Choosing a domain name is not as straightforward as one might think. If you do business online and know a bit about search engine optimization (SEO), then you’ve heard the importance of having relevant keywords for your niche in your domain name. I have been down this path a few times and I made some very important realizations. Here I will explain the process I follow, after spending a ridiculous amount of money buying and testing domain names for my businesses. Note that this is what works for me, if you have another approach, do let me know in the comments 🙂
1. About brand names, niche keywords and SEO
A few years back most SEO professionals would tell you that if you want a leading edge over the competition your URL should contain the keywords relevant for your niche. In other words, if you are a self defense teacher, you should get selfdefense.com, or the second best option selfdefense.net or selfdefense.org (this is also called exact domain match).
Google has made lately some important changes to its search algorithm so that it accounts for this approach, therefore it places less importance on domain names that contain the keywords people search for. So the situation seem to be that having the exact keywords for your niche is not that important, but from my experience, it still helps.
But exact domain names are still a hot commodity, and people does buy all sort of domain names to use them themselves or to sell them later. Chances are that someone already registered the most relevant keywords for your niche.
After some experimentation, I found another approach to this, combining the power of the exact keyword domains with the reputation of a branded domain. Let me explain it to you.
2. The “Fishing net” approach to domain names and SEO
Let me illustrate this approach with the previous “self defense” example. Imagine you are an instructor based in US specialized in self defence and your business name is “Dapunch”. You provide private classes and also sell an ebook online. So you have interest in bringing anyone to your site who may purchase the ebook, but specially those around your area that may also attend your classes. If you followed the advice of traditional SEO, you may be tempted to choose an URL for your business like selfdefense.com, selfdefenseclasses.com, selfdefensenewyork.com, etc. But the truth is, although they may be able to rank better in search engines for these keywords, domain names like these smell like spammy SEO sites. Not to mention, the most obvious ones are already registered by someone else. On the other hand, dapunch.com may take longer to start getting traffic, but since it is your business name, it has more credibility and reputation. So which way to go?
I would say the answer is go both ways. So, your main site will be dapunch.com, and you can have other sites with keywords in the URL to attract traffic quickly, these domains are your fishing net. Don’t start registering domains blindly though, there is also a right approach to build your fishing net.
2.1 Building your fishing net to rank fast for your keywords and attract visitors quickly
2.1.1 Selecting domain names
When setting up the satellite domains that will help you drive traffic fast, you need to do some keyword research. If you are not SEO savy, don’t worry, here I will show you a simple way to do it that does not require any paid software.
The first tool you are going to need is Google trends http://www.google.com/trends. Here you will write the main keyword for your niche, “self defense” and press explore. Now the magic happens:
There are 3 useful parts to this, first is the interest over time, this way you can make sure you are not starting a venture on something that is dying with time (also check the forecast feature to see how it could perform in the future). Then you have the regional interest and related terms, and those two are very important for building the net.
From the list of related terms, other than “self defense”, we have some interesting keywords like “weapon”, “law” and “krav maga”. Next to the terms you will see a bar and a number. Those numbers are not the number of searches, they just represent how related the two keywords are.
Once you have identified a few terms that are related to your main keywords, we can pull up a domain checker and see which ones are still available. I use namecheap for registering my domains (affiliate link). There you have a bulk domain checker tool (in the menu choose Domains -> bulk domain search). To speed things up, I will just paste the list of terms we got previusly.
As expected, these are all taken except one. So selfdefenseammo.com could be one domain we could consider registering. Before registering, compare the volume of search for those keywords and the main ones in Google trends.
Here I zoomed in the past 12 months instead since several years ago there was very little search for self defense ammo. It is important to notice the averages chart. “Self defense” has a value of 50, and “Self defense ammo” a value of 2. Again those values are not actual searches, they are just volume index. To help you understand volume index better, think that over time people search more or search less about “Self defense”, now the highest search volume ever attained, and in this case correspond to the term “self defense” during July 14-20 2013 (could be for example, 1,000,000 searches during this period) so this is our reference number 100 in this graph. So 100 is the peak for that term, but over time interest goes up and down, and to the left you can see the average in a bar. 25 in this case means that over the last 12 months we have an average of 25% of the maximum number of searches ever registered for “Self defense”, and for “Self defense ammo” there is a 2% average compared to the maximum.
Now we have an idea about relative values and trend. 2% may seem like little but it all depends on the real number of searches. After all, 2% of 1,000,000 is 20,000, and that is not bad at all. It’s time to head over another couple of tools to estimate actual number of searches, Google keyword planner and Google global market finder.
Goggle used to have a pretty good tool called keyword tool that showed you average number of searches in the country you select for your keywords, however that tool was replaced by keyword planner and average number of searches was replaced by number of impressions. Just adjust to a ridiculously high bid to simulate the maximum number of impressions for the keywords. Here is how it looks like:
Note that these values are daily, this means that there are 320+ thousands of searches (impressions) for self defense. This data is confirmed in the Global market finder
But for self defense ammo, there is no data in either of them, suggesting that the search volume might be too low. At this point I would not recommend going for this domain since it may yield a low amount of visitors per month.
So far, we have looked at traditional .com domains, however, I think that .et, .org and local domains have also a lot of potential. In fact, local domain names have proven to be very effective for me in the past months, and they are much more available. Here is the previous list of possible domain names including .net, .org, .us and .co.uk
The way I would proceed to decide which domain names are worth registering is basically the same we did for selfdefenseammo.com, but making sure you filter the number of searches by country when you analyse any local domain, since they will likely rank much faster for these specific countries.
The daily number of searches for those keywords looks like this:
The next step would be developing the selected domains.
2.1.2 Developing selected domains names
Developing the domain means to make it appealing for visitors, and includes everything from the theme to the content. I always make sure the fishing net domains look good, and have relevant content to the keywords they target. But the content is undoubtedly the most important part.
I think it’s a good idea to write a list of 10-20 different topics for articles that you can publish on each domain. In this particular case, the two domains seem to be covering the same topic of self defense classes, although in the .us domain we could include some articles that will have an edge for being local .us, for example: “Self defense classes in New York” or “Self defense gyms in New York”. If we had chosen womenselfdefense.us or womenselfdefense.co.uk, we could include a few articles about specific tips for woman and what gyms can they find in the US (for the .us domain) or UK (for the .co.uk) domain. Don’t be afraid to list competitors here, in fact competitors names could be a good source of traffic for your site.
2.2 Making it all work
It is important to have an eagle view of what you are doing, what domains you have, and what content are you publishing in each domain. Also do not forget to monitor which keywords are working well for which domains. Constant monitoring and optimization is the key to success.