Local SEO 101: Domain Naming

by Chris Silver Smith

Domain naming is closely related to branding. If you have some flexibility — that is, if you don’t have a website or your website hasn’t been operating for very long — you might want to engineer your domain name to give you maximum Local SEO value. Choosing Domain Names for Local Businesses & Local SEO(If you’ve already been operating on a brandname for quite some time, you might still consider these tips for a separate domain name for your blog.)

The right domain name can give you a marginal edge above the competition when people are searching for your products and services.

Back when I wrote “Extreme Local Search Optimization Tactics“, I suggested renaming a business to include local search keywords so that your company could more closely match with the queries that most consumers would type into search engines when seeking your type of business. While those “extreme” tips were intended to be so over-the-top as to be a joke, the concept of having an optimal name is not.

For instance, a business named “Acme” isn’t going to match searches for “auto repair” as closely as a business named “Acme Auto Repair”. Descriptively-named businesses have the added benefit of always advertising/informing consumers as to exactly what they provide, each time their names are displayed, so there’s likely some significant overall advantage to descriptive names beyond search optimization.

Renaming businesses has been done for local search optimization, although Google has become sensitive to it being done non-officially, and formally/legally changing a business name or getting a DBA may be more trouble/expense than it is worth.

But, one way that a company can improve search position and associate keywords with their name (if their ideal keywords are not already a part of their name) is to engineer their website domain name to include them. Unlike the risks involved with attempting to inject keywords into bizname within Google Places without a legal name-change, permutations of domain names is relatively risk-free and can help with rankings within map search as well as within the organic rankings in the regular keyword search engine results pages (“SERPs”).

So, here are some easy guidelines for making a great domain name:

  • Do some keyword research first to make sure you know what consumers are actually typing into search engines when seeking your type of business. Millions are lost every day by basing business decisions upon assumptions that aren’t tested/researched. Business types will typically be your best choice, because consumers are usually using those traditional yellow pages category names for searching. Ex: “restaurants”, “auto repair”, “tailor”, “accountant”. (You might also read my post from yesterday on keyword research for local SEO.)
  • Regular customers will search by your proper name, so it’s important to include it as part of your domain, along with your main keyword phrase targeting business type. It’s likely impossible to obtain the simpler (and more popular) keyword phrases for your industry since they’re likely owned by large corporations at this point anyway, such as Florists.com, Lawyers.com, and Hotels.com. If your floristry business is named “Smitty’s”, consider a combination name such as “smittysflowers.com” or “smittysflorist.com”. Some SEOs suggest leaving out a proper name as extraneous to matching/ranking for search, however, I think that Google might actually use inclusion of brandnames throughout a site as an element of quality score.
  • Keywords at the beginning of domains might have a slight edge over keywords at the end. For instance, “italianrestaurantmarios.com” might have a very slight advantage over “mariositalianrestaurant.com”. However, for multiple reasons you should try to get the keyword phrase combination which rolls off the tongue more naturally for consumers. “Mario’s Italian Restaurant” sounds more natural than “Italian Restaurant Mario’s”. The order of the keywords is likely of only very marginal value, so naturalistic name formation trumps. But, if some domainer has already nabbed the domain name you wanted, you might be able to juggle the order a little and get something similar which still contains your desired keywords.
  • Dashes are good for obtaining an exact-match for your keyword phrase, but too many is a bit of a red-flag for over-optimization or spamminess. What do I mean? Well, the domain name “auto-repair.com” would match more closely for searches for “auto repair” because dashes are treated as “white-space characters” by search engines. Whereas “autorepair.com” is a bit less of an exact-match for the same keyword phrase. But, don’t overthink this too much — search engines are pretty good at giving some level of fuzzy-match for the concatenated keyword phrases, particularly in domain names. If you desire to focus on a precise match, I’d advise only allowing one dash in your domain name. Any more will look spammier and are likely to result in a slight demerit in the search engines’ trust of your site. Example: “italian-restaurant.com” might be okay, but “tony-sopranos-italian-restaurant.com” would definitely be bad.
  • To .COM or not, that is the question! Once you start checking to see if a name is available, you’re likely to run up against the fact that people have registered everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, so you might not be able to get your desired domain. The domain registrars try to persuade you to then get .NET, .BIZ, .INFO, etcetera. Generally, .COM top-level-domains (“TLDs”) work better for consumers and better for search engines. Google handles other TLDs, but the other search engines don’t do as well, and even Google might subtract some points from your trust score if you use one of those TLDs which is heavily targeted by spammers. So, use .COM for the most part. (See my past criticism of .MOBI and .TEL, if you’re interested in additional reasons to shy away from unusual TLDs.)
  • Should I include local city name in my domain? If you desire to include the city name in your domain in addition to the business type keyword, it certainly could also be beneficial. However, shoving yet more terms into the domain may be going overboard: [bizname+category+cityname]. I believe addition of the city name is less-important than the category name, because the local search engines are looking at other factors more for establishing locality, such as your phone number and street address. So, in most cases, go with [bizname+category], like: “samscoffeeshop.com”. But, if you have a name like “McDonald”, and you figure most “McDonald” search traffic is likely related to the fast-food chain rather than your company, you might go with [category+cityname], like: “accountants-boston.com” or “boston-accountants.com”, if those names are available.
  • Be brief. Shorter domain names, and shorter URLs, perform better in search engines. Also, I suspect that domain names which are longer than a certain character length might get dinged in quality/trust scores. This is another reason not to spam-up a domain with too many dashes and the cityname as well as category name.
  • If you’re considering switching domain names, there are a lot of steps to transition from using the old one to the new. On your site, update all links to use the new URL, and redirect requests to pages on the old domain to the new one, using proper 301 redirects. Outside of your site, update your URL in all online directories and search engines. Check your inbound links and request those webmasters to change to your new URL wherever possible.
  • Before buying a new domain, do a little research to see if has been used before. Does it have good inbound links from other reputable sites out there? You might even check it out in the Wayback Machine to see if it had bad/spammy content on it in the past. If it had bad content on it in the past, it might require extra work to clean up and reestablish reputation on it.
  • Finally, I’ve had small-t0-medium business owners ask me if they should buy tons of domain names with cool keywords and point them all at their site. For the most part, the answer to this is “NO!”. Google’s terms are clear that anything appearing to be a linking scheme could get you dinged. Also, you can only realistically promote one or two domains, and having a whole bunch redirecting to your main domain doesn’t help much with keyword relevancy.

