Domain names

Whether you’re an established offline brand wanting to build a web presence, a start up web-based company, or about to start a new online marketing campaign, there are some common tips for choosing a domain name that will stand you in good stead with the search engines.

Are domain names important for SEO?

In itself, your website domain name is not as important in terms of pure SEO as content, backward linking strategy or HTML considerations. However, it can help or hinder you in terms of the importance search engines attribute to links to your website and of course if you’re considering a new venture with a brand or company name tying in with a domain, it’s a key decision.

Ultimately, your aim should be to strike a balance between a keyword rich relevant name that search engines will like and a (new or existing)  memorable brand with positive connatations.

How to pick a suitable domain name

Related to your business – balancing brand and keywords for SEO

A common aim for both SEO and brand is that your company name and domain name should be related to your business. Both humans and search engines will find your domain name more relevant if it contains a reference to your business.

Not enough relevant keywords

For example, if an imaginary car dealer: Bob Stokes decides to start a new business with a supporting website named www.sweetwheels.com, it’s not immediately obvious to a human or search engine that it’s about cars. As far as search engines are concerned, it could be about liquorice.

Bear in mind other websites will be linking to yours in most cases using either your company name or the domain itself as the anchor text. It’s this text that search engines will use to attribute relevance to your website, so if it’s apparently unrelated to your website subject matter and area of business, the links to your website will have less value.

Too many keywords

On the other hand, if you’re too descriptive, it can have a negative effect on brand – for example: www.bob-stokes-quality-cars.com doesn’t trip off the tongue and sounds rather cheap.

Just right

Try to get a balance, including a brand element and a keyword related to your business. If you’re happy to build your company brand around your name, in this example www.stokes-cars.com could be a good choice.

However, if Bob had already started an offline brand built around his company name (Sweet Wheels), then the brand already has value. Unless your brand has global notoriety though, it may be worth adding a relevant keyword so people and search engines that are unfamiliar with it can understand the context. For example, www.sweetwheels-cars.com.

Keep it short & snappy

At some point it’s very likely you will want to market your domain offline by word of mouth, outdoor advertising, on television, etc. If your website (or business) has a long name, potential customers are less likely to remember it. Keep it as short as you can without losing the meaning or keywords. If you can capture meaning in one or two words (Twitter, Facebook), you’ll give yourself an advantage.

Make it memorable – try to avoid acronyms

Keep in mind an acronym (especially one that can’t be easily pronounced phonetically), even if it’s short may not be memorable. It will also be hard to brand and search. Of course an exception is if you already have a well known brand – like HSBC.

Hyphenated domain names

Hyphens can help humans and search engines separate the keywords in your domain name, so potentially www.stokes-cars.com is potentially more helpful than www.stokescars.com. Bear in mind offline advertising though – avoid more than one hyphen or hyphens in unexpected places, as they’ll make a domain name harder to remember.

Importance of TLD (Top Level Domain)

Does it matter if you go for a .com, .net, or a .co.uk? It depends on what your target market is. On the whole, the expense and hassle of purchasing and configuring multiple domains has to be weighed up against the SEO benefits, but the following tips (listed in descending order of importance) may give you a slight boost.

Country specific

If you’re trying to target a particular country, search engines will consider your content more relevant for a user from that country if you have a TLD for that country. So if two sites had the identical content, but someone was searching in the UK, the site with a .co.uk TLD would be seen as more relevant than a .com or a .net. It’s also likely to be seen by the searcher as more relevant.

Global

If you’re targeting a global audience, you’re marginally better off with a generic TLD like .com or .net. Some studies have shown a slight bias towards a .org TLD, with .com and .net following shortly thereafter, but this is not entirely proven. Since .org is supposed to be for non-profit organisations, if you’re a commercial organisation, there is a chance you could be penalised for being dishonest about your intentions.

Device specific

If you have a mobile specific website, it’s logical to assume that search engines may attribute a better ranking to a .mobi domain name for visitors searching from mobile devices. Since this is a relatively new area, results are somewhat unproven, but it seems like a natural way to help search engines know that your website is better suited for the searcher (in the same way as country specific sites), so it’s worthwhile.

Genre specific

By the same token, if you have a website about television programmes or film, a .tv TLD will most likely give you a slight advantage.

Multiple domains – not multiple sites

It may be useful to have a few variations of your domain in case visitors mistype or don’t quite remember the domain (stokes-cars.com, stoke-cars.com, stokes-cars.net). If you do this, advertise a single domain and use permanent (301) redirect from the other domains pointing to the main domain. This will ensure traffic is not split between many domains, allowing you to focus SEO on your main domain. Never create multiple copies of your site on different domains with the same content, but different branding – this is not a good SEO technique and you may be penalised by search engines.

Having multiple domains is actually becoming less important as search engines become more prevalent, because visitors are now more likely to enter what they remember of a business name into a search engine, rather than trying to remember a domain verbatim and typing it directly into the web browser address bar.