SEO Tutorial Domain Name Optimization updated June 2014.
When I wrote this SEO article it was on the domain seo-gold.com, my old SEO business website where I used to offer SEO consultant services. After shutting down offering SEO services as part of my online business I’ve moved a lot of SEO articles from the SEO Gold site (and other SEO domains) to here (will be 301 redirecting the entire domain when everything is moved).
The domain name seo-gold.com is a good example of choosing a domain name for SEO, so rather than completely update this SEO tutorial with another domain name, I’ve kept the SEO Gold references where they work.
Optimizing a Business Domain Name for Google Rankings
You might think what does the name of my business have to do with search engine optimization (SEO)?
If you choose the correct business name and business domain name it makes the whole search engine optimization process so much easier.
As you’ll discover in later SEO tutorials links to a web site are very important, in fact essential for high search engine positioning. The text associated with those links called anchor text is one of the most important SEO factors to get right when it comes to optimizing a site.
Get the business name/domain name right and the SEO is easier.
Choosing a Domain Name for SEO
Internal links (like the footer link mentioned below) are under our control, we as webmasters can create the perfect anchor text for each page or completely mess it up SEO wise and use Home as the anchor text (SEO lesson: avoid anchor text like Home, Click Here etc…). However, other webmasters linking to your site will tend to do one of two things.
The first is they use your business/site name for the anchor text, the second is the actual URL for the anchor text. Keep this in mind when thinking about a domain name and business name.
A recent addition to my network of sites (registered the domain May 2014) is Books to Read. Not a business site per se, but makes a decent example to show some of the SEO benefits of choosing the right domain name, how the domain name can make SEO easier.
The domain name is books-to-read.com which Google reads as “Books To Read Com”. A Google search for the exact phrase (include the “speech marks”) shows the site on page 2 of a Google search-
The only reason why the home page would be found for the “Books To Read Com” SERP is the URL, the text COM is not used anywhere in the text or for backlinks anchor text, the only way Google would rank the site for that SERP is if it reads the URL: books-to-read.com and replaces the hyphens – for spaces: Google reads the URL as “Books To Read Com”. As you’ll read later this only works for hyphenated URLs.
Via keyword research I know the “Books to Read” search phrase generates around 90,000 visitors a month from Google, that’s a nice chunk of traffic if I can get a good ranking, that one main SERP (if I can get top 3 in Google) could be enough to make the site worthwhile, and that’s just the main SERP using that exact phrase (lots of book SERPs).
The text Books to Read is a main search phrase, right now (June 2014) the sites rankings are rubbish, it’s a new site, not done any off site SEO (no backlinks), so not expecting good results yet.
The 1st SEO benefit is since Google reads the URL of a domain and uses hyphens as separators (spaces) the domain is exact match to the Books to Read search: as I work on the sites SEO it will get a natural boost for that main keyphrase.
2nd SEO benefit since the domain name is books-to-read, makes sense to name the site Book to Read (in effect the name of the business). This will naturally result in internal links with exact match anchor text to the business name, the site has a footer link back to the home page for example using the name of the site as the anchor text:
When other webmasters link to the site they’ll tend to either use the name of the site “Books to Read” or the URL of the site “http://books-to-read.com” as anchor text, the first example is exact match, the URL version includes exact match (Google reads it as “http books to read com” – search for this in Google).
Like I said this isn’t exactly a business domain, if it was and I was creating a new business and branding mattered I might have gone for a domain name like amazon-books-to-read.tld and name the business “Amazon Books to Read” or “Amazon Books”**
**This is just an example, since there’s already a book business called Amazon I wouldn’t use the above example (trademark issues), but as a hypothetical example it’s a good one for businesses who want a good SEO domain whilst still include branding: if you have an enormous branding budget like Amazon has you don’t have to worry as much about the URL.
When webmasters link to “Amazon Books to Read” they’ll tend to use anchor text
“Amazon Books to Read”
“Books to Read”
“Amazon” – if it became a big brand.
“http://amazon-books-to-read.tld” : Google reads as “http amazon books to read tld”
All of which either help with the main SERPs or branding.
If you have picked the business name and domain name without considering how webmasters add links in the real world it won’t help your site in the search engines since links to your site will not use the best anchor text.
SEO training: The right anchor text, keyword rich anchor text is essential to good search engine rankings.
Here’s an SEO lesson for you on how to choose what internal page to link to without using SEO tools. Note above how I’ve linked to another page of this site using the anchor text “search engine rankings”, here’s how I decided which page to link to.
First I decided I wanted to link from the text “search engine rankings”.
