Should You Include Keywords in Domain Names?

7 comments

Including keywords in your domain name is the vanity plate of e-commerce. Businesses from coast to coast regularly agonize over whether or not to buy new domain names incorporating vital keywords. For businesses just starting out, the choice is easy; if a domain name rich in keywords becomes available, snap it up. However, if you’re an established online presence, with a well known brand, is it worth the upheaval of changing your URL for one that takes keyword selection into account?

Yes: The Trust Factor

A domain name is one of the hardest things to change about your internet presence. Once registered and your site uploaded, it’s very hard to justify a complete change. Other on-page elements such as site content, page titles, meta data and menu systems can be altered on a whim. Links can also be built without too much trouble. But a domain name? It requires much more thought and resources to toy with. This school of thought suggests that a domain name is less open to manipulation by those chasing improved rankings and is therefore, looked upon favorably by the search engines as a fixed and trusted element unlikely to be regularly manipulated for rankings gain. The theory goes that if you can bag a domain name including a term related to your product or service (very difficult nowadays as most of them are already taken) then you’re already well on your way to establishing a good relationship with the search engines.

A second point in favor of including keywords in the domain name where possible is that it acts as great anchor text when other sites link back to your using only your domain name. Anchor text is a critical element of off-page optimization but it’s often hard to get other sites to use beneficial text i.e. phrases using your keywords. Lazy linkers will often just use the web address so, if your keywords are included in the domain, you’ll still pick up a useful link with optimized text.

And what of the humble surfer? As the whole point of optimizing a site for better listings is to be more visible to relevant traffic, it stands to reason that including those same keywords in your domain name will also win brownie points with web users. One of the basics of internet marketing, whether you start with SEO or pay per click, is the important of keyword placement and keyword density in your landing page. Echoing keywords that your intended traffic is likely to key into the search engines in your domain name is a great way of quickly forging an affinity with them and reinforcing the promise that your website is capable of meeting their search needs. While a brand name is great when you’re an established force, it won’t help at start-up when you’re seeking to attract large amounts of quality traffic.

No

Including keywords in your URL has become increasingly popular, but that doesn’t make it the only viable route to good search placement. In an over saturated market, its difficult (if not impossible) to get a good domain name which includes relevant keywords. For example, if you wanted to start an SEO or online marketing company, trying to find a domain name using those keywords, that hasn’t already been registered, is a mammoth task. The choice is then to take a less then perfect domain, often making the address longer and including hyphens to get a unique URL. This makes the domain less memorable and poses problems for offline branding.

More useful, is a website address that compliments your business identity as it will help to build brand recognition. Often, these domains are more memorable, shorter and will translate well into any other on or offline marketing activity undertaken at a later stage.

Fresh, unique content and good quality links are still required for good rankings, even if you have the best domain name in your particular industry. Rather than pay above the odds for a URL featuring keywords, marketing budget can be better spent on these core areas as they will ultimately target and deliver relevant traffic.

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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7 Comments

  1. it will greatly help if there will be keyword in your domain names. it also helps if the domain is understandable and related to what your website is also about.

  2. I think there's enough evidence, whether "official" or not, that suggests that keywords in the domain name definitely don't hurt and probably help. You can search many key words and the top 20 results will have a high percentage of URLs with said keywords included. I know there are many more factors, but why downplay this obvious one? And yes, moving a site URL is completely insane. Those that have done it before, like me, know! Thanks. Good article. RM

  3. Rebecca, your analysis is well-founded and the list of "pros" and cons to using a keyword-rich domain name is excellent, but you've left out a couple of significant issues. For one thing, on the PPC (paid ad) side of things, there are clear, demonstrable benefits to using a generic keyword-rich domain name that's an exact match to the business niche you're targeting. I recently published the results of a study comparing different Adwords ads within a campaign - every factor was the same from ad to ad (ad headlines, copy text, bids, landing page etc.) with only the domain name of the site (and hence the display URL) varying. The result: the ad with the generic domain in the URL which exactly matched the niche that the campaign was running in (electric bicycles, and ElectricBicycles.co.uk) brought in up to twice the traffic of the two "competing" ads which used a semi-targeted domain (YourBikes.co.uk) and a "coined" non-generic domain (InAHurry.co.uk) respectively. You can read the details, including full campaign stats, charts of the relative performance of the different ads, and an analysis of the results of the test over on my site at http://www.memorabledomains.co.uk/ppc-generic-domains.html Secondly, your analysis overlooks the fact that even if the most desirable domain name isn't available to register from scratch, it may well still be obtainable on the aftermarket for an amount which makes strong commercial sense to a company serious about its web presence. After all, outside of the top generics for massive markets, it's often possible to pick up strong generic domains for particular niches for just a few thousand dollars, an amount that pales in comparison to many other forms of marketing (think about the cost of buying a newspaper or trade journal ad, taking a stand at an exhibition, or even running a major PPC campaign) The purchase of the most appropriate domain name for their target market is one of the most cost-effective moves a company can make, simply because they gain ongoing benefits forever for a one-time up-front investment.

  4. I can agree with both the author and Edwin above. Obtaining a premium already registered domain name for a few thousand dollars is a good investment, and a much better investment than a one-time trade show or yellow page ad.

  5. Another great article Rebecca, thank you. As someone who is managing a number of PPC campaigns, my experience is similar to Edwin's in that I often see higher click rates when keywords are in the display URLs of ads. One note, they can be effective in the root domain or after it, such as: XYZ.com/Electric-Bicycles A lot of my e-commerce clients have benefited from either keyword-targeted landing pages or simply including keywords in the display URL after the domain even if that page doesn't actually exist. As long as the domain is accurate it is OK. For example XYZ.com/Electric-Bicycles could point to just XYZ.com.

  6. My experience is also that a keyword in the URL can work miracles. But on the other side - I do not know, if the same has happend without it...

  7. @Edwin: Great post. I run SEO for a Real Estate Company and the KW we want to rank for is "Atlanta Real Estate." The owner of that URL has it parked and wants north of $100k for it, so forget that. I found AtlantaRealEstateInfo.com for $200 on an auction and bought that instead. Saved right at $99,800 right off the bat and still have the main key word + info.com. I'll run Adwords on this theme until I can push this up the rankings and again, you are correct that this URL helps a lot on the Ads Displayed. Good post overall, Rob