Brand Considerations When Choosing Domain Names

Apr 28th

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.

Why?

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.

Exact Match

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.

Linking Factors

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.

Published: April 28, 2009

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Comments

April 28, 2009 - 1:42pm

Great post! I was just speaking about this yesterday with a new client who was still considering his domain name. The big question was, should the domain contain the root target keyword? After much deliberation, we decided mutually that a shorter domain that was much catchier would be the better choice. It`s true that direct traffic comes a lot easier when you can drop your name causally in conversation, hand out a business card with it or do some form of advertising not internet based and have people remember it and ultimate search for your name directly.

The problem my company is facing with our domain name: textlinkbrokers.com is the name became the brand and therefore the common misconception is that all we offer are links. At the point in the game we are now offering PPC management, Landing Page Optimization, full SEO and even graphic design work and much more... but the name itself suggests all we do are links. We could consider a "re-branding" but that takes away from years of work to build our name...

My suggestion? If you are even considering an expansion down the road with your business offerings, don`t pigeon hole yourself with a name (Domain or Brand) that limits what the public will think of you. Keeping it broad at least leaves room for unlimited growth within your brand association.

April 28, 2009 - 10:22pm

I would also add that if you are considering purchasing a geo domain name then you should also think very hard about if there will ever be the possibility that you will want to expand beyond that geographic region one day.

(i.e. if you start out only offering SEO services in Michigan and you buy a great domain name like MichiganSEO.com then that domain name can become not so great if your business really takes off and you find yourself wanting to expand into other states).

My partner and I recently built a geo domain name finding tool that is a Google Maps mashup that helps to find geo domain names with keywords like the above mentioned MichiganSEO.com example above (http://www.domainsuperstar.com/domain-finder-tools/geo-domain-finder) and I always would caution anyone who may potentially expand to be very cautious about using a geographically limiting domain name as their main company domain name (although it can be a great strategy to purchase these types of keyword geo domain names and redirect them to your main domain name for their type in traffic and their potential memorability for use with state specific business cards, etc.).

April 28, 2009 - 2:31pm

Great comment SEO Gurl. There's a lot to take into consideration!

April 28, 2009 - 3:49pm

Length has always been a factor, the longer something is more likely it is to be mis-spelled. However with microblogging finding domains that services won't truncate isn't a bad idea either.

April 28, 2009 - 4:59pm

Too funny! This is such a timely post. Like SEO Gurl, the owner of my company and I were speaking about our choice for a domain name and brand for our new product due out in May.

We actually paid a small premium months ago to acquire a domain name that is short in character length, easy to remember and has a major keyword we will be targeting. However, a small snafu reared its ugly head last week and we may have to use a different domain name, thus brand.

Luckily, I was able to pick up a new domain name yesterday at standard pricing, which is three characters longer (not bad) and contains a major keyword we will target, but is not quite as sexy.

Ahhhhh.... Daunting is definitely the right word for this selection process. LOL!

p.s. For anybody in the process of selecting a new domain name and brand (I call this type of domain name Brand-wise, as opposed to a Throw-away), I STRONGLY recommend that you not only search Google first for use of the brand or trademark name, but also login to Facebook and other reputable social networks to check their APPs names.

April 28, 2009 - 7:09pm

Definitely Google your potential domain name, also look up your name on the US trademark office site too: http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm Be sure to note if the Trademark is Live or Dead.

Other points to consider:
* Your industry/area of expertise
* How established your business is already
* Do you want to sell it later
* and what is the central “IT”, the core take away you want your customers to get about your brand. What it in it for your customer.

April 28, 2009 - 4:59pm

There's a ton of fantastic expired domain names that you can register without getting involved with auctions. There are many sites that list expired, and ready-to-register domains (e.g. dotcenter.com).

April 28, 2009 - 10:14pm

One trick that I like to use when trying to think of a good brandable domain name (as opposed to a keyword domain name) is to take the main keyword that the site is targeting and then add a very memorable and easy to spell word to that keyword.

For example, if you wanted to start a new SEO site then you definitely would want to include SEO in your domain name so that people will know what you are all about, it will help with ranking, and it will help give you relevant anchor text when people link to you with your site name. So since you know that you want SEO in the domain name then to think of a good brandable domain name just start combining other unrelated words - i.e. seomonkey.com, crazyseo.com, etc. etc.

Of course, choosing a brandable domain name is very good but really it is almost better if you can grab the generic keyword domain name and be seen as the authority for that niche. (i.e. seo.com is incredibly valuable).

My partner and I recently built a tool that uses real time data from the Google Adwords API to help find domain names that match exactly to keywords that get searched in Google. This type in traffic tool (http://www.domainsuperstar.com/domain-finder-tools/type-in-traffic-finder) is great for finding long tail domain names that match exactly to potential keywords you may want to target since it is easier to rank an exact match keyword domain name and incidentally if you use Adwords it will usually lower your CPC.

April 29, 2009 - 1:02am

Nice tool there DomainSuperstar. Cool cool stuff :)

April 29, 2009 - 9:00am

DomainSuperstar, that is one cool tool. You've found a niche.

April 30, 2009 - 8:37am

On an un-related note, I really wish that each blog post would show the author at the top of the post rather than at the end.

May 6, 2009 - 9:05am

Very useful information, much appreciated. Thanks SEObook, AndrewL and DomainSuperstar for these cool resources! :)
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