rose by any other nameWe’ve all heard it before. In the brick and mortar world, many say the key to retail success is, “Location, location, location.” If we translate that into the digital age, our new mantra would have to be, “Domain name, domain name, domain name.”

I suspect both claims are being over-simplified, but no one can deny that the domain name you choose is going to be important. You domain name is the face of your business.

There are two schools of thought about selecting a good domain name.

Keyword Domains

Many believe that your domain name should be informative. It should immediately tell anyone who sees it what your website is going to be about. Following this logic, a good domain name for a magician living on the east cost of Michigan might be detroit-magician.com.

We usually call this a keyword domain because it contains the same keywords someone might enter into a search engine if they were looking for a magician in detroit. There was a time when having a keyword in your domain name would give you a really big boost in the search engine rankings. That’s still true on some search engines, but no longer true on Google. It’s still a factor at Google, but it’s no longer an important factor. At least, not by itself.

However, a keyword domain becomes a secondary factor because of the way other people on the Internet link to your website.

When we look at search engine optimization (SEO) later, we’ll learn that links to your website count as votes. That’s important. Most consider good links to be the MOST important factor in Google’s search engine algorithm.

anatomy of a link

The link itself is a vote of popularity. Google figures people generally link to websites they like. The anchor text, however, is treated a little differently. Google treats the anchor text as an indication of relevancy; i.e., the anchor text tells Google what the website is probably about.

A keyword domain can increase your relevancy because a lot of people are lazy.

A lot of people will link to your site by simply pasting your URL into their software, creating a link that looks a bit like this:

anatomy of a raw link

In cases like this the HTML link and the anchor text are identical. Any yet, because your domain name contains important keywords, the anchor text will contain those same important keywords. And even though Google no longer weighs the domain name heavily, it still weighs anchor text very heavily.

The danger with keyword domains is that they can appear to be spammy, both to visitors and to search engines. To avoid that, you generally want to limit the number of keywords and avoid separating them with dashes. So, detroitmagician.com would be better than detroit-magician.com and both would likely be better than detroit-and-ann-arbor-magician-and-entertainer.com.

While keyword domains can be very useful, the sad fact is they are becoming increasingly difficult to find. All the good ones seem to be already registered and obtaining one can be darn expensive. Frankly, in my opinion, it’s very rarely worth the cost.

The alternative to a keyword domain is a brandable domain.

Brandable Domains

Domains like amazon.com, yahoo.com and google.com are examples of brandable domains. The name tells you absolutely nothing about what you’ll find when you get to the website. There is zero relevancy between the domain name and what the website does.

Needless to say, Amazon, Yahoo! and Google seem to have done fairly well without that added relevancy boost.

While some marketers think that SEO is only about keywords and links, the reality is that Google likes brands. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “Brands are the solution, not the problem. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away.”

Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily easier to find good brandable domains than it is to find useful keyword domains. All the one-word domains have long since been registered by someone looking to make a killing when they sell them.

A good solution for entertainers is to use your own name for the domain.

There are actual websites for davidcopperfield.com, lanceburton.com, or maxmavin.com, and I’m pretty sure everyone reading this will immediately know what to expect should they go to those sites. That’s the power of branding.

You can also combine your name with other pertinent words, giving us websites like mackingshow.com or mcbridemagic.com. This essentially combines the keyword domain with the brandable domain.

It can be a little more difficult if you’re creating a website that isn’t necessarily about a person, but the same techniques can still be used. For example, this site, bettermagicsites.com, and our sister website, promoteorperish.com, are brandable domains in the sense that no one is likely to ever search for those precise words. There’s some SEO benefit, perhaps, but not much. And yet the domain names will nonetheless tell potential visitors quite a bit about what to expect when they arrive.

7 Tips for Choosing a Great Domain Name

  • Always, always, always choose a .com extension (called a TLD) for your domain name. It’s become the standard and most visitors will assume your website ends with .com because 75 percent of all domains on the Internet do. If you live outside the U.S., say in Canada where the extension is .ca, you should register both your country’s TLD and the more standard .com. One can then be redirected to the other, gaining the benefits of both.
  • Your domain name must be easy to spell. Avoid commonly misspelled words (like ‘misspelled’) or intentional misspellings. Del.icio.us changed its domain to delicious.com because so many people found it impossible to type their original, very cutesy domain name. If you decide to go with cutesy be aware it will be an uphill battle.
  • Try to be relevant. You can run a little test by going to Amazon Mechanical Turk and running a survey. Provide just your domain name, nothing else, and ask users to guess the purpose of the site. The responses should tell you a lot about any implicit meanings hidden within the domain name.
  • Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Your website will lose credibility if you use the domain name to tell people how good you are. People rarely click on domains like bestwidget.com or amazingmagic.com.
  • Keep your domain name as short as you can. The top 100,000 website on the Internet, on average, have only nine characters in their domain name. My flagship website, the one that was in the top 4,000 busiest sites for most of a decade, is netpoets.com, just eight characters long.
  • Never register detroit-magician.com if someone else already has an active site at detroitmagician.com. Everything you do to promote your site, every penny you spend on advertising or marketing, will do more for your competitor than it will for you. That’s an uphill battle you really don’t want to fight.
  • There’s absolutely no reason why you should limit yourself to just one domain name. The domains magician-newyorkcity.com, birthdaymagician-nyc.com, and mymagicbarmitzvah.com are all registered to the same magician, John Born. Each website is unique and focuses on one aspect of John’s audience. This is GOOD marketing.

NEXT What is a CMS?