The Geek-Free Guide to Choosing the Perfect Domain Name

Domain Name Extensions

Domain Name Extensions (Photo credit: The Booklight)

Selecting the right domain name is often the first and one of the most important decisions an online entrepreneur can make. Your goal should be to choose a domain name that you and your audience will find easy to remember and use (no one wants to type “joes-dry-cleaning-and-tailoring-in-the-upper-east-side.com” into a web browser address bar). You want to choose a domain name that will appreciate with time, through the eyes of both Google and your online community.

Most small business owners (and, unfortunately, their web designers) commonly overlook the important role that domain name choice plays in search engine rankings and people-friendliness. While it is important to put usability (ease-of-use) and branding ahead of search engines, Google (and other SE’s) will always place some value on the keywords in your domain, even if for the sole purpose of helping to understand the topical relevance of your site.

Exact Match Domain Names

The Holy Grail of domains, an exact match domain name is simplty one where the domain name is an exact match of the primary keyword you wish to rank for (the single best keyword for your business). For example, the best domain name for a divorce lawyer in Dallas would be: http://dallasdivorcelawyer.com.

Try this: Perform a search for the phrase “credit cards” and you will quickly see that Google, Bing and other major search engines place significant weight on keyword matches in domains.

Creditcards.com still outranks Visa, MC and Amex in Google results

Creditcards.com still outranks Visa, MC and Amex in Google results

 

Recently, Google published algorithm updates that “lowered the ranking signals” of exact-match domains. The following excerpt from  SEO Moz’s Exact Match Domain Playbook explains why exact match domains (EMD’s) often ger a bad rap through over-use by internet marketers who often poor-quality sites

Exact match domains have always been the source of a lot of contention among SEOs. For quite some time, EMD’s have offered a competitive advantage for SEO’s who understood how to use them. In the early days of search when relevance algorithms were rather weak, many folks used “double dashed” domains because they were cheap to buy, and easy to rank. $6 to rank for a 3 word phrase. Sold. However, when you see best-online-seo-company.biz in your search result, you start to question the weighting of relevance factors. This is, in large part, how EMD’s got a bad rep to start with.

Choose a Domain Name That’s Perfect For Both Google and Your Audience

While most of the killer exact match domain names are long gone, or on auction for hundreds or thousands of dollars (there’s seldom a reason to buy an exact match domain, don’t be suckered in!), you can still find a great domain that includes target search terms, telling both Google and your audience what you site is about.

If you look at most local business websites, you will quickly see just how few website owners are taking advantage of this important and simple SEO technique. Nearly every local business website uses the same “business name-focused” naming convention: www.yourname.com. This serves no SEO value, as this domain has zero relevant keywords. (If you were searching for a plastic surgeon in Denver, you would likely not perform a search for “Dr. John Doe.”)

Following this example, “www.thedenverplasticsurgeon.com” would be a much more effective domain name than “www.DrJohnDoe.com.” Using relevant keywords in your domain is just one of several powerful best practices that this article covers.

10 Steps to the Ultimate Domain Name

  1. Use relevant keywords. Start by brainstorming the top five or six keyword phrases that relate to your business. For example, if you are a bankruptcy lawyer in Dallas, you may list the following keyword phrases: Bankruptcy, Lawyer, Lawyers, Attorney, Attorneys, Dallas. HOT TIP:  Using the word “the” at the beginning of your domain (theaustindentist.com) is effective for both branding and SEO. Many of these are still available.
  2. Keep your domain short. This is important for several reasons: users should be able to remember your website address, shorter addresses display better in SERPS (search engine results pages) and fit better on business cards.
  3. Use the dot-com TLD. Users often place more trust in “.com” websites and assume it most often when remembering website URL. Get creative and come up with a domain that ends in “.com” only. If you must use a specific keyword pattern, go with “.net” or “,org” only. But be warned, whoever owen the “.com” version will almost certainly siphon-off some of your hard-earned branding and traffic.
  4. Save the branding for the big boys. Crafting your local business domain name may not be the best time to get ultra-creative. This isn’t the time to invent new words or create a new online revolution. Zappos.com can get away with this but you’re better off with “www.thedenvershoestore.com.”
  5. Avoid hyphens and special characters.  Hyphenated URLs are troublesome to communicate, look “spammy” and may even have negative effects on organic rankings.  Find a clean looking URL with no breaks, underscores or hyphens. Save yourself the pain of trying to say “go to San Francisco, hyphen, medical, hyphen, supplies dot com..” at a cocktail party of meetup event.
  6. Make sure your domain describes what you do. Many site owners make the mistake of generating the “wrong traffic,” that is, attracting users that won’t convert into clients. For example, a site called “www.freestockinfo.com” that offers a $500 investment course may discourage users and yield little if any benefits.
  7. Avoid tricks and shortcuts. Many people try to capture misguided traffic in the form of misspelled domain names. Google (and people) have caught on to such practices and these tactics seldom pay off (buying “DenverHairSaloon.com” won’t do any good nowadays).
  8. Do not pay “cyber-squatters” for domain names. Buying and selling domain names has blossomed into an extremely lucrative industry, based largely on small business owners paying too much for “aged” and “reserved” domains. Right around the time you start enjoying increased visibility and traffic to your site, you’ll also start receiving more emails and phone calls from sales reps selling you an exhaustive number of things including domain names. In most cases, paying more than a couple hundred bucks for a domain name you really, really like isn’t warranted. Keep searching for a great domain using the tactics outlined in this article and spend the money you’ve saved on marketing.
  9. Age before beauty. A common practice to boost the SEO value of your site is to purchase “aged domains” that have built some link value and gained page rank. When doing this, it’s important to redirect the purchased domain(s) to your base domain.
  10. Ensure that all pages contain relevant keywords. This doesn’t just pertain to your home page. All articles, product descriptions, blog posts, etc., should be optimized. Many sites use a URL convention that fails to use keywords. What looks better to you: www.widgets.com/products/widgets-for-doing-stuff.html or www.widgets.com//products/productID=22349.html? (I sure hope you picked the first one.) The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress allows you to configure SEO-friendly permalinks.

 Related Video: How important is it to have keywords in a domain name?