Choosing a domain name for a new project can be a little daunting.
All the good names are gone. Once you find something acceptable, you'll have to be sure you can live with it for a long time. And what about the implications for SEO?
So many considerations.
Do You Want A Disposable Domain Name?
Some domains are throw-away, so the domain name doesn't matter so much. buy-viagra-online-cheapest.com might be just fine for someones 100th pharma site. We all know it's going to be blitzed eventually, anyhow ;)
For such domains, brand is never going to be a major consideration. But for most other projects, I'd recommend devoting time to brand considerations and credibility factors.
Traffic Comes From Everywhere
Obviously, traffic doesn't just originate at search engines. The way things are going, the webmasters who used to frequently link to sites will just Twitter about you instead!
Word of mouth is becoming more and more important on the web. The most popular websites today facilitate personal publishing.
In order to capitalize on this, it is helpful to have a brand name that is easy for people to remember. It should be distinctive. It should be credible. It should be something people feel comfortable passing on.
When people mention you in the context of a social network, are they going to talk about cheap-mp3-online-buy-cheapest.com? Would they feel comfortable recommending it to their friends and networks of contacts? Does it make them look good? Will they remember your domain name five minutes later? Would it be something they'll pass on?
Even those webmasters who do link out tend to be cagey about where they link. The last place they'll link to is the trashy looking domain name.
The credibility of a domain name in such an environment counts for a lot.
Brand Naming Strategy
Brand is a is a collection of experiences and associations connected with a service, a person or any other entity
What does "Google.com" mean to you? An incorrectly spelled mathematical term meaning 1 followed by 100 zeros?
I'm guessing Google means finding things, making money, technology, the future, and various other experiences. That's the power of brand. Made-up, memorable "meaningless" words become incredibly valuable and significant.
That's ok for big companies who spend a lot of money on building these associations, but what about the site owned by the little guy?
One idea is to use soft branding. Leverage off a concept that is already known, and twist it a little.
For example, an xml feed product that acts like a mail client might use the term "mail" in the brand name, because people are already familiar with the concept of mail. "Hotmail" is an example of soft branding. AfterMail is a service that retains copies of emails sent by employees and holds them in a central database. The brand name is partly unique and memorable, and partly describes the function.
Good Domain Names Appreciate
Once you have a good, brand-able domain name, it will very likely appreciate.
As time goes on, good domain names become more scarce. Add to this the associations you're building, and the domain name can become a valuable asset in it's own right. This is seldom, if ever, the case with disposable domain names.
How much is SEOBook.com worth? Would it have been near as valuable now if Aaron had called it learn-seo-online.com? Possibly, but I suspect the latter is always going to have credibility issues, not to mention the dreaded hyphens.
There is a lot of debate about exact match domain names. There is evidence to suggest Google weights this factor highly, but ask different SEOs and you'll likely get different answers.
SEO considerations aside, exact match has a bonus when it comes to PPC. Check out this article by Frank Schilling:
What do you suppose would happen if I advertised my URL under the key-phrase that matches the name? Well, I tried it and I found that because my URL matched the key-phrase people were searching for, I had to bid less for traffic. People were more apt to click on a link when it matched the URL.. and the power of .com just reaffirmed to Jane Public that she had found the market leader.
What has this got to do with brand? If you build a brand to the point where it becomes a searchable phrase i.e "seo book" you'll enjoy the same benefit as the guys who own the exact match names. You'll find it easier, and cheaper, to dominate both organic and PPC listings.
It's harder to do that with a watered-down generic name.
If people do link to you, it's desirable to have a keyword in url. However, sometimes this conflicts with brand imperatives i.e. being memorable and distinctive.
So what do you do?
Try using a byline.
For example, if your domain name is Acme.com, you could add a byline that describes what you do i.e "Acme.com - SEO Services". People may well link the full description, or use that phrase when talking about you. The by-line becomes an integral part of your brand. This approach is especially important when trying to convince directory owners to link to you with addition keywords.
For a lot more information on domain naming strategies, check out Aaron's domain naming lesson in the members section.
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