Keyword Domain Names or Brand Domain Names?


Image adapted and supplied by Connor Bensley (at 10 years old)

Which domain name to choose for your website is a complex decision so how do you make it and what factors are there to consider?

One of the biggest decisions is whether to go for a keyword-rich domain name or brand domain name. Well, there are advantages to both so inevitably there are trade-offs to consider. There is no answer that is right for everybody because some of the characteristics of your business, website and objectives will be different from other businesses. The decision is made that much harder for many people by uncertainty about how the domain name affects the results in the search engines.

So, what actually is a keyword domain name?

Keyword domain names are domain names that consist partly or solely of target keywords for a business. If the domain name is exactly the same as a key phrase, it is known as an exact match domain name.

It does not take much exposure to the search engine results pages to realise that the results pages are full of domain names with keywords in them so most people intuitively guess that this must be a great way of making money because so many people use them.

Why do people use keyword domain names?

Keywords in domain names have many effects and usually the most sought after effect is that they can help you to rank highly for those keywords. But why do keywords help rankings? Well, keywords in domain names help rankings in at least two different ways.

The direct benefit

There is a direct effect arising from the significance that Google places on those keywords being in the domain name. They are one of many signals about the subject matter of the website i.e. what content it contains and how relevant that content is likely to be to somebody who typed the keywords in to their search box. This direct effect is of relatively low significance unless the domain name is an exact match for the keyword and in those cases the domain name becomes a much more powerful ranking factor.

The indirect benefit

The other effect is an indirect effect created by the characteristics of the back links. Back links are the hyperlinks on other websites which, when clicked, take you to your domain. If these back links have your target keywords in their ‘anchor text’ (anchor text is the visible text you click on), then the links will help your domain rank better for those keywords.

If you have your keywords in the domain name, then the back links to your site will naturally be more likely to have your keywords in their anchor text. And if your business name is the same as your domain name, then this is even more likely to happen. If you have your keywords in both your business name and your domain name, then your back links will 9 times out of 10 have your keywords in their anchor text. And that is the magic ingredient for top rankings – keyword-rich back links!

Different styles of links

Let’s take a real example to clarify this. If other people place a link to this website, they often do so with a link that looks like this – Others may create a link that looks like this – AdJuice. But they may create a link that looks like this – SEO Surrey . They all take you to the same page but the third of these three links have keywords in their anchor text and will therefore help the target page (more than the other two links), to rank highly for the keywords “SEO Surrey”. If I had named the company “SEO Surrey” and hosted it on the domain then links to my site would naturally contain those keywords and I couldn’t fail to rank number 1 for that search term.

Armed with this information about the magic ingredient, the choice seems like a no-brainer, eh? Keyword-rich domains it is!

Credibility in your business name

Well, er, no. The trouble is, “SEO Surrey” just does not work as a business name. Although the business name would at least have the advantage of making the nature of its services clear, it could not be used as an identity to build a brand because it lacks credibility. So it may help with search engine rankings but it certainly does not help the user and may even engender feelings of mistrust.

Getting the message over about your services

There are other advantages of having keywords in the domain name which should not be ignored. They reveal at a glance what your service is about. Your domain name is visible in the search results so a surfer can glean useful information about your business without having to click on the link. Furthermore, all keywords that were typed in by the surfer are shown in bold in the results. If your domain name has keywords in it, these words will appear in bold text, draw the surfer’s eye and increase the chances that they will click on your link.

Well established business?

If you have an established business with a name already, the way ahead is not so clear. If your business name does not have your keywords in it, you are faced with either choosing a domain name that matches your business name and therefore has no keywords in it either or choosing a keyword domain name that does not match your business name and that may create confusion.

Or just starting out?

If you are starting a new business, then you have more options but still face difficult choices. Some businesses will be able to create a name which includes their most important keywords and find that the matching domain name is still free. Again, a ‘no brainer’. Or is it? Well, it’s fine in some cases. It all depends on whether the language works and that is why it is difficult to prescribe hard and fast rules.

It is worth noting that it is not always as black and white as making a choice between a brand domain name or an exact match keyword domain. You could compromise by incorporating your single most important keyword into a domain name that is capable of being built into a brand yet will still help your rankings.

Look at the best in class

Faced with such a complex, yet vital, decision, it’s always useful to look at what the best in class are doing. Most businesses that are intent on long term brand building tend not to focus on keywords. They become the keyword. Think about Google, Yahoo, Bing, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook. Their names all share three vital features. They are short. They are memorable. And they are easily pronounced. Three characteristics which are essential for verbal communication which facilitates the natural propagation of the brand.

Practical considerations

There are many other factors to be considered too that are unrelated to search marketing. Don’t forget that your business name may appear in far more places than on your website and so needs to look right in all those places as well. When you next see a van that displays a business name like “” you know why. Even with a good appreciation of all the factors to consider it is still challenging to decide upon the right domain name for your business because the time you are likely to spend marketing it could be considerable.

But it’s fun!

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