Traffic to your website from search engines can make or break your business or new venture. Because of this, search engine optimization (SEO) of your website is a crucial factor to keep in mind throughout all phases of creating and maintaining your website. One of the most fundamental and potentially important parts of good search engine optimization is choosing a good domain name.

First, there are several classifications of domain names when it comes to SEO:

  • Branded domain names (Google.com, Twitter.com, Nike.com)
  • Generic domain names (Pizza.com, Baseball.com, Postcards.com)
  • Geographic domain names (SeattlePizza.com, GeorgiaCleaners.com)
  • Hybrid branded/generic domain names (JoesPizza.com, NikeBasketball.com)

Each of these types of domains has a different impact with search engines.

When it comes to SEO, search engines are all about keywords. If you’re Joe and you run a pizza company in Seattle, you’ll get a few searches for Joe’s Pizza from customers who are already familiar with your business, but just think if you could tap into the market of people out there searching for other pizza-related terms (“pizza”, “pizza in Seattle”, “Seattle pizza delivery”, “pizza pies”, etc.). Good search engine optimization can allow even small businesses to rank well for valuable keywords.

One of the most important SEO factors is backlinks – that is, links to your website from other websites. Not only is it important to get those links, but what the links say as anchor text is also important. For instance, this link: Domain Names links to Domain.com with the anchor text “domain names”. If this link were on other websites, search engines would see it as a signal that our website is relevant to people searching for domain names, and as a result would rank us higher for that search term. It’s not particularly easy to just tell people what they should use for anchor text, so your goal needs to be to make people intuitively choose good anchor text. This is where having the right domain name can play a huge role.

If you’re a well-established household brand name with your customers and potential customers, a branded domain may be the best option. If you’re Nike, you definitely want to have your main website at Nike.com. However, Nike has also gone to the effort of making sure they own hybrid domains as well, which all redirect to their main domain. If you type in NikeBasketball.com, NikeSoccer.com, NikeGolf.com, and many other common sports, you’ll end up on Nike’s website. Branded domains generally garner numerous backlinks for that brand name, but not so many for important keywords.

Generic domain names can be “category killers” of sorts, and as such pretty much any simple generic .COM domain name you could think of has already been registered. In fact, there’s a high-priced aftermarket for generic domains. Take, for example, the recent sale of Candy.com for $3 million. Generic domain names are valuable for their type-in traffic in web browsers, but they also generally rank extremely well for the term they include in the domain. This is partly because in backlinks on other sites, most people will link to the website using the domain name of the website which includes the keyword they intend to rank for. For example, Toys.com will naturally tend to have people link to it using the phrase “toys.com” like we just did. This results in the website ranking extremely well for the search term “toys” on Google, a term which has a great deal of search volume.

Geographic domain names can play an important role in localization of search results. If your business is based in a specific city, state, or region, you probably want to target people who live and shop in that area. For Joe’s pizza business in Seattle, a domain like SeattlePizza.com would help him rank well for search terms relating to Seattle and pizza. Once again, many backlinks will include the domain name as the anchor text just like generic domains, resulting in a potential boost in search engine ranking for those terms.

In most cases, due to domain availability and branding, the best option to balance branding and search engine ranking is a hybrid domain name that includes both the brand name and some keywords. If Joe isn’t willing to spend the huge chunk of change necessary to get Pizza.com and wants to have a more personalized domain name than SeattlePizza.com, options like JoesPizzaSeattle.com might be the best bet. This type of domain almost encourages others linking to the site to include keywords as anchor text. Anchor text will often end up being either the domain name itself, or something like “Joe’s Pizza in Seattle”. As a result, there’s search engine result benefits for terms relating to Seattle pizza, while also maintaining the brand name of Joe’s business.

Of course, the best strategy for Joe’s business would be to own multiple variations of the domain name. He would want to choose one domain name to make the primary website, but purchasing JoesPizza.com, JoesPizzaSeattle.com, JoesSeattlePizza.com, and others would also be a smart move. He would also want to think about buying the .NET, .ORG, and other extensions of his primary domain to make sure all his customers trying to find him online can do so.

As you can tell, there’s no straightforward answer on what the best type of domain name for your business would be. This is why if you’re planning your business name, it’s extremely important to consider whether matching domain names are available. If you can create a business name that includes keywords and is descriptive of your products or services and then pair that with the matching domain name, you can rank well for keyword terms while also building a brand name. Take us, for example. We at Domain.com feel fortunate to have a simple domain name that describes our services and also matches our brand. Not surprisingly, we also manage to rank fairly well in search engines for terms relating to domains and domain names.

Have you faced this type of dilemma when naming your business and choosing a domain name to match? Tell your story in the comments!

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