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Should I use target search terms in my domain name?

Written by Brent Kelly on April 1st, 2008.      0 comments

We are often asked if including target search terms in the domain name or website address will help to improve a websites search engine ranking.
It is hard to say for sure as the search engines don't like to give away their secrets for their ranking methods, and also these methods change on a regular basis - so something that may work today might not work tomorrow. But many experts believe that using search terms in the domain name will help to give a website a leg-up in the search engine results for those search terms.

The theory behind this technique

In theory it seems unlikely that the search engines would place any emphasis on search terms used in the domain name. When you think about it, by doing this the search engines open up the domain name for abuse by website owners.

However there are other reasons why incorporating search terms in the domain name might help to give a website a boost in the search results:
  1. Often when other people link to a website they will simply use the address of the website. For example if I wanted to link to the website of Ron Giles, one of our e-business consultants, I might say: to find out more about Ron Giles visit his website This is a backlink to his website which incorporates the search terms of his domain name "Website Consultant." The search engines of course give points for inbound links, and they use the "anchor text" or the text used in the link to help them calculate the subject of the website. 
  2. By using target search terms in your domain name you might be able to fool Google into thinking that the search terms are actually the name of your company. So when a user searches for the phrase "Website consultant" Google doesnt know if you are searching for a company called "website consultant or simply website consultant in general. If you can convince Google into thinking that the name of your company is your domain name, you will improve your chances of obtaining a top rank ofr those search terms, espicially for a local search.
It does seem likely that using search terms in your domain name will give your website a slight boost in the search engine ranking process. However you will need to consider if it would be worth the hassle of changing your current domain name and risking a drop in your current ranking for a period as Google recalculates your rank.
By all means it is definitely worth considering if you have a new website that is not live yet.

Which search terms?

If you choose to incorporate target search terms in your domain name to help with your search rank, you will need to decide on what search terms to use.

Consider your Branding

This is the hard bit. Firstly you need to decide if you should target your brand  name, or theme or both. If a primary objective of your website is to build a prominent brand for your business then you should target your business name or as close to it as you can. Make it short, snappy and memorable.

However, if your brand name is something quite unique, for example "Zeald" and you know that there is very few if any other examples of the term used online, then most likely you will achieve a number one rank without even trying. In which case, you could try targeting a theme, instead of or as well as.

Consider a theme

If you decide to target a theme as opposed to your brand, or as well as your brand, you will need to find and decide on a search phrase that:
  1. Makes sense
  2. is short and snappy 2-3 words max
  3. is most relevant to your business
  4. produces a high volume of searches
  5. produces a high volume of sales or leads
  6. produces good revenue for your business
  7. you have chance of competing in the search results
This is the tricky bit. How do you work out what these two or three words are? The answer is keyword research.

Keyword Research

There a numerous tools out there that will help you to determine the search volume. Try Google Adwords keyword tool which allows you to segment the searches by geographic region. When you have a shortlist, use Google Insights to compare your top phrases and check that your phrase is trending upwards in popularity. Check the competition to ensure that you stand a chance to obtain a top rank for those search terms.
Calculate the relevancy. This is the really difficult bit. Some how you need to get inside the head of your target user and understand what they are thinking and "guess" what they are searching for when they enter those search terms into Google. This is referred to as the "commercial intent."

Make it local

If your primary target market is from a specific geographic region, then focus on this with your search terms and also your domain name suffix. If your target market is from Christchurch New Zealand, then make sure your domain name is a and consider using Christchurch in your target search terms.

Make it short

In most cases many of the obvious short names will have been taken already, so you will need to be creative with your choice of search terms to ensure your domain name remains short. For example you want to avoid a domain name that reads "" This does not look professional and appears obviously "spammy"

Use hyphens to separate each keyword

Because you are not able to use spaces in your domain name, you should use hyphens (-) to let the search engines and users know where one word stops and another word starts.

Consider using both theme words and your company name

If you can include you business name with theme words you capture the best of both worlds. This technique can also be a way to make the domain name unique. For example:

Use other domain names to point at your website

Once you have decided on your keyword rich domain name you will need to set it up to be the "primary" domain name for your website. Google will only list and rank a website by one domain name. You can have other domain names for your website and point them to it, but Google will only use one to rank and list your website with. You can use Google Webmaster Tools to do this or ask your website developer. If you already have an existing domain name that already has a presence with Google you need to make sure that you tell Google that you are changing your domain name. You can do this through webmaster tools.

With the keyword rich domain name setup as your primary search engine link, you should also think about links that are easy for your customers to understand and remember. For example Ron Giles might use for his primary domain name, however this is very generic and quite a mouthful for his users to remember. So he might also secure and point a simple domain name such as

Dont sweat it

With any marketing initiative you need to weigh up the return on your investment. You need to consider the amount of time and effort you spend on it and the results you might obtain from it.
The additional boost a keyword rich domain name will give your website might be subtle. If you struggle to find a good keyword rich domain name or you are uncertain about the choice of keywords, don't sweat it. Also think about the long term benefit of building brand recognition for your business.
Could that time be better spent elsewhere?


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About Zeald

Zeald was formed in 2001 by three young guys from the small New Zealand town of Mangawhai Heads. Now, Zeald is the largest website design and digital marketing agency in New Zealand and has recently made moves into Australia. This is the Zeald story …

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