Choosing your domain name, rather like choosing your business name or book title, is one of the most important parts of going online. From a visitor standpoint, shorter names are better, so well known brands with short names undoubtedly receive more direct traffic as a result. But unless you’re a recognizable brand, chances are that a short name doesn’t cause much direct traffic, so we’re back to relying on search engines to bring page views.
Most businesses register their names directly because it is their trading name – it’s more obvious to be johndoughs.com than bestlocalpizza.com from the point of view of real people seeing the site. But from an SEO perspective, bestlocalpizza.com is the better domain to have if the targeted search keywords are ‘best local pizza’.
The dilemma is that so many domain names are registered by spammers and companies intending to sell the names to third parties that your keyword-rich domain may not be available, or – if you wanted to buy at a third party – could cost anything from $10 to millions of dollars. Whether this investment is worthwhile depends upon your business, but many websites have had considerable success from just using their keyword phrase as the domain name (such as cheapflights.com).
Where a domain name contains multiple keywords, there are two schools of thought on whether the name should appear as one long word or be separated with dashes to help search engines identify the keywords (e.g. bestlocalpizza.com vs best-local-pizza.com). While it may be true that there is a slight SEO advantage with dashes, it’s actually more confusing to human visitors to remember. If possible, it might be worth registering both versions, using the non-hyphenated version for your site, and having the hyphenated version redirected. From Google Analytics, you will be able to detect which is most popular over time.
If you haven’t named your business yet, consider embedding keywords and the location into your real business title, such as ABC’s Web Hosting (New York), and make sure you use keyword phrases where the domain names are readily available. While you probably wouldn’t use the location in the domain name because it makes the name too long, it may help your ranking on services such as Google Maps where location is a major SEO factor.
Essential tips for finding a good domain name
Consider the following when purchasing domain names:
- Always purchase from a reputable big-name registrar (such as Name.com, GoDaddy, etc.) When you’ve invested time and money in a domain, you need to trust the registrar to maintain registration in a responsible way.
- Many offer an option called ‘Private WHOIS’, either for free or a nominal charge. This hides the details of the owner, which prevents spam from companies harvesting the WHOIS database.
- While including keywords is good, limit the length of your chosen domain (and the number of hyphens), or search engines may consider the site spam. For instance, best-cheapest-shoes-discount-footwear dot com is obviously designed to trick search engines, and they will penalize such sites. 10-12 characters should be considered a maximum length.
- Be memorable: as always, make it easy on your target audience – names such as petesperfectpurplepizza dot com are hard to remember.
- Creating completely new words is great for branding but will take more effort to build an online presence. If you’re inventive, you can find short domains this way. Although it will require more work initially to get brand recognition and become memorable, in the longer term it may form the foundation of a very solid brand – such as hulu.com or bibo.com.
- Don’t abuse copyright or trademarks owned by others: you will eventually lose the domain and reset your SEO strategy to zero.
At domain registrars such as http://name.com, you can search for available domains based upon keywords and phrases. In addition to the.com extensions most users are familiar with, you may want to buy other extensions based upon your country of operation or other intended usage. For example, if you ever plan to operate in the UK, you should invest in the co.uk extension. Some of the more esoteric externsions, such as.me and.info are usually not worth buying.
Most registrars will allow you to search based upon keywords, so if your first choice isn’t available, there are usually others that will work. You can buy as many domain names as you want, provided you pay the annual registration fee to maintain ownership, but the goal for most sites should be to buy one great name that is memorable, contains relevant keywords where possible, and can be used to build and market their brand.