Pick a Domain Name That's Search Engine Optimized

Even your site's domain name needs to optimized for search engines. Search engines read uniform resource locators (URLs), looking for keywords in them. For instance, if you have a website with the domain name rodent-racing.com and someone searches Google for rodent racing, Google sees rodent-racing as a match; because a dash appears between the two words, Google recognizes the words in the domain name.

If, however, you run the words together (rodentracing), Google doesn’t regard the individual words as individual words; it sees them as part of the same word.

That’s not to say that Google can’t find text within words — it can, and you sometimes see words on the search results pages partially bolded when Google does just that — but when ranking the page, Google doesn’t regard the word it found inside another word as the same as finding the word itself.

To see this concept in action, use the allinurl: search syntax at Google. Type allinurl:rodent, for example, and Google finds URLs that contain the word rodent (including the directory names and filenames).

So, putting keywords into the domain name and separating keywords with dashes provides a small benefit. Another advantage to adding dashes between words is that you can relatively easily come up with a domain name that’s not already taken.

Although it may seem as though most of the good names were taken long ago, you can often come up with some kind of keyword phrase, separated with dashes, that’s still available. Furthermore, search engines don’t care which first-level domain you use; you can use .com, .net, .biz, .tv, or whatever; it doesn’t matter.

In the search engine optimization field, it has become popular to use dashes and keywords in domain names, but in most cases, the lift provided by keywords in domain names is relatively small, and you should consider other, more important factors when choosing a domain name:

  • A domain name should be short, easy to spell, and easy to remember. It should also pass the radio test. Imagine that you’re being interviewed on the radio and want to tell listeners your URL. You want something that’s instantly understandable without having to be spelled. You don’t want to have to say “rodent dash racing dash events dot com”; it’s better to say “rodent racing events dot com.”

  • In almost all cases, you should get the .com version of a domain name. If the .com version is taken, do not try to use the .net or .org version for branding purposes! People remember .com, even if you say .org or .net or whatever. So, if you’re planning to promote your website in print, on the radio, on TV, on billboards, and so on, you need the .com version.

A classic example is a situation involving Rent.com and Rent.net. These two different websites were owned by two different companies. Rent.net spent millions of dollars on advertising, but you have to wonder how much of the traffic generated by these ads actually went to Rent.com! (Rent.net is now out of business — the domain name now points to Move.com — and Rent.com isn’t.)

Are keyworded domain names worth the trouble? Because the lift provided by keywords in the domain name may be rather small — and, in fact, putting too many keywords into a name can hurt your placement — you should probably focus on a single, brandable domain name (a .com version).

On the other hand, you might register both versions. For instance, register both Rodent-Racing-Events.com and RodentRacingEvents.com. Use Rodent-Racing-Events.com as the primary domain name, the one you want the search engines to see. Then do a 301 Redirect to point RodentRacingEvents.com to Rodent-Racing-Events.com.

That way, you can tell people to go to “rodent racing events dot com” without having to mention the dashes, yet the search engine will regard all links to either domain as pointing to the same site and will see the keywords rodent and racing in the domain name.

Don’t use a domain-forwarding service for websites that you want to turn up in search engines. Many registrars now allow you to simply forward browsers to a particular site: A user types www.domain1.com, and the registrar forwards the browser to www.domain2.com, for instance.

Such forwarding systems often use frames, which means that search engines don’t index the site properly. Your site should be properly configured by using the name server settings, not a simple forward.

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