KeyWords in a Domain Name

Written by Administrator on 14 August 2005.

KeyWords in a Domain Name 
by Robert Skelton, IDE, SearchEngineZ.com
July 2003


Do search engines care?
Of course they do. Think of all the things you can easily do to tweak your ranking once Google has indexed your site, a few other sites have linked to it, and it is listed in Open Directory. Want to change a paragraph of text, or a page title? Dead easy. Change the background color, the font? Done.

The hardest to change is your domain name. A domain name is as close to a commitment you will ever get from a webmaster. Everything starts with the domain name, and the words you choose for it are important to you, and they reflect either the name of your site, or its topic. Search engines know this, and they give weight to the words in your domain name.


Keywords or Brand Names?
If your business already has a real world presence, you should normally continue using the same name. If it is a new, internet-only business, you have to choose between a brand name and a keyword name. Brett Tabke has been advocating brand names, and says that domain names should be...

"Easily brandable. You want "google.com" and not "mykeyword.com". Keyword domains are out - branding and name recognition are in - big time in. The value of keywords in a domain name have never been less to se's. Learn the lesson of "goto.com" becomes "Overture.com" and why they did it. It's one of the powerful gut check calls I've ever seen on the internet. That took resolve and nerve to blow away several years of branding. (that's a whole 'nuther article, but learn the lesson as it applies to all of us)."
"26steps to 15k a Day"
http://www.searchengineworld.com/misc/guide.htm

Well, I have problems with Brett's argument...

1) He runs some hugely popular websites: searchengineworld.com and webmasterworld.com. He could change them to tabke.com tomorrow and get away with it, but that's different from trying to get started from scratch as tabke.com
2) Overture got to where they are today as goto.com. If they had started as overture.com, it would've confused visitors, because it sounds like a classical music site.
3) Google is a freak - it should never be used as an example to follow. For every freak like Google and Apple there is a Microsoft and IBM - brand names that describe a product, before search engines even existed.
4) Unless your site is unique and wonderful in the extreme, a made-up brand name won't be much use without a large advertising campaign.

Brand names look great in retrospect, when you have a zillion visitors. But they are much harder to get quick results from.

I'm not against brand names if you have the marketing budget. And I don't mind a mix of the two either, like Burger King, Pizza Hut and Red Lobster.


Hyphens or not?
For SEO purposes, a hyphen is only advantageous if searchers inlcude the hyphen between their keywords when they search. So for hyphenated surnames, or words that are often hyphenated, it's the way to go. Otherwise don't use them. A strong case against them is the difficulty in saying the domain name. It is far easier to say "bluewidget (all one word) dot com" than "blue hyphen widget dot com". The second way will often get a response like "so it's b l u e h y p...." or "what is a hyphen". Computer novices tend to have problems sorting out the difference between a dash, a hyphen, underscore, and a slash.

To put it another way, try thinking of a famous website that uses a hyphen!

And while I'm knocking hyphens, keep in mind that web surfers keep on maturing. With time they will learn that URLs looking like buy-cd-cheap-cd-now.com are not worth visiting, because they tend to have no original content or products, and more often than not will bombard you with pop-ups.


Where's the Evidence?
Unless you launch two identical sites, and get the same links to them and the only difference is the domain name, it is an impossible thing to 100% prove the value of keywords in domains (such is the nature of the SEO business). And even if you did, Google would penalize one of them for having duplicate content.

I know just from scrolling through SERPs (search engine results pages) every day that there is a tendency for keyword optimized domain names to do well. Seeing as no-one else seems to have done it, I decided to try and find some evidence....


Evidence #1
I wasn't feeling particularly inspired so searched for "search" in the Google Directory. Why Google Directory? Because is evens the playing field a little (usually you get a PR4 just for being listed) and it shouldn't have too many fly-by-night cloaked or spammy sites in the results.

What site should come up first for "search"? Google, Yahoo, MSN, AltaVista?

Results:

1. Search.com
2. Yahoo
3. AltaVista
4. Google
5. Lycos
6. AlltheWeb
7. Search Engine Watch
8. WebCrawler
9. MSN Search
10. DogPile
11. Northern Light
12. AOL Search
13. Open Directory
14. FreeFind
15. MSN.com
16. FamilySearch.org
17. Google Groups
18. AOL
19. About
20. Netscape Search

Ok, then, how about "search engine"

1. AltaVista
2. Google
3. Lycos
4. Yahoo
5. Excite
6. AlltheWeb
7. WebCrawler
8. DogPile
9. Search Engine Watch
10. Northern Light
11. FreeFind
12. Yahooligans
13. Search Engine Colussus
14. Teoma
15. Search.com
16. Search Engine Guide
17. Search Engine Showdown
18. IxQuick
19. Education World
20. Mamma

  • Search.com gets an undeserved #1 position in the first search, but it drop to #15 when it's domain name is less of a match with the search query.
  • MSN Search, AOL Search, FamilySearch.org and Netscape Search all do better in the first search, because they have the keyword "search" in their domain.
  • Search Engine Colossus, Search Engine Guide and Search Engine Showdown all do better in the second search, because they have a closer match to the keywords in their domain name.
  • Search Engine Watch was the only site to buck the trend, and only by a couple of positions.

Evidence #2
Widget is a much loved and used word in the SEO world. And seeing as it is something you can sell, the results should be devoid of spam. These are the top 20 results for a Google web search for "widget":

1. www.widget.co.uk
2. www.widget.com
3. search.netscape.com
4. www.widgetsworld.co.uk
5. archive.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/ Mosaic/Docs/htmlwidget.html
6. www.widgetwidget.com
7. www.widgetsupply.com
8. www.gizmoandwidget.com
9. www.widgetracing.com
10. www.widgetinc.com
11. www.dina.dk/~abraham/custom
12. helm.cs.unibo.it/mml-widget
13. www.widget.de
14. www.widget.fr
15. www.widget.nl
16. hs.widget.de
17. www.widget.com.au/?sortby=1
18. koala.ilog.fr/jml/widgets/canvas.html
19. www.gtk.org
20. www.xs4all.nl/~ripley/XmHTML


3rd Party Thoughts?

Is Your Domain Name Optimized?
By Andy Beal, Vice President of ProRanking.com
http://www.searchengineguide.com/beal/2002/0404_ab1.html

"...However, Joe should also register a domain name that contains keywords that relate to the products he sells.

By having keywords in a domain name, Joe will do a lot more to help his site rank higher on the search engines than using his own name alone. What Joe needs to do is also register "plasticwidgets.com" or "plastic-widgets.com" and have those domain names point to the same site. A domain name with keywords embedded will do wonders, not only in achieving higher positioning on the search engines, but also in becoming more effective at informing a potential customer what the Web site sells. Now when a search is carried out for plastic widgets, Joe's Web site is more likely to be displayed, as the domain name contains a match for the searched item. "

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Copyright © Robert Skelton 2003.

About the Author:

Robert Skelton is the IDE of SearchEngineZ - a collection of web searching resources.
http://searchenginez.com
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