Brand Marketing vs Search Engine Optimization article updated February 2014.
A commenter on the site asked the question about Search Engine Optimization domain name choice and branding at Online Brand Marketing SEO Tips.
My answer got a little on the detailed side, so turned it into an SEO article (this SEO article).
The question was if you have a branded domain name is it worth investing in a keyword rich hyphenated SEO domain name to make up for the loss in Search Engine Optimization benefit by having a branded domain?
Not familiar with the SEO pros and cons of hyphenated domains vs non-hyphenated domains see Optimizing a Business Domain Name for details.
Lets look at a real world example of a brand marketing domain name that’s gardening relevant (I think the commenter has a garden relevant site :-)).
Brand Marketing Domain Name Example
A search in Google for Gardening Supplies lists homeharvest.com near the top (or was at the time I did the SEO research: February 2014 the business is shut down). Not that into gardening so no idea if “Home Harvest” are a big brand name in garden supplies, it’s definitely a brand marketing domain name and not an SEO domain name.
If you’ve read the entire SEO tutorial you’ll know this isn’t the best domain name even for brand marketing. The best would include a hyphen (home-harvest.tld 100% brand domain name with SEO included to obtain the brand SERP “Home Harvest” ONLY).
Looking at the site suggests brand marketing is very important as the name of the business (which is a registered trademark suggesting it’s an important brand name to them) is used in the title of all pages.
By registering a brand relevant domain name and not a completely SEO domain name (like gardening-supplies.tld) the site does loose some search engine optimization relevance, but it’s not the end of the world.
Many sites are filled with pages that are not about the main SERP. With a gardening supplies site there are many SERPs like seeds, plants, plant pots, compost, sheds etc… that a perfect search engine optimization domain like gardening-supplies.tld (for the Gardening Supplies SERP) will have little impact on. Your perfect search engine optimized domain name can’t cover every possible SERP for a site.
Which brings me to the question, when you have a pre existing brand marketing domain name/site (like homeharvest.com) is it worth investing in an SEO domain name (like gardening-supplies.tld)?
In the vast majority of cases the answer is no.
Avoid Duplicate Content Penalties
Google will only index and rank one copy of a website (tries to anyway :-)) and there are inherent SEO risks in having two domains loading the same duplicate content: Google makes mistakes and might ban both the brand and the SEO domains!
For this reason you should never create a copy of a site you own.
What you can safely use is a 301 redirect to redirect another domain name to an existing domain name, so when you load seo-domain.tld (gardening-supplies.tld) you see the domain name brandeddomain.tld (homeharvest.com) in the browser URL box (it changes to the brand name after loading). In other words you can only load all the content of the site via one domain name.
A 301 redirect informs the search engines the page that’s redirected (gardening-supplies.tld) should no longer be indexed (it’s permanently moved) and only index the domain we are 301 redirecting to (homeharvest.com). Any SEO benefit from the redirected domain will be mostly passed on to the brand domain name. Google has a dampening factor (around 15%) on 301 redirects, so you loose around 15% of the SEO link benefit by 301 redirecting.
SEO Keyword Rich Domain 301 Redirects
Using a 301 redirect can theoretically gain relevant SERPs related to the SEO domain name, but it means more SEO work and the gain just isn’t worth the effort in my experience (there’s more important SEO work to be done).
For a site to rank well it needs backlinks, now in the case of homeharvest.com it has it’s fair share (PR5 home page). If today the owners of the business registered an SEO domain name like gardening-supplies.tld and had it 301 redirect to homeharvest.com and did nothing else (never linked to gardening-supplies.tld), it would be a complete waste of time and money as Google etc… wouldn’t even know it existed. I could have a million SEO keyword rich hyphenated domains redirected to my home page, seo-gold.com, how would Google know search-engine-optimization-long-tail-keyword.tld even exists without a link to that domain?
For this to add SEO benefit they’d have to generate backlinks directly to gardening-supplies.tld and you know how much work it is to get links to a site like homeharvest.com let alone one that just 301 redirects to homeharvest.com!
But, if you have the resources available (for example your own a network of sites to link from) to do this it could be worthwhile in a small boost for a very important SERP on the home page (it only helps the page you directly link to) that you are having issues with.
You could also setup 301 redirects so loading gardening-supplies.tld/seed-supplies/ (SEO’d file name) goes to homeharvest.com/seedsupplies/ (not SEO’d file name) and so by linking to gardening-supplies.tld/seed-supplies/ you add some relevance for the SERP Seed Supplies. You’d be better off changing homeharvest.com/seedsupplies/ to homeharvest.com/seed-supplies/ and 301 redirecting the old to the new IF you really wanted all file names to be fully search engine optimized (it’s a small boost).
I did this on this site, I originally had the search engine optimization tutorial pages under Tutorial rather than SEO Tutorial, a few 301 redirects like the one below changed that.
301 redirects to
Later moved the SEO Gold site here now both 301 redirect to
Try loading the first two URLs above.
Originally this page was static HTML (ended in *.html) now it’s created dynamically by the CMS WordPress and that also 301 redirects. So I’ve changed file names twice for some of the pages here. there is an SEO cost to a change like this, remember the 301 redirect dampening factor, you loose roughly 15% of a link benefit (PageRank/PR), so if you make this sort of change be sure to change the backlinks to the new structure over time so you don’t loose too much link benefit.
I have to say it’s a heck of a lot of effort for the SEO benefits you’ll likely gain by registering a domain like gardening-supplies.tld (not great).
With an existing branded domain it’s a lot of effort for little search engine optimization gain.
Brand Domain Name vs SEO Domain Name on a New WebSite
On the other hand if you are starting from scratch or already have the SEO version (gardening-supplies.tld) but also want a brand marketing domain for printed mail, radio ads etc… using 301 redirects make sense.
You own gardening-supplies.tld, but it sounds unprofessional on the radio (hard to remember) and doesn’t support your brand in printed material. Solution, register a brand marketing domain name like homeharvest.com, domain wide 301 redirect homeharvest.com to gardening-supplies.tld and use homeharvest.com in radio ads etc…
Note this is the other way around, you have the optimized keyword rich domains indexed in Google etc… and 301 redirect the branded domain to it.
When visitors load the easier to remember brand domain name homeharvest.com it 301 redirects to gardening-supplies.tld. I even have an awesome real world example of this.
bandq.com 301 redirects to diy.com.
B&Q are a large DIY store in the UK (biggest DIY supplies business in the UK I believe), I vaguely recall many years ago B&Q had their site at bandq.com (branded domain name), today (February 2014) they own the best domain you could own for the main DIY SERP (diy.com) and use it as their main domain name. Note: B&Q are number one in Google for the DIY SERP so their Brand Marketing and SEO Strategy works.
For most of your online SEO work link to gardening-supplies.tld, only link to homeharvest.com when it helps the brand.
In this way you get the best of both worlds, though generally it only works for relatively small to medium size businesses. I couldn’t imagine Tescos or Walmart using domain like food-shop.tld :-) That being said B&Q use diy.com, but then you couldn’t register b&q.tld (domain names can’t include an & symbol) it would have to be bandq.tld which is not exactly their brand name and harder to remember than diy.com (I bet that cost them some cash to buy).
See my article on 301 redirects which includes examples for setting up domain wide 301 redirects and other issues. I also have a WordPress 301 Redirects SEO Tutorial for the WordPress users reading this (WordPress sites are taking over the web :-)).