Using these tips, you should be able to engineer a keyword-targeted domain name for your local business, or the blog for your local business, and this could give you a little incremental boost in your search engine optimization efforts. (If you’re interested in my analysis of local domaining for higher-profile companies, read my Domaining & Subdomaining In The Local Space Part 1 and Part 2.)

Related posts:

  1. Introducing Local SEO 101
  2. Speaking at MIMA Summit 2010
  3. Local SEO 101: Step One, Claim Your Listing In Google Maps


 
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3 Responses to “Local SEO 101: Domain Naming”

  1. [...] some advanced local SEO tactics, read up on: choosing a local domain name; specialized local search ranking factors; how to add a Google Map to your webpage; add geocodes to [...]

  2. Stephen Kane says:

    Chris – Excellent 101 on Domain Naming and SEO. This post is logical and well written. You make the art and science of SEO easy to understand.

    Being well into the process of relaunching my site with a new tld that contains 4 keywords and 3 dashes, this article gave me pause. Let me explain why I’m doing what I’m doing.

    My strategy in launching a new domain name is to have 2 names:
    1. The old tld, that people who are aware of me use. (branded in online and offline promo).
    2. The new keyword rich tld, for people who are not aware of me – but need my services.

    Here’s my original thinking on the name change:

    The old name, HandPickedTomatoes.com, is a cool name and easy to remember and spell. As importantly, it suggests an organic quality that I believe is important in business relationships whether online or off. The Hand Picking also suggests personalized attention. Having said this, it does nothing to promote the core website design and internet marketing work I do.

    The new name, website-design-internet-marketing.com states exactly what I do and contains my top search terms. Yes it’s long and hard to remember and spell – not to mention it looks spamy to SE’s according to your post. Still, the essence of what I do is incorporated in the name and isn’t that the relevance that Google is looking to deliver to its customers in its SERPs?

    Another consideration for keeping two tlds – though not really SEO relevant – is that typing an email like myname@website-design-internet-marketing.com is carpal tunnel prone .

    Here’s how I envision my strategy working:

    1. People who know me go to HandPickedTomatoes.com, which gets 301′d to the new name.
    2. People who don’t know me and who search for my services get directed to the new, keyword rich, tld. At the new tld, they become aware of the old name and that is what gets branded in their minds.

    The content on the new tld still brands the old HandPickedTomatoes.com. because my organic, carbon based, hand picked business relationship philosophy hasn’t changed.

    What do you and your readers think of this strategy?

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