Choosing Domain Names For Search Engine Placement
By Anthony Butcher
The following outlines the choice of domain names for enhanced search engine optimization in a nutshell -if you stick to the advice presented here, you will be both safe and successful in all your search engine positioning efforts.
- Promotion right from the start
The very best place to start thinking about promoting a site is before the site is ever built. This gives you the opportunity to use a few techniques that will immediately give you a head start. This article is working on the assumption that you have already done a thorough key phrase analysis and chosen your main key phrases to use for promotion. The choice of title and domain that you make for your site can have a significant impact on the future promotional prospects.
You will find that some compromise may be necessary between the title and domain name, since it is increasingly difficult to find a workable domain name that contains any key phrases.
The rest of this article discusses how you can gain some ground in the search engines and directories, simply through a wise choice of title and domain name.
- Choosing a title
Although you may be tempted to use your company name in your web site title, it is generally best to avoid this if possible for smaller businesses. It will be different if you are a well known company with a strong brand, but for most people, their company will not be widely known. For non-corporate sites, you have the advantage of not being restricted in any way; your site title can become whatever takes your fancy.
Once you have done your key phrase analysis to start with, you will probably have a good idea of which particular key phrase you would most like to use for the promotion. Try to use this as an integral part of the title if at all possible. For example, if you are selling traffic cones, and your primary key phrase is "cheap traffic cones", then why not call your site "Cheap Traffic Cones.com"? The dotcom frenzy has kindly left this type of title as acceptable to the public.
Remember that this advice is given from a search engine optimization point of view, and not a marketing/branding one. A further compromise that you may need to make is one with the marketing aspects - the need to use a memorable domain name and title.
- Aiming for the directory listings
Choosing a title with your main key phrase in it is one thing, but when it comes to getting listed in the directories, you may need to go one step further. It is important that the title of the site, and the domain name used, closely match, so that the directory editors do not feel like you are trying to trick them. For instance, if your domain is "jonesandsons.com" and your site title is "cheap traffic cones", and it is quite obvious that your business name is "Jones and Sons", then the editors will see this and list your site title as "Jones and Sons", which is no use to you. So aim to avoid this issue right from the start. Even if you already own the domain jonesandsons.com, register "cheaptrafficcones.com" and "cheap-traffic-cones.com".
Do not underestimate the importance of getting the Yahoo listing right first time. Yahoo editors are quite happy to reject sites, even if the paid-review process is used.
- Aiming for placement in the directories
Quite surprisingly, both Yahoo and the Open Directory Project list sites alphabetically within the category listings, based on the title, as do Looksmart and the Go Guides to some extent. Although most visitors use the search facility, and thus only generally see the search results, a substantial proportion use the category listings themselves. It is therefore worth aiming for placement at the top of these lists right from the start.
The notable exception between the main two is that Yahoo places sites using numbers right at the top of the list, whereas the ODP (open Directory Project) uses the first letter of a title. You can therefore decide to go all out to get a higher Yahoo placement and use numbers: "101 cheap traffic cones" - www.101-cheap-traffic-cones.com
To get a little more technical, Yahoo actually orders sites according to the ASCII character codes, thus placing punctuation ahead of number, ahead of letters. In highly competitive categories, you may even see sites with titles like "!Add Me Promotion". In fact, if you are looking for the ultimate name to top a category in Yahoo, then use "! Aardvark" or something similar. The combination of exclamation mark followed by a space makes this virtually unbeatable. The downside is that the title will be unusual at best, but is more likely to be awful.
As before, don't forget that the site title and the URL need to match fairly closely for the editors to be convinced that this is a genuine title. Thus, if you use an exclamation mark in yout title, this needs to become a feature wherever your title appears on the pages.
So now we have three possible types of title and domain name:
"! cheap traffic cones" -
"101 cheap traffic cones" -
"Amazing cheap traffic cones!" -
The difference between the titles is that on Yahoo, the first two titles would probably be listed at the top, but would achieve only middling placement in the ODP. On the other hand, the third title would do reasonably well in both.
