What’s the Difference Between Domain Forwarding and Masking?

If you frequently visit the internet, you will notice that some URLs change to a new domain name or a different website after clicking on them. 

But why is that? And how is it possible?

Well, URL masking and forwarding have always been a thing on the internet. Website owners use them to direct site visitors to a new domain name or website without spelling it out on the URL.

In this article, we will find out how this works. And the difference between domain masking and forwarding.

Let’s get to it.

What is Domain Forwarding?

Domain forwarding, also known as URL redirects, allows you to redirect your website visitors to a new website, domain, subdomain, or port.

For example, you have a new website on a different web hosting platform; you can redirect your previous web visitors to the new one. You could also use it to point your website visitors to your social media pages.

Domain forwarding can be done in two different ways,

  1. 301 redirects(permanent) and
  2. 302 redirects (temporary)

The 301 redirects use a “301 Moved Permanently” HTTP response to redirect website visitors, including search engines, to a new domain or website that has been changed or moved permanently. However, 301 redirects can be removed at any time.

On the other hand, the 302 redirects send a “302 Found” HTTP response to redirect your website visitors to a temporary page while still building or maintaining your site. 

However, the 301 redirects are best for SEO and would return about 90% of the old website’s traffic. 

Now that you know about the types of URL redirects, that brings us to the next port of call- domain forwarding types.

Types Of Domain Forwarding

When forwarding your domain, you could set your preferred forwarding type by choosing any of the following options below, and they are:

  • Forwarding Only: This type of forwarding allows you to redirect to the specific domain or website you provided in the “forward to” section. This means that the URL will show in the address bar.
  • Forwarding with masking: This forwarding type allows you to redirect to a new domain or website while choosing the desired URL you want to show in the address bar. You can also enter meta-tags for search engine optimization.

What is Domain Masking?

Domain masking involves cloaking or hiding the URL of a redirected page not visible to the user from the address bar. This could be done using an HTML inline frame, rewriting the URL, or by virtual hosting.

Generally, domain masking does an awful job to your user experience and should not be a go-to option. Thankfully, you could replace domain masking with the following alternatives.

  • Managing separate domains and creating different links for them.
  • Move your contents to one domain and redirect old links permanently.
  • Make use of a URL shortener/URL shortening service provider to shorten long links.
  • Eradicate duplicate contents by using canonical links.

Advantages of Domain Masking

Domain masking is used to cloak or hide URLs that might seem unlikable by website visitors. E.g., Affiliate links, subdomains, and long URLs.

You can agree that these URLs are not always click-worthy when they are seen in the address bar. So, website owners resort to domain masking to avoid scaring the users away, losing traffic, engagement, or even conversion.

However, domain masking does not always go well for user experience.

Disadvantages of Domain Masking

  1. Domain masking creates a poor user experience: Your users visit your site because they trust you and the contents you put out. In the case of domain masking, you might lose your users’ trust because it creates a bad user experience.

For example, savvy visitors could get suspicious of malicious websites or links and might withdraw from visiting your site. Domain masking also hinders users from saving your content. When they copy or bookmark your page, they end up keeping only the homepage. 

  1. Domain masking affects SEO negatively: Assuming the average bounce rate on your site is 2%. Masking your domain could shoot up to 20% when users notice that your links are cloaked. Search engines would then assume that your users are not satisfied with your content. And this could tell badly on your SEO. 

What’s more, domain masking could lead to duplicate content on your website. This could be a result of using the same URL for every page on your website. 

So, it is best to opt for domain forwarding or make use of URL shorteners for longer links to be on the safe side.

Differences between Domain Masking and Domain Forwarding

  • Domain forwarding redirects users to a new domain or website with straightforward responses to why they are being turned. But domain masking hides the URL of the new site or part from the users.
  • Domain forwarding (301 redirects) returns about 90% of the traffic from the old site. Domain masking could increase a site’s bounce rate.
  • While domain forwarding might not affect your site’s ranking and SEO score, domain masking tells badly on your SEO.
  • URL redirects are suitable for user experience – they help the users avoid getting lost while your site is under maintenance or moved permanently. Domain masking could lead to duplicate contents and URLs, which is terrible for the user experience.

Final Thoughts

Most times, website owners have to mask their domain names because they use a free web hosting platform. It is best to choose to register for a domain name and subscribe to a web hosting service that you can trust. That way, you won’t have to mask your domain names except when necessary. 

Or, you can opt for Domain forwarding, which is safer and more user-friendly to avoid a low SEO score or, in worst cases, lose your ranking.

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Working in the web hosting industry for over 13 years, Rado has inevitably got some insight into the industry. A digital marketer by education, Rado is always putting himself in the client's shoes, trying to see what's best for THEM first. A man of the fine detail, you can often find him spending 10+ minutes wondering over a missing comma or slightly skewed design.