When starting a new website, one of the first and most important decisions you have to make is choosing a domain name. And choosing one that is available has gotten even harder, as more and more good ones are purchased by domain squatters looking for you to buy one at a premium price. You may need to be prepared to pay $500 and above to get the name of your choice if a squatter owns it. If this is the case, hire the services of a third (emotionally neutral) party who has experience in successful retrievals. It is crucial to get the right one, because a good domain name can improve search ranking, click-throughs, social media marketing, and brand awareness.
Domain Names for SEO
Two Kinds of Domain Names
- Root Domains (this is what this article is about)
- Sub-Domains (such as blog.2cdevgroup.com)
Since root domains are at the top level in domain hierarchy, this is where you will get the most out of your SEO efforts. Sites built on sub-domains receive less SEO juice out of the gate, according to our experience, which is verified by tests conducted by Moz. While this is a tactic that many large companies use, or even smaller companies, using services like Blogger.com, you must go into this with your eyes open.
We suggest considering using a sub-folder on your root domain, to house blocks of content, and using sever level commands to point another domain name to the sub-folder on your root domain. This will require expertise, but you will fair better in the long haul using this method.
Brand vs Keyword Rich Domain Names
As Google has advanced its algorithm to recognize brands in accruing ranking points from domain names, there has been a shift from strictly using keywords in domain names, when possible, to including more branding.
You will read a lot of articles that say one or the other is the best, however, we suggest taking a thinking approach, because both can be right in different situations.
We have consulted with many clients since 1996, and have tested many domains in that time. Below, we share what we have learned.
So which type of domain name is right for you?
Start by asking yourself:
- Is my company name memorable, or not?
- Is my company name long and hard to spell?
- Is my company name pronounceable?
You see, the first question really is, “Do I have a good company name?”
With Google leaning towards branding in domain names, it has become more important to have a catchy, easy to spell company name.
Have you noticed that more and more large corporations are rebranding with shorter company names? Think of KFC. Short. Easy. Memorable. Makes a nice domain name: kfc.com
- It’s not too late for you to rebrand, either.
- Don’t get stuck in a rut.
- Decide if your company name fits the quick attention span of your customers.
Pay attention to how it will look spelled out in a browser, or on your business card.
This was a non-winner for a recent political candidate in Kansas. Can you see why?
Make sure your audience can even pronounce your company name.
The Business Insider has a humorous article about unpronounceable company names. Can you pronounce the name of the yogurt company Fage? Nope. It’s so bad that the company had to hire Chef Bobby Flay to do a commercial that explains how to pronounce it. Oops.
Examples of good company names, that make good domain names.
Let’s use 2C as a case in point.
When our CEO started designing websites in 1995, she put up her first fledgling website under the domain name, networth.com. This came from her slogan, “Get your ‘nets worth!” In the pioneering days of web dev, she was telling clients to get on board, get their first website and expand their ability to do business. This was long before sophisticated Google algorithms, but it caught on because it was catchy, easy to spell, and was making a brand new statement to the business world.
Then, in 1996, she joined forces with her business partner, Karen Rafferty, and needed a new name. At 3 am, after about 16 cups of coffee, they came up with it.
Here was our criteria:
- it must state what you do
- it must be easy to spell
- it must be memorable
So, our answers to those criteria were, ‘we are 2 chicks, whose work is generated from computers’. Thus 2computerchicks.com was born.
As you can imagine, it took off like wild fire. We got calls from all over the world, our clientele blew up, and we generated name brand recognition. Sometimes, we got calls from people who had heard about the ‘2 chicks’, and just wanted to make sure we were real, and not a myth. Good times.
Then our company grew and changed, so we decided to relate our branding to that growth. We wanted to keep our branding similar, while representing that we are not just 2 chicks anymore, so we kept the ‘2c’ and became 2C Development Group.
- That is more than 15 characters, so we shortened it to: 2cdevgroup.com
- We shorten things even more when answering the phone, “2C, how can I help you?”
Can you see this all in light of KFC? Food for thought for your branding decisions.
Branded Domain Names
This one is pretty straight forward. Sometimes, your given name IS your brand. Think: stephenking.com. Or, you may have picked a good company name, that already has wide name recognition. Use the rules above in creating your domain name.
Use your name, or company name, if you can say, ‘Yes’ to these:
- My name IS my brand (realtors, writers, artists).
- My company name, or brand, is highly recognized (Ford, Amazon, Kroger, Ace Hardware, Moz)
Keyword / Local Domain Names
So, this is an art and a science. The science is to follow the guidelines in this article. The art is in finding clever ways to weave your branding in with keywords resulting in a catchy, unique domain name.
The benefits of a keyword-rich domain are:
- your domain name = ranking factor
- your domain name = anchor text = important ranking factor
Use an important keyword phrase with branding, if:
- you are a brand new company that has no current SEO leverage
- you are in a highly competitive market (vitamins, jewelry, books, cars, etc)
There is such as thing as exact match domain names (EMDs). It can definitely have advantages, we have found, especially when the EMD is closely related to the brand itself.
Example: Blitz’s Snow Removal, a deicing and snow removal service in Wichita, KS, chose: wichitasnowremoval.com. For years, this website has been #1 for this exact match search term on Google. We see the power of this, in spite of the fact that no new new fresh content has been added, and the site is not mobile-friendly. Obviously, this site is riding on some pretty tight coat tails, and will not always enjoy this ranking, but remains as a good example of the power of EMDs. If you want a really deep delve into EMDs, read Moz’s article.
Geo-Based Domain Names
If your company’s primary service area is local, using a locale in your domain name, along with your brand, can help you be found in local searches.
Example: Rainbow Vending Inc, a vending machine sales and service company serving Denver only, chose a geo-based domain name to help them be found in their locale: DenverVendingMachines.com.
Top Things to Avoid in Domain Names
Hyphens detract from credibility, and can act as a spam indicator to Google.
- Unusual Domain Name Extensions
Top-level domains (like .com) are the extensions associated with domain names. For best ranking results, avoid .info, .cc, .ws, and .name. Google sees them as possible spam.
Avoid domain names longer than 15 characters. Short domain names are easier to remember, easier to share on social media, and have a smaller chance of resulting in typos.
As Bob Parsons says, “A domain name is your address, your address on the Internet. We all have a physical address; we’re all going to need an address in cyberspace. They’re becoming increasingly important. I believe we’ll get to the point where when you’re born, you’ll be issued a domain name.”