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For years, people have talked about how valuable keywords are in domain names. I’ve heard people claim that a domain name will automatically put you on top of the search results for the word in your domain, and others claim it makes no difference. The truth lies somewhere between, but definitely leaning toward the “yes it matters” side of the argument.

I’m not saying a domain name is all you need. Far from it. Unless your first name is Wiki and last name Pedia, there’s nothing you can do to guarantee a first place ranking, that’s just the way it is. Occasionally, I’ll see simple one page sites, or even parked domains showing up in the search results, apparently due to nothing more than the domain name. You don’t see that often these days, but I still see it occasionally–in MSN more than anywhere else. Most often, a page with nothing but ads will not show up in the search results, regardless of how generic or keyword-targeted the domain name. To show up in the search listings, you’ve got to have a real site, with unique content, and plenty of links to your site.

Also, gone are the days where you can buy whatever-keywords-you-want- to-show-up-for.com and shoot to the top of Google search. Those domains were hot for a while, and I still see new site owners fall into the hyphen trap. Don’t do it! Yeah, it’s hard to find a good, non-hyphenated .com domain name that’s not registered, but use your brain people and get creative, or better yet, buy a domain that someone else has already registered. You can buy a very nice domain on the after market at an affordable price. Just get it out of your head that your domain should cost $8. Unless you’re very lucky, or you want some lame, web 2.0 name that nobody can spell, take out your wallet and spend a few bucks on a real domain name. I’m not saying you have to buy a domain with your keywords in it. You can be very successful in the search engines without it, but there are certainly advantages to owning a great domain name with your keywords. Typically, the shorter and more targeted the name, the better. You might be ok with two or three words, but if you get much longer than that, you’ll start to confuse people. Keep it simple!

Here’s my take on why keyword domains perform so well:

  1. The search engines give added weight to your site for your keywords if they’re in your name. They do. You’ll see this across the board to varying degrees at each search engine. MSN seems to reward keyword domains a lot more than anyone else, but they seem to have a positive impact in Yahoo and Google as well.
  2. Your incoming links tend to include your site/domain name. If your domain is iamageek.com, you’ll get a lot of links with keywords like “I Am A Geek“. On the other hand, if your domain is software.com, you’ll get links with the word “Software“, not all of your links, of course, but a lot of the links to your homepage will use your primary keywords. This is a clear advantage because you can get a link from highly regarded directories (dmoz), news stories, industry sites, etc. including your keywords (which also happen to be your site and/or company name). Meanwhile your competitors are stuck with the link text “ACME Inc” which does nothing to help their search rankings other than for their own name.
  3. Your site will be more linkable. Nobody is going to link the-longest-freakin- domain-ever-registered-in-the-world.com. Besides the fact that they won’t have the endurance to type that whole thing, it just doesn’t lend itself to credibility. Before I even see the site at that domain, I have a negative impression of the site. Why would I want to add a link to such a non-credible site? Exactly, I wouldn’t. If you wouldn’t link to your own domain name, don’t expect anyone else to. Link bait on a crappy domain will not take off nearly as well as the same content on a good domain. In most cases the links won’t happen automatically, you still have to do the work, but it makes the job of getting links SO MUCH EASIER if you have a reputable domain name.
  4. A good, short domain name looks more reputable. It looks like a legitimate business. This ties in with the linkability factor. If you back up your great domain name with a world-class site design (or even a decent one), and awesome, unique content, you’ll have a powerful one-two punch that will be able to get respect on the web. A good, generic, domain name will be more likely to be dugg, stumbled, blogrolled, added to resources pages, and just about any other type of link you can imagine. A good, reputable domain will also tend to convert at a much higher rate than the long, “weird” looking domain names, it just carries more trust.

Those are the main reasons why a good domain name will help your search engine optimization efforts. A lot of the benefit comes from the other “side” benefits rather than having the keywords in your name itself. Of course, you still need to have a site that’s worthy of the domain–in terms of design and content–but a great domain is an excellent start. You still have to work and compete to be at the top for your keywords, but the right domain name might be just the edge you need if you’re doing everything else right.

One parting note, has anyone else noticed the convergence of SEO and domaining? Domainers have all these sweet domain names they don’t know what to do with and all these SEOs wish they could get their hands on some of these great domain names. (Psst…some people on both sides are starting to cross over and the two industries are beginning to merge).