Domain Names as Natural Brands

Oct 15th

Rick Schwartz, one of the leading domainers and creator of the TRAFFIC domain conference, highlighted the value of descriptive domains from a brand perspective:

NATURAL BRANDING or BUILD and CREATE BRANDING

This alone is worth the price of admission. Brad told us his story of spending millions and millions to advertise and brand with his original 3 word creative domain name. When he switched and used a fraction of those ad dollars to buy a category killer domain name, he transformed his business. The dollars he was using to brand was now freed up to do other acquisitions and grow his business in a more dramatic way. NATURAL BRANDING may be the simplest way to describe what a great domain brings to the table.

If you have to make people aware of who you are AND what you do then you are going to need to spend a lot more money on marketing than a business which is built around existing market demand.

What is the leading brand of hammocks? If there is not a clear market leader then Hammocks.com would be a nice spot to set up business.

As the web gets more competitive and generics get established as category leaders there will still be a need for specific brands to differentiate between services, but if you are part of the 99% of small business marketers lacking a large branding budget then buying a category leading domain is an obvious sustainable competitive advantage over other businesses that are in the same position you are. Every market has to have a winner...may as well be you. :)

How To Choose Domain Names For SEO

Oct 1st

Domaining.

It has been a hot topic for a while now, yet many domineers aren't overly active in the SEO space. Yet.

Domaining is when you register a domain, or buy a domain on the seondary market, with the intention of deriving traffic, and turning that traffic into revenue. Traffic comes from type in traffic. i.e. people type a keyword into the address bar and add .com on the end. Domains can be valuable internet real estate, because, unlike a search engine, there is no middleman between you and the visitor. A lucrative pursuit, if you choose the right names.

Let's take a look at how domineering strategy can be applied to SEO.

Background

Aaron has a great interview with Frank Schilling. Frank is one of the biggest domaineers on the planet, and an articulate advocate of this strategy.

Add this lot to your feed reader:

http://www.sevenmile.com/
http://rickschwartz.typepad.com/
http://www.whizzbangsblog.com/
http://www.domainnews.com/

If anyone has other suggestions for great domaining blogs, please add them to the comments.

How To Select A Domain Name

Google tends to give weight to keywords in the domain name. This increases the importance of selecting a good name.

When choosing a domain name for SEO purposes, there are three main factors to consider:

  • Brand
  • Rankability
  • Linkability

Brand

Should you use hyphenated, multi-term domain like search-engine-marketing-services.com?

I'd avoid such names like the plague.

Why?

They have no branding value. They have limited SEO value. Even if you do manage to get such a domain top ten, you're probably going to need to sell on the first visit, as few people are going to remember it once they leave. It is too generic, and it lacks credibility.

In a crowded market, brand offers a point of distinction.

It is easier to build links to branded domain names. People take these name more seriously that keyword-keyword-keyword-keyword.com, which looks spammy and isn't fooling anyone. Would you link to such a name? By doing so, it devalues your own content .

It can even difficult to get such domain names linked to when you pay for the privilege! Directory editors often reject these names on sight, because such names are often associated with low-quality content. Imagine how many free links you might be losing by choosing such a name.

Is there a downside to using branded names?

Yes.

Unless you have a huge marketing budget, no one is going to search for perseefgxcbtrfy.com, which is a new killer, brand I just made up ;)

Thankfully, there is a happy medium between brand and SEO strategy.

Rankability

SEOs release the value of keywords. When naming your site, and deciding on a domain name, try combining the lessons of SEO, branding and domaining.

Genric + term is a good approach to use. Take your chosen keyword, and simply add another word on the end. SeoBook, Travelocity, FlightsCity, CarHub, etc. These words have SEO value built into them, because people are forced to use your keywords in the link. Also, Google (currently) values a keyword within the domain name for ranking purposes. Finally, such a name retains an element of unique branding.

These types of domain names score high on the rank-ability and link-ability meter. They are generic enough to rank well for the keyword term, yet contain just enough branding difference to be memorable.

The SEO Advantage

There is another advantage for SEOs in the domain space.

Dot com's can sell for 5-20 times as much as a .org or .net. Keyword + .com can sell for millions of dollars, depending on the domain name.

Expensive, huh.

But...

By registering or buying the cheaper .net or .org equivilent, building out the site, and ranking well for the keyword + net, or +org, you increase the value of the domain name markedly. Sure, you're one step away from pure domaineering and you still have Google to contend with, but you'll be head and shoulders above those who are undervaluing these names.

A lot of domaineers aren't operating in this space.

Yet.

Other Tips And Ideas

Leave The Keyword Out Entirely

Used the related search function on Google ~ + keyword and see if any of the related keyword terms fit. This can be a good strategy to use if all the good generic keyword names are gone. It might get you close enough to the action, without the enormous price tag. Might be more memorable, too.

