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
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?
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: www.yourmainkeywords.com
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: www.globalbusinesslisting.com
Notice that once you arrive at my search engine, the URL changes to the hyphenated version: www.global-business-listing.com 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 www.yourcompanyname.com, 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 www.your-most-important-keywords.com 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?
Set the domain name on a server with a “Coming Soon” page
Your legal rights and proof of ownership
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 www.yourcompany.ispname.othername.com
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.
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,
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