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How to Choose a Domain Name with SEO in Mind. Part 1: Brand vs Keywords

September 30th, 2011 | | Posted in category Google Search Engine Optimization Website Usability

Several years ago, I worked for a website called ctnews dot com. CT (coil tubing), was quite a popular abbreviation in the industry the website dealt with.

Now imagine someone is asking you to write "ctnews" down... Aha, that's it! When talking about our website offline, we had hard times explaining people ctnews didn't include "city" – I guess half of our targeted traffic was lost that way.

Lesson learned: a domain name should be user-friendly, i.e. spelling and pronunciation ambiguity should be avoided.

But let's leave the linguistic aspect out and focus on SEO.

The first SEO question future website owners are confronted with is:

Should I go for a Brand or Exact Keyword Match?

Say you want your blog to rank for "viral marketing". Should you look into viralmarketing.com/.net/.org/.info/..., or should you take the path of Viper Chill and set up a brand?

From the SEO perspective, domain names with embedded keywords, especially exact match domains (EMDs), seem to be a great option.

They tell both users and search engines what the website is about. Thus, search engines get an additional signal that a website should rank for a keyword. People who browse the web also get evidence that the website is relevant to their search term.

Let's have a look:

 

Ok, all these domain names seem to be perfect from the SEO point of view. They communicate both people and search engines that the websites actually check the Page Rank. But will users remember these names and type them unconsciously into the tool bar next time they need a PR checker? Can a user tell the difference between checkpagerank.net and checkpr.org? I don't think so.

The SEO advantage is not that huge either – Google takes dozens more factors into account when ranking websites.

Matt Cutts, answering the question How important is it to have keywords in a domain name?, says he personally tends to lean a bit more towards things that are brandable, especially if one is trying to shoot for a big success. Some people are complaining that Google gives too much weight for keywords in domains, and they've been thinking about adjusting the algorithm so that given the two different domains it wouldn't necessarily help you that much to have a domain with a bunch of keywords in it.

Translating Matt into might-free English: Google did give preference to domains with keywords as of March 2011 (and continues now?), but that will change.

Darren Rose of ProBlogger suggests a great way out of the brand vs keyword dilemma.

He says keyword based domains and brandable domains are not mutually exclusive. Actually, Darren's own website – ProBlogger - is a brilliant example of a brand with incorporated keywords. It's a brand people know, yet it indicates that the content is for professional bloggers.

So much for the experts. Let's look at a few more examples.

1. http://www.theminimalists.com/ – a keyword-rich domain for a blog about minimalism. Not much brand distinction, but reputation, rankings and traffic are high.

http://www.searchengineland.com, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/ – highly-reputable resources with keyword-rich domains.

2. http://www.sethgodin.com/ – one of the best blogs about marketing with a name as a domain. Even if you're no Seth Godin, consider this option when naming your website. With today's shift towards social media, people tend to trust websites with personality more.

3.http://zenhabits.net/ – a minimalist blog as well, a brand domain name communicating the topic. The happy domain naming medium Darren was talking about.

The bottom line? As you can see, keyword-rich, brandable and mixed domains can be driven to the Google top. It is the idea behind the website and the content that matter.

If you want a micro-niche website to earn money from AdSense, dig for keyword domains – this will boost your SEO.

If you're looking into creating a blog/website that will stand out, think of a brand or a mixed option.

Have a different viewpoint or experience? Comments are welcome!

In the second part of How to Choose a Domain Name with SEO in Mind we'll talk about other aspects of choosing a domain name.

The name I want is taken, now what? Do .info websites rank? Should hyphens be avoided? Should I use country-specific domain names? What prefixes and suffixes can be employed?

Stay tuned for Part II, and let's get your questions answered.

 



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