)