Your company name is James Johnson Consulting, LLC, so that should be your domain name, right? Not so fast – there are things to consider if you want to choose the right domain name.
The first is – how will people be looking for the products or services you sell when they search online? If you are small business, chances are good it’s not by your company name. It’s by the services or products they want to buy.
If your company says nothing about what you actually consult on – using it as a domain isn’t going to help much. A domain name isn’t just chosen to represent your brand – it’s chosen to help search engines to find your brand.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
What is this SEO thing anyway? Everyone wants to sell it to you. Marketeers promise that they will jump your brand-new web site to the top of the list on the first page of Google in a matter of days. Uh huh.
That’s about as credible as an email from a Nigerian prince who wants you to cash a check for him.
SEO is a mix of variables that align to algorithms used by search engines to find the most relevant answers to the question being asked. An algorithm is the automated process, governed by specific rules, that search engines use to find websites and list them as to their relevance to the question posed.
They use your domain, your site’s content, the sites that link back to yours (backlinks) and the technical set up of your site – load speed, header tags, meta data and alt text – to help determine your rank
Google Owns the Search
There over 644 million websites online as of 2016. The real way people find them is using a search engine – and it’s no surprise to note that Google is preferred provider. Google is used for roughly 65% of searches done in the world.
For that reason, we will focus on Google when we talk about SEO. When you use Google, you get a list of paid ads (on top) followed by an organic list of search engine results – called SERPs. Organic just means they aren’t paying for placement, but clearly, they’ve spent some time on their SEO.
Everyone’s vying for a spot on that first page. (Your domain name helps for sure, but good quality content and credibility are the true arbitrators of your SERPs.)
Google, Domains & SEO
Google used to be fussy about company names and domain names matching up, but that’s kind of fallen by the wayside. So, James Johnson Consulting, LLC – which does consulting for pharma companies – could easily use the domain name: qaconsultants.com.
If they could get it…which of course, they can’t. It’s taken.
Domain names are like fingerprints – they to be unique. The smart place to go to find out what domains are available is Whois – the directory for top-level domains, like dot com, dot net or dot org.
There are workarounds and tips to try if your domain is taken explained below.
Things Google Gets Pissed About
There’s nothing more dangerous than folks who think they can outsmart the Google algorithm. Because when they get caught at it, (notice I said when) Google will simply blacklist your site from the SERPs. Sad truth – if you don’t exist in Google, you don’t exist online.
SEO no-nos include:
- Buying backlinks. Yes, I know people try to sell them to you but think of it like a guy in an alley with a truckload of TVs.
- Key word packing. Don’t create a URL like this one: bestcatfoodbrandsforyourcatsfood.com. Gee I wonder what they’re selling? The same thing applies to the content on your site.
- Don’t duplicate content from other sites or add content that is clearly just for SEO purposes. Here’s a shocker – Google doesn’t just want content with key words – they want high-quality content that responds to the search.
- Manage your own links too. Adding too many outgoing links, especially to site that aren’t particularly credible, and you can be tagged as a link farm. (Yes, that’s a thing.)
Domain Name Basics
When you’re strategizing about your domain name, you’re always looking to find a balance between Google’s algorithm and human memory.
Here are some basic rules to follow:
- Keep it under 15 characters
- Always buy the dot-com domain
- Make it memorable – easy to type and easy to say
- Don’t add dashes, underscores or numbers
- Try not to use more than two words – mywebsite.com
- If your site is a personal portfolio or online resume, using your name as the domain is okay. If you’re famous – it’s more than okay but if you don’t already have it, you’ll probably have to buy it back from a reseller.
And that brings us to the topic of what resellers sell…
Domain names are managed by registrars – that’s where you pay for your domain. Resellers buy domains and register them like everyone else, but they treat the URL like intellectual property. And they put a price tag on its value that has nothing to do with the registration cost.
It’s getting harder to find short, relevant, memorable dot com domains. If you have a childcare facility called the Happy Kids Place – you might think that is a perfect domain name. You’d be right – that’s why the reseller who owns happyplacekids.com is asking $34,000 for it.
If the Happy Kids Place is a franchise or has a number of locations across the country, they might be willing to pay that, but a small business? Probably not worth the price. But here’s a tip, you can still make the domain work.
Because it’s for sale, there is no website up at that domain – the domain is parked. So, for example, if your daycare is located in North Carolina, you could buy HappyPlaceKidsNC.com. You won’t be competing for Google’s attention while the premium domain is just parked and if you’re only in one spot – it won’t hurt your SERPs one bit.