Second I did a Google site search for this domain specifically looking for pages that use that exact phrase (add the phrase between speech marks), so a Google site search exact match, copy the text below into a Google search and it will all become clear.
site:http://www.seo-gold.com/ "search engine rankings"
Third I checked the results (5 of them, first 3 shown above) for a relevant match, the first result was this page, didn’t want to link this page to this page, so used the next one down.
Google considers the URL I linked to as the second most important page on this site for the SERP search engine rankings. I’m now linking to that page from here which suggests to Google this page and the page I’m linking to might be important for the search engine rankings search result, so I’m confirming what Google has already determined (that’s what the Google site search exact match told me) and adding even more relevance.
Branding vs. Search Engine Optimization
Zeus Thrones may sound great for a company selling high quality toilet seats, but it’s not going to help potential online customers find your carefully crafted web site via the major search engines, unless you have a large advertising budget for branding purposes (like Amazon had/has) your potential customers won’t know your business or your web site even exists.
If you have a site about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for example a good business name (for optimization reasons) would be Search Engine Optimization or SEO and the domain name would be search-engine-optimization.tld or seo.tld respectively. SEO lesson: tld being com, net, co.uk etc… SEO wise doesn’t really matter what the domain type is, Google doesn’t care, info is equal to com.
There are other considerations to take into account when choosing a business and domain name including branding and of course available domain names, so compromises have to be made. For example when deciding on a business name and domain name for this web site I knew I couldn’t have the ideal domain names (for optimization reasons) because others already owned them.
After a little keyword research at Wordtracker and checking various domains, settled on http://www.seo-gold.com/ and general site name SEO Gold Search Engine Optimization Services (or in short SEO Gold). Since I stopped offering SEO services, but didn’t want to delete or sell the domain name I switched this site to an SEO tutorial and renamed the site accordingly.
SEO Value of Hyphenated Domain Names?
Why www.seo-gold.com (hyphenated) and not www.seogold.com (non-hyphenated)?
The current main search engine (Google) doesn’t recognize the individual words from the above non-hyphenated domain name (seogold is not the same as seo-gold), so they would not help future optimization plans. The hyphenated domain http://www.seo-gold.com is seen by Google as-
www seo gold com since Google treats . (dots) and – (hyphens) as a space. We say “Google can parse those keywords out of the domain name”. Note a domain with a single keyword (i.e www.keyword.tld) will have the single keyword recognized since Google sees the two dots (in the example above) as spaces (sees www keyword tld). So when choosing a domain name either go with a single keyword domain (like seo.com if available) or have multiple (or at least one) keyword(s) separated by hyphens (like seo-gold.com).
Since writing this tutorial many years ago the above has not changed, it’s 2014 and if I had to make this decision today I’d make a similar choice.
SEO guidance: So you believe Google can parse SEO Gold from seogold. Tell me, which keywords should Google parse from these domain names (all real examples BTW):
speedofart.com : Speed of Art or Speedo Fart?
whorepresents.com : Who Represents or Whore Presents?
expertsexchange.com : Experts Exchange or Expert Sex Change?
penisland.net : Pen Island or Penis Land?
lesbocages.com : Les Bocages or Lesbo Cages?
therapistinabox.com : Therapist in a Box or The Rapist in a Box?
I kid you not, these are real examples, go check them out.
And why do they have to only be relatively long ‘real’ words, why not for therapistinabox.com “the rap ist in ab ox” or did the owner want the SERPs “th er apist ina box”?
Yes in theory Google could try to determine what the domain might be about from the domain name, but imagine the computational power wasted on trying to figure out all possible permutations of a domain name. Google uses the simplest way to determine what a domain might be about, it’s either a single word (do a Google search for therapistinabox) or it’s multiple words separated by hyphens.
Business Domain Name Branding Revisited
If branding is a consideration or you plan to tell people about your site on the phone or in person, hyphenated domains are harder to verbalize. So www.seo-gold.com would be www dot seo hyphen gold dot com (or www dot seo dash gold dot com) which aren’t too bad, but imagine a domain with multiple hyphens, doesn’t exactly role off the tongue!! Fortunately there is a solution, register a non-hyphenated version as well and refer to it on company letterheads, traditional advertising media etc… and redirect the non-hyphenated domain to the hyphenated domain via a 301 redirect.
A word of warning regarding multiple domains. A simple 301 redirect (that’s a permanent 301 redirect to be precise) will not be treated negatively by the search engines, but having two identical sites (called mirror sites) might because of duplicate content issues. If you plan to have two or more sites about the same subject make the content different. Changing the background colour or a few images, does not make a site different, you need unique text. If you can’t create unique sites, don’t make mirror sites, you might get your main business site penalized for duplicate content!!
