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Choosing a Domain Name for Optimal Search Engine Ranking

05/19/04

A few months ago, just days before Google's infamous "Florida" update, I published an article that outlined several tips for choosing a domain name for optimization purposes. At the time, all of the suggestions were sound - based on experience and proven results. Today, many of those earlier suggestions have become obsolete as result of several ranking algorithm changes and search result "filters" imposed by the Yahoo and Google camps.

As the search engine ranking discipline has certainly changed in the past six months, it seems appropriate to revisit this topic in order to provide the most accurate and up-to-date advice.

What we still know…

A website's URL has several purposes. First, the name you choose has vast branding implications as it is the identifying feature for how visitors access, remember, and recommend your website. Though you should never sacrifice this value for the sake of search engine rankings, there is reason to compromise in order to find the right domain name for your new website or online business. With respect to website promotion, the URL you choose can make or break your search engine optimization campaign.

What you can do…

Follow these simple rules to help avoid penalization by search engines, maximize the benefit of link popularity campaigns, achieve success in directory submissions, and improve site keyword density:

  • Extension: Stick with the most standard URL extensions if you wish to achieve most beneficial results across the widest range of search engines. Such choices include .com, .net, .org, and any other top level domain for your country of residence (.ca, .co.uk). Many indexes disallow or placed limited emphasis on foreign or secondary extensions such as .info and .biz and many human-edited directories may not include sites of these natures as they're often viewed as less reputable or cheaper. Though it may be easier to find an unreserved .ws URL, it will not yield equal search engine rankings… period.

  • Keywords: Select a domain name that includes at least one target keyword. Though the engines place little to no emphasis on keywords within the URL, they do place great emphasis on keywords within the copy of a website. Using a well selected URL, every time you reference you own site (in the copyright line for example) you are introducing another instance of the target keyword into the copy of your site. More importantly, Google places a great emphasis on the text that is used to link to your website from outside sources. You may not always have control over the text other webmasters use to link to your site. It is, therefore, good to know that when another site links to yours with your URL, the text keywordbusiness.com, Google will interpret the link as containing the terms "keyword" and "business".

  • Length: Limit the URL you choose to 25 characters, maximum. The reasoning for this recommendation is two-fold. First, a long URL is often cumbersome and regarded as less reputable when requesting inbound links or directory inclusion. Because these two processes are so time consuming and valuable to search engine rankings, particularly with Google, you should make every early effort to make inclusion more likely. Second, search engines prefer smaller, more efficient web pages. When repeatedly referenced in the code of your website, long URLs begin to affect the file sizes of your pages. Though a few extra characters here and there may not seem like a lot, consider a 50 page site that uses all absolute links. Then consider adding an extra 10 to 15 extra characters every time a URL is referenced… such frill could progress into several thousand extra characters of code throughout the entire site.

What you will gain…

As compared to several months ago, today's search engine ranking algorithms put much less emphasis on keywords residing in a website's URL. Based on the above notes, however, there are clearly still optimization benefits associated with selecting a proper domain name and URL extension. Though none of these suggestions are poised to yield overwhelming results on their own, it's important to remember that search engine ranking is a very temperamental science and every little bit helps. Attention to these few easy steps should benefit the long-term goals of your search engine ranking campaign.

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