More Premium Domain Workarounds
For a smaller business, before you spend money on a premium domain, think about how to the same value without spending big bucks. (Remember a typical domain name will run you about $12.00 without any add-ons for privacy.)
Go to a premium domain reseller site, like hugedomains.com and click on the Categories tab. Choose Brandable. Let’s say you’re a dentist. Smilz.com costs $32,000, but doctorsmilz.com isn’t registered, so it’s yours for the taking. You get the SEO value and you don’t have to pay a fortune for it.
Related Key Words
Your domain doesn’t need to match your company name, but it should match what you do, sell, produce or present. In a lot of ways, your domain is more about your customers than it is your company. But It can be hard to think about your business from the outside in.
It helps to play around with keyword tools to find words that are related to what you do. You can use the planner on a Google AdWords account, but there are other free tools out there. You may be surprised by all the words you didn’t think of…
Let’s say you have a Spin Bike store. But spinbikestore.com is long gone. Put spin bike into a key word tool and there it is – stationary bike. And guess what’s available? www.stationarybike.com – who knew?
Looking at related keywords will help stimulate your understanding of how customers look for things. You might be so busy thinking spin bikes, that stationary bikes just passes you by.
When you’re trying to decide on your domain name, these tools can be a good kick-starter for ideas.
Assessing SEO Value of Domains
The reason resellers think they can get big money for premium domains is the SEO value. So, if you’re going to spend the money, its helps to do an assessment. There are SEO tools you can run it through, but you may have to spend some money to do it.
aHREFS: This is an SEO company with some very serious tools and features. If you not familiar with SEO, this may feel a little overwhelming. You have to pay for the services, but you can get a deal on a 7-day trial. aHREFs will have more resources than you need in the beginning – and their cheapest plan is $99 a month for one user. All you want to know is how well your domain name might rank.
SpyFu: This tool is focused on finding keywords, with an emphasis on out-smarting your competitors. If you are thinking about using pay per click (PPC) ads, they are good pick to help you see what other people in the industry are doing. Again, plug in the domain name you might buy and see how it ranks. SpyFu is a little less overwhelming that aHREFs and quite a bit cheaper.
Moz: IMHO, Moz is the best choice when you’re just starting out. And guess what – they have some free tools, not only to check your domain but to help you grow traffic to your site. There are lots of articles to help you learn what you can do to improve your SERPs and increase SEO. They have some premium plans too – but if you’re just buying your domain name – you probably don’t need that yet.
Where Has that Premium Domain Been?
Resellers don’t just think up domain names and register them – they also buy domains that have expired. If that’s the case, the domain’s history comes with it, so you may want to do a little background check.
When people say the internet is forever, one of the tools that keep it that way is the Wayback Machine. Wayback Machine has been archiving pages online since 1996. When you put in a domain name, chances are good some version of it is stored there.
You can add it as an extension to the Chrome or Firefox browsers to quickly see the page itself. (Works for those annoying “page not found” 404 errors too.)
It may sound a little paranoid and chances are good the domain is fine. But if for some reason it had a creepy clientele or was related to an entirely different industry or market, the SEO value for you goes way down.
Summing Up Domain SEO
Don’t overthink this, okay? It may sound like life or death, but if you don’t have a domain, you don’t have a website. We have to assume – you want to have a website. So, if you’re not sure but you have two or three names that you like (not premium) – buy all of them. We’re talking under $50.
Check them in the free Moz tools and use the one with the best SEO value. You can leave the others parked for a minute, and could use them later a landing page or promotion down the line.
Here’s our quick domain name SEO checklist below to cover all your bases.
- Always buy the dot com domain (it’s what people know)
- Keep it short – two words or 15 characters
- Use a related keyword but don’t pack your URL.
- Make it memorable for humans
- Make it appealing to algorithms
- Never try to game the Google machine
- Be able to say your domain name out loud when you’re talking about your site
- Always think about how prospective customers will look for what you offer.
Your domain name is more than your online business card – it’s the introduction to your brand. This is how customers who’ve never heard of you will find your company online. Represent yourself or your business the same way you would in person.
And once you build your site – stay on top of how well your site is doing by adding analytics and running some basic performance tests, using free tools like pingdom.com or gtmetrix.com.
Let us know how it works out for you!