If you MUST have two or more identical sites give the duplicates canonical URLs back the main site. A canonical URL tells Google etc… the preferred version of a webpage (they are page not site based). Every page of a duplicate site should have a corresponding canonical URL back to the main page on the preferred domain.
With my sites I currently only advertise online so have no need for a second easier to verbalize non-hyphenated domain name, so haven’t registered alternatives (as it happens www.seogold.com was already taken anyway). However, I did plan to add an element of branding to this site long term which is why I went with the business/domain name SEO Gold, it’s memorable (so brandable) and has at least one keyword (SEO). I could have registered a name like “SEO Search Online Company”, but this is completely unbrandable as no one will recall a generic name like that, but would be great in terms of keywords since all four words are used by searches looking for SEO Services. If branding isn’t important (say an affiliate site) a generic keyword rich domain name is advisable.
In essence with www.seo-gold.com we have created a web site that is both brandable and easier to optimize. since I closed the SEO services part of my business I no longer care about branding.
SEO Value of Anchor Text Revisited
When a webmaster links to the home page of this site Stallion WordPress SEO Themes & Plugins they will tend to use the following code by copying what’s in the home page link at the top-
<a href="http://stallion-theme.co.uk/">Stallion WordPress SEO Themes & Plugins</a>
Using the business or site name as anchor text or
Using the URL as anchor text.
In both cases the site benefits from the keywords Google can parse from the anchor text. The first example we have Stallion WordPress SEO Themes & Plugins (four important keyword). In the second example stallion theme co uk (one important keyword out of four words, not as good, but better than nothing). So in both cases we benefit just by choosing the right business and domain name.
If we’d of gone with the words combined (stalliontheme.co.uk) version, Google wouldn’t parse out anything helpful in the second example, it would see stalliontheme co uk which is unhelpful since no one will search for stalliontheme! Webmasters who use the business name might use stalliontheme as anchor text instead of the preferred Stallion Theme as well!
The above also holds true for directory and filenames, so when choosing directory and filenames use hyphens like you see for the pages of this site. For example the page you are reading has the URL-
This will be parsed to- http stallion theme co uk seo domain name if a webmaster linked to this page using the entire URL! From this we have important keywords “SEO Domain Name”.
Underscores vs Hyphens/Dashes in URLs
Please note underscores (_) within a filename or directory like domain_name_choice are not treated as word separators like hyphens are in domain-name-choice, so rather than parsing to “domain name choice” Google see one word “domain_name_choice”. Try the search in Google for domain_name_choice to see the problem.
You will find a lot of SEO experts believe underscores are treated as spaces, ask them for the evidence: evidence would be pages ranking for a SERP like “Unique Keywords Here” (include the speech marks in the Google search) with a filename like unique_keywords_here.html and the words Unique, Keywords and Here are NOT used on the page or as anchor text with in links to the page. So the only use of those words are the filename and separated by underscores.
Matt Cutts (works for Google) Confirms what I’ve been saying for about 10 years!
The Right Domain Name helps with Search Engine Rankings
There is a direct search engine optimization benefit to using keyword rich hyphenated domain names (and directory/filenames). Google and other search engines using Googles database (AOL, Netscape etc…) will give every page of a site a small boost for singular and hyphenated words within the domain name, even when the word isn’t used in the code. Yahoo and MSN also give a SERPs boost, but it’s much smaller than seen with Google.
Having a keyword within the URL will alone result in a boost for that keyword for every page of the site, so your domain name should ideally contain your most important keyword.
Indirect SEO Benefits to Domain and Business Name Choice
Search engines rely on the keywords in the body text and other areas of code on a page. If your site and domain name is highly related to the phrases you wish to rank highly for adding those phrases to your sites content will be so much easier. Look at the number of times the word SEO has been added to this page just through mentioning the business name SEO Gold, if our business name was “Good Traffic Rankings” for example the word SEO would not be used as much.
The main keywords for this site are Search Engine Optimization, SEO and Search Engine Placement etc… Since the site is (or was) called SEO Gold Search Engine Optimization Services just by mentioning the name of the site we’ve added five keywords to a page.
Quick SEO Tip – add a copyright notice to every page using keyword rich text. We use ours to link to the home page using keyword rich anchor text.
If you are stuck with a business/site name already, don’t despair some of the information is relevant to directory and file naming. Also the business/domain name is but one small part to high search engine placement (Google uses over 200 ranking factors), the majority of this SEO Tutorial will deal with pre existing sites.