Of course, you could try and get the best of both worlds by using "! Amazing cheap traffic cones", but as you can see, it starts to look very unnatural. Choosing an appropriate name has to be a compromise between a workable title and an alphanumerically superior one.
As a general rule, try to aim for a title that begins at least with the letter A. This will usually suffice to get a site listed in the top few for any given category, without looking too tacky.
- Do some research first
It is well worth doing some research into the categories that your site is most likely to appear in, and look at the competition for top spot. Remember that, at any time, someone can invent a web site title that will top your own, but you should be able to see the level of title optimization that will be required for you to gain that top spot, at least for the moment.
- Why register with and without hyphens?
The hyphenated version of a domain name is the more search engine friendly of the two. Some engines can only read hyphenated urls, and recognize the key phrases within them, but will only see the un-hyphenated version as a jumble of letters. Having key words within a domain name may increase the relevancy "score" on some search engines. Ideally your domain name will consist of, or fully contain, your primary key phrase.
There are two reasons for registering the unhyphenated version in addition. The first is because it is more memorable, probably, and easier/faster to type for repeat visitors. Someone guessing the URL is more likely to type it in without using the hyphens. The second reason is to protect your domain name. It is very easy for other people to register domain names that are very similar to your own, and set up similar or competing web sites. So don't be afraid to register any similar phrases necessary to protect your own. Although this is not the ideal way for domain names to be used, there are enough unscrupulous types out there to make this a worthwhile investment.
- What if I can't get the title and domain to match?
If there simply aren't any suitable domains left, then you will have to compromise. Try using just one of the words form the key phrase in the domain instead - this should open up a whole new range of possibilities; but remember that you are trying to match the domain to the title as closely as possible. Alternatively, you can aim for a different key phrase - even if it is not your first choice, there may still be another key phrase that is almost as suitable.
- Don't use single letters and characters if possible
With regard to the tactics, mentioned above, of using punctuation and numbers such as "A1 traffic cones" and "!100% traffic cones" to get top placement in Yahoo and the other directories; although this may work to some extent, it generally looks very tacky, isn't memorable, and may not convince the editors at all. The use of numbers in the title is also generally ugly and transparent. The aim is to come up with a title that is usable in marketing terms as well. Therefore, unless it is absolutely necessary, try and avoid such tactics. For most categories, a simpler title will suffice.
- Should you settle for second place?
No, the difference between top spot and second place in a category is considerable. Roughly speaking, the top listed site can expect 30-50% more clicks from visitors to the category than the second placed site.
- What about using .org or .net instead?
There will probably be many more domain names available if you aim for a different TLD (Top Level Domain), such as ".org", ".net", ".co.uk", ".cc" etc. The problem with these is that they are not memorable. Internet users automatically try the ".com" version of a name first. Thus from a branding point of view, they can be a poor choice. From a promotion aspect, this should allow you a good choice of title and domain name.
- What will you gain from a key phrase heavy title and domain name?
Actually having the key phrase in the domain name will have only a very limited effect; the purpose of the matching domain and title is so that they are convincing to the directory editors. You are using the domain name to suggest that your highly optimized title is genuine, and not simply an attempt to get to the top of the listings.
- Link Popularity
One additional plus, and this is quite important, is increased link popularity. When other sites link to yours, it is advantageous to have your primary key phrase in the link text. Thus by having a key phrase as your site title and domain name, you will automatically have a key phrase in all links to your site. This magnifies the effectiveness of each link to your site.
- Only use one domain
It is quite important that no matter how many domains you have pointing to the same site, you should only use one of them for advertising, submission, links etc. So choose a single domain name, such as www.amazing-cheap-traffic-cones.com and stick with it. Use only this version (including the "www") for all purposes. Otherwise you will be diluting the link popularity of the domain, diluting the branding, and possibly even spamming the engines by seemingly submitting multiple sites with the same content.
Anthony Butcher is the co-founder of Aardvark Web Site Promotion http://www.aardvark-web-site-promotion.com, a leading search engine ranking company in the UK. He holds a BSc in Computer Science and an MSc in Multimedia, and has worked in the SEO industry for the last two years. ou can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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