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Effective domain name selection and your rankings

January 28, 2005

If you think the selection process and the name you have chosen for that shiny new domain name won’t make any difference in the search rankings of your new or existing website, think again.

Today more than ever, all search engines do carry a lot of weight to the keywords or key phrases that are present in your domain name. Ask any SEO professional firm that has been in this business for at least three or four years and they will tell you that the careful research and the final selection of the domain name you will use can have a tremendous positive impact in the search results pages from Google, AltaVista, Fast-all-the-Web, Yahoo, MSN, Inktomi, DMOZ and just any other search engine in existence today.

First things first
When you need to register a new domain name for an existing site or a new site under construction, the first thing you need to do is decide if it will be a .com, a .net or a .ca domain name, or any other variations, as there are many. (Note: .ca domain names are reserved for Canadian companies only). Whether you're looking to reserve a domain name for use now or at a later date, you should seriously consider doing it now, while a good selection might still be available, although I think the best choices in the .com range have already been taken by now.

I have found and personally registered some good domain names in the .com, .biz, .cc, .ca and .ws category. The choice is yours. Remember that the extension is not important. All search engines today treat domain names equally, with no preference if they are of the .com, .net, .org, .us, .ca, .biz or any other extension there is. What IS important are the keywords between the venerable “www” and the extension!

Hyphenated domain names or un-hyphenated?
If you really want to score high and closer to the top in the search engines, then try to get a domain name that has one or two (or three) of your most important keywords in it, as it will greatly help you in the results pages when people type in keywords that are closely associated with the theme of your site. Also, for that extra ‘punch’ in the search engines, I suggest that you put a hyphen in between them, such as this:

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Most major search engines today treat hyphenated domain names as separate words. If these separate words happen to be your most important keywords, you are ahead of the pact. Since some will tell you that hyphens in domain names look awkward and I fully agree, if you can, try also registering the non-hyphenated version too, such as this one:

On your website, for the search engines, it is best to host the hyphenated version on your server or host provider. On your business cards, brochures or print catalogues, it is best to use the non-hyphenated version. Just make sure you are using a “301 server re-direct” command just for that purpose, since it can be a bit touchy if not done correctly.

Today, some search engines, notably Google, are very critical of server re-direct commands and might penalize a site if not done correctly. The only safe and recommended technique I use is the “301 server re-direct” command, which is a very standard Linux command. Avoid using a Java script. You should consult your Web hosting provider with this if you are uncomfortable in doing it yourself.

If you would like an example of how this is done, look at the search engine I have built at:

Notice that once you arrive at my search engine, the URL changes to the hyphenated version: which is a real bonus as far as the search engines are concerned. The added expense is well worth it. An alternative you can try is to have a domain name registered in the name of your company, such as, where you could use on your business cards, your letterhead, etc.

However, as in the example above, you should use a “301 server re-direct” command to domain name, for added visibility in the search engines. Remember that search engines don’t care much about company names, brand names or trademarks. What they are really looking for are industry keywords and key phrases that people type in their search box. Unless you are a well-known Fortune 500 company that is very popular with a branded trademark that is universally known, I would stick with the above.

Not ready yet?
If you aren’t ready to build your website right away, there are also many additional options that can be added to any registered domain name at any time, such as the ability to:

      Set the domain name on a server with a “Coming Soon” page
      Temporarily re-direct the domain name to another of your choice
      Temporarily re-direct to a subdirectory of another domain name
      Start using your new domain name email address (highly recommended)
      Add relevant body text & keywords to your “Coming Soon” page

Your legal rights and proof of ownership
From time to time, I hear about some domain names, mistakenly or otherwise, of not having been registered in the name of their rightful owners. Even if it’s just an oversight, rectifying this situation can become time consuming and costly, especially from a legal standpoint. Some domain names can be worth a lot of money. Before finalizing your domain name order, make sure it will be registered in your name or in the name of your company, if that is what you prefer. Better be safe now than sorry later.

Also, the administrative person (normally you), technical contact and billing contacts will be determined by you only at the time you are registering your new domain name (s). Be sure to own your own domain name because you can have a website without owning your own domain name. Some ISPs and other organizations offer free web addresses for certain websites. Often these are easy to get and use, but there are important benefits to having your own domain name, such as:

1. Branding - Your web site address can be a valuable brand name for you. You want people to remember it and use it on a regular basis, with each use acting as additional brand reinforcement. You lose that strong identity if your visitors have to type something like

2. Independence - Should your ISP or hosting service provider no longer meet your needs or goes out of business for any reason, you will have to move your site’s URL and traffic along with the physical transfer of your site's server IP address. After all, you have invested time and money to build traffic, so you shouldn't have to start all over again simply because your needs change or for whatever other reason. In the Internet world, registered domain names are associated with name servers. When you decide to change the location of your web site, your new name servers will be updated in the who-is record kept by your domain registrar.

As a result, your site visitors will automatically be sent to your new host. The bottom line is that you keep all your traffic and all your sales. If you don’t own your domain name, you will not have the luxury of taking your traffic with you. The many benefits far outweigh the added expense of a domain name. All you need to do to change from one host provider to another is simply to change the name servers at your domain name registrar- a simple, one minute process that is very easy to do at most registrars.

3. Promotion - Your company or business alone gets to enjoy the increased traffic from every dollar spent promoting your site. If you don't have your own domain name, the company associated with your website name will instead reap the benefits of your promotional efforts.

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The careful selection and wording of your domain name is one of the most critical part of the initial steps in setting up any website, old or new. As I have discussed above, it can have a drastic impact in the search engine results pages (SERP’s). In some extreme cases, and depending on the competitiveness of your industry, it could almost mean the difference between success and failure of your site, as far as its visibility in the search engines is concerned.

Once you have a domain name that was correctly chosen, both for your most important keywords and possibly your branding, what’s left is the careful optimization of your site to ensure all that added visibility in the search engines. Consider a business website just as any other business asset. It is an un-tangible, marketable title of property that can grow considerably in value and it should become an important ally to your business, while at the same time assist you in your long-term promotional efforts.

(Updated from our August 2003 article).

Article written by Serge Thibodeau,
President & CEO,
Rank for $ales
Copyright (c) Serge Thibodeau 2003

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