How To Test A Domain Name For Penalties Before Buying It

  • Verify the site is not blocking GoogleBot in their robots.txt file
  • Point a link at the domain from a trusted site and see if Google indexes it
  • Within a couple weeks (at most a month) Google should list the site when you search for it in Google using site:domainname.com

Further Reading:

Buying & Selling Websites

On Sitepoint Clinton Lee wrote a 6 page high quality web site valuation guide.

The New York Times recently published a great article about flipping websites, quoting my buddy Peter Davis.

Shane Pike recently blogged about selling one of his sites to Internet Brands. The site he sold was the one that let him quit his job. I gave him some tips on how to build traffic and increase monetization during a 15 minute chat at Elite Retreat in December of 2006. He quickly took my advice to heart and is a richer man for it. Here is his revenue graph from that site

But where he really made a killing was when he found investment bankers to help him sell on a nice multiple of that

If you believe your site could sell for more than $100,000, you’re throwing money away if you don’t use an experienced broker or investment banking firm to help you sell it. Because they’re much more adept than you at running an efficient process, finding potential buyers, and maximizing the bids from those buyers, they make up their fee many times over.

For example, this whole process started when I received an unsolicited bid for the site. Before all was said and done, though, my representatives had secured not just one, but two final bids that were ten times that initial offer. I couldn’t have gotten half that on my own.

Which is Worth More: SEO.ME or SEO.CO.NZ?

Aug 7th

When the .ME landrush began I thought it would be possible to get a couple fun names like SEO.ME and QUIZ.ME for about $200 each. Boy was I wrong! Look at these .ME domain auction prices...

I have seen far better .info (and sometimes .net and .org) names with far more resonance go for prices far below these prices. Many international CCTLD names are dirt cheap. It is hard to find an online market more saturated than the search engine optimization field, and yet SEO.CO.NZ is already well ranked in Google New Zealand for SEO while having a buy it now price of $10,000 NZD, which amounts to $7,251.78 USD.

The .ME prices bode well for strong launches of future extensions like .web and .blog...but most new extensions will be at best marginal successes, especially given that Google is not likely to trust most of them.

Poor .info Domain Name Strategy, Afilias

Jul 21st

Afilias had submitted a proposal to ICANN for the .INFO gTLD that would allow them to shut down domain names at will if they consider them abusive. The proposal was approved.

The problem they have is not going to be solved by this strategy. The value of high end .info domains was just diminished because now the registry can take them away from you for anything that they consider abusive, and in this day and age it is easy for someone else to spam for you in order to make you look shady. Given that, who wants to invest $20,000 in buying and building out a premium .info name? Probably only the people who are unaware of what Afilias just did.

Meanwhile .info domain names are on sale at GoDaddy for $1.99 - $8 cheaper than any other extension. And it turns out spammers are less discriminating than most other business people. So spammers still buy .info and Google has to protect their search results. If Afilias wanted to fix the .info quality issue, simply increasing the price at the lower end would go a long way.

Why do Domain Auctions Partner With Sleazy Registrars?

Jul 9th

I recently won a great domain name at an auction. Spent the money, waited a few days, and got the domain management details.

I logged into my domain management account, and searched around the site...no details on how to transfer a domain name away from their site - no transfer authorization code anywhere. The only article I found was one on ICANN rules, stating that you could email them if you needed help locking or unlocking your domain names - but nothing about auth codes.

Most of their contact policies were via email. I could not find a phone number on their site until after I submitted an email to them explaining my frustrations. Then I got sent back an email telling me to check out their help page which consisted of a Google search box. This page actually had a phone number in the upper right corner. So I called it and it told me I was the first person in line. I waited for a few more songs and got told I was first a few more times before hanging up the phone in frustration.

So then I searched for the parent corporation site and hunted around their site for a support number. That worked and was answered within about a minute. Sweet. But...

The guy who answered the phone at first denied that his registrar had anything to do with the domain name I just bought. "Someone registered that directly with Tucows," he said. I then asked why I was sent a welcome domain name management email to log in at his company's site and why I have a customer number with them. At that point he looked up the name and saw that it was registered with them, but then he told me that they had a 60 day policy on domain transfers and that I couldn't get it yet. I said to send the auth code anyway.

After telling me no a couple times he finally said ok. But then the email did not come right away, so I asked if he could just tell me the auth code. He said "no because then we could seize control of the name." I told him I thought they already did that with their website and customer service.

I finally got the auth code, and the domain name is allegedly "Pending Current Registrar Approval." I hope it goes through!

Are these shady third party registrars actually owned by the same parent companies? Couldn't the domain name auctions allow the end buyers to pay a $10 fee per secured name to avoid sending them to some outfit that wastes their time in an attempt to either steal their domain name or cash? Some of the auctions already have the house keeping some of the best inventory and shill bidding against you for what is left...why must they keep screwing you even after the relationship is over?

Google Temporarily Purges .info Domain Names

May 25th

I do not own too many .info domain names, but a couple of them that I do own have quite solid link profiles. In spite of this, on May 23rd all of my .info websites (including search-marketing.info) disappeared from Google's search results. And then the next day it returned. It may have just been a ranking glitch, but many other webmasters had the same issue... their .info domain names simply disappeared from Google.

Why would such a thing happen?

  • 2008 prediction from Matt Cutts "A top-level domain (TLD registry) will offer domains for under $4. The result will be another TLD blighted by spammy domain registrations."
  • GoDaddy has a 99 cent sale on .info domain names.

Marcel Feenstra highlighted this issue on LockerGnome:

Filtering out all .info domains just because some of these domains are being abused is, of course, far too draconian a measure, and I don’t think it’s what Google intended. It would make much more sense if they filtered out, say, .info domains that had been registered less than a year ago and that didn’t have some minimum number of “trusted” backlinks.

Was the .info purge a glitch? Maybe, but Google never will accidentally filter out all .com domain names. This algorithmic tweak (especially when coupled with Matt Cutts' prediction for 2008) shows an internal Google bias against .info domain names. While many .info domain names rank where they did just a few days ago, this does not bode well for the perceived value of .info domain names, especially for brand new domain names or parked pages.

Just one more example of how domain names play a big roll in SEO strategy.

How to Protect Your Business From Nefarious Subdomain Hijacking

Apr 11th

A couple days ago while I was at a conference news came about that Network Solutions was hijacking unused customer subdomains to post links to their other websites. It is getting really hard to trust *many* online service providers.

A big tip for new websites is to use the www subdomain and 301 the non www version to the www version, for 3 reasons

  1. If some nefarious group tries to add subdomains to your site you can easily spot them with a Google search for site:mysite.com -site:www.mysite.com (you could subtract other subdomains if you liked as well, likeso). You can even set up a Google Alert to track Google indexing any subdomains by entering that search in a Google Alert. Once any new subdomain is discovered you can delete any of their nefarious activity and/or add the subdomain and 301 it to your site to reclaim any link popularity (if the domain was expired or re-purchased and the subdomain had some remnant link equity).
  2. Already owning the www and non-www means that they have fewer opportunities to hijack one of your most important subdomains.
  3. Some automated penalties that occur on subdomains do not flow back to the root. If you are using WWW you can move it to another subdomain, but if your core site is at the root (without the www) then you may be out of luck.

Disclaimer: Microsoft Live Search is *really* bad at following 301 redirects. So if you are already using the non-www version and have built a lot of links, then it may not be worth the risk of 301ing it...especially if your site is really clean and you are not pushing any algorithmic limits with aggressive SEO techniques.

In addition to the above tips, ensuring that you software is up to date and using your own non-shared host also helps mitigate the risk of subdomain hijacking. SEO Book reader Rich Atkinson also stated

Another good tip is to create a wildcard dns 'A' record for your domain. Then config your web server to 301 all unrecognised hosts to your main site.

This is good for picking up the ww.example.com typos too.

Of course - you may or may not be able to do this on shared hosting.

[Video] SEO & Domaining: Domain Names & Search Engine Marketing

Oct 27th

How Domain Names Play a Role in SEO & SEM

Google Sitelinks Increase the Value of Generic Domains, ... by a Lot

Oct 23rd

Google recently increased their number of sitelinks to 8 and now list them in a 2 column format. To visualize the value of this, consider that I have a decent sized monitor and only 1 listing not controlled by me appears above the fold when searching for SEO Book.
Seo Book Google Sitelinks.

And look at a search for credit cards

Credit Cards Google Sitelinks.

In time I have to expect that for high value keywords (as per AdWords advertiser stats) Google will manually review generic matching names with sitelinks to determine if they are brand oriented or not. If the sites with sitelinks for high value queries are not strong brand oriented sites, is Google going to keep giving this much exposure to whoever owns the exact match domain?

Using Organic Search Profits to Fund Ad Budgets that Lock Out Competing Sites

If the results stay like they are right now, Google is creating a dominate player that will likely overspend on the associated AdWords ads to further block out competition.

Who cares if you lose a few bucks on the ads if it further increases your volume to get you better payouts AND reinforces your default status as THE market leader? Plus, exact match domains consistently get a higher CTR than non-matching domains, so in that regard the domain name not only ensures the sitemap in the search results but also subsidizes the AdWords ad costs.

Domain Names Win Fatter Margins in the Game of Arbitrage

If, after seeing the above images, you still don't appreciate the value of domain names in search marketing, please give Frank Schilling's post on arbitrage titled The House Always Wins a read, then go on a domain buying binge.

Life isn't fair, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore the obvious deals! If you are a diverse publisher and domain names are not part of your SEO strategy, then hopefully you can correct that deficiency before the year is out.

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