How to Choose a Search Friendly Domain Name


Choosing a domain name should never be allowed to become a stumbling block for launching your blog or business. While it’s easy to go wrong with domain name selection, a bad choice is almost never catastrophic, unlike failure to take action. As with most things in life, making a decision work is more important than making the right decision.

There are two basic approaches to picking a name for your site. You can either focus on branding, or focus on keywords. If you take the branding route, you don’t need much help from me—you know the product or subject you’re trying to promote better than I do, assuming you know enough to create a website about it. That’s more of an art than a science. On the other hand, if you want to go for a keyword optimized domain name, there’s a more deterministic way to pick the best one available.

Exact Match Domain Names

An exact match domain, or EMD, is a url that is a character-for-character match of particular keyword, sans spaces. EMDs give your site a boost in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for the keyword being matched, making it possible to rank for the given keyword with far fewer backlinks than competing sites with comparable content.

As one of many possible examples, a search for “mountain bike” brings up MountainBike.com as the top result in Google, above FisherBike.com (Gary Fisher invented the mountain bike) and the Wikipedia page for “mountain bike” (with seven times as many backlinks).

For a domain name to truly qualify as an exact match domain name, it has to meet the following criteria:

  1. The top-level domain extension must be a .com, .net or .org. The latter extensions were listed in order of preference. Ideally, you’d like to acquire the .com version if it’s available, but .net and .org versions work fine as well (.com domains are generally considered to have more credibility with searchers, and they have a higher resell value). For anyone with reservations about using a .org domain, note that it’s perfectly legal, and even commonplace, to use .org domains for commercial purposes. Other top-level domain names like .edu, .info or .us cannot be used as EMDs. Well, you can use them, but you won’t get any SEO juice from them.
  2. No hyphens. Hairtreatment.com is an exact match domain name. Hair-Treatment.com is not. However, if all three TLD extensions are taken, the hyphenate isn’t a bad way to go, if kept to a maximum of two hyphens. You can also append to “stop word” to the beginning or end of the keyword. A stop word is a word that Google more or less ignores in a keyword when it’s considered lack any concrete content: “and”, “of”, “best”, “my”, “how to”, etc. A good modifier to add to a keyword for higher clickthrough rates is “best”, as in besthairtreatment.com. Again, this is not an exact match domain name, but a decent fail safe. Other possibilities: “my” (myhairtreatment.com), “spot” (hairtreatmentspot.com), “101” (hairtreatment101.com). You get the idea.
  3. The spelling and word order must be identical. If the keyword is “bluetooth accessories”, then accessoriesbluetooth.com or accessoriesforbluetooth.com, while still useful in themselves (good keywords in your domain name are always good SEO), do not have the same power as an EMD.

Finding the Most Valuable Keywords for an EMD

The trick here is to put a vetted keyword list into a bulk domain name search tool and see which ones have .com, .net and .org versions still available. In most cases, you won’t find many, but that’s OK. Ultimately, you only need one.

Create a keyword list

Let’s continue with the bluetooth accessories example. Put “bluetooth accessories” into the Google Keyword Tool, making sure you’re signed in to get a more extensive set of results. Sign up for a free account if you don’t have one; otherwise you’re limited to 100 results instead of up to 800.

Export the list into a spreadsheet

In the Keyword Tool, click the Download button and select “All”, opening the file in Excel.

Calculate the AdSense values

We want to know what each keyword would be worth per month in AdSense revenue if we ranked #1 for it. Whether or not you’re monetizing with AdSense is irrelevant. What we’re interested in is the congealed value of the search volume and cost-per-click data to gauge the commercial intent of each keyword.

In the first cell of the last column (currently U1), enter the word “Potential” as the header; then in the cell below it, enter the following formula: “=R2*T2*0.4*0.25*0.05”. This is the local monthly search volume times the CPC, times the percentage of search traffic a #1 result in Google would yield (40%, written here as .4), times the publisher’s end of the AdSense rev share with Google (25%, notated at 0.25), times an estimated clickthrough rate (5%, or 0.05).

Double-click the square in the lower right hand corner of the cell to extend the formula to the last row in the column. Right-click anywhere in the highlighted column and select Sort, then “Sort largest to smallest”, then click the Sort button to expand the selection. Now all of the keywords in the worksheet are sorted in descending order by their AdSense revenue potential. If you get value errors in the cells (#VALUE!), they’re probably multiply-by-zero calculations where there was zero or indeterminate search volume. Delete these rows by clicking their numeric row headers on the far left, then right-clicking on them and selecting “Delete”.

Remove keyword delimiters and spaces

Keyword column header to see your keywords (double-click between the A and B column headers), then click on the A header to select the entire column. Hit Ctrl-F to Find, click the Replace tab, insert a single space in the “Find what” field, then click Replace All. This removes all of the spaces. Now replace the space in the “Find what” field with an opening bracket (“[“), click Replace All, then do the same for the closing bracket (“]”).
If you leave only the relevant columns unhidden (in this case: Keyword, Estimate Avg. CPC, Local Monthly Searches, and Potential) and hide the irrelevant ones by right-clicking on the column letters and selecting “Hide”, you’re left with a nicely formatted list of keywords prioritized by their commercial value in the eyes of Google.

Paste the keyword list into a bulk domain search tool

Unfortunately, I can’t give highly specific steps for this procedure, because I’ve found that bulk domain search tools tend to be flaky—one that works today might change its layout or functionality two weeks from now. So instead of recommending one domain search tool, I suggest googling “bulk domain search”. The one I’ll use for this example is Dynadot.
The basic idea is to copy and paste your keyword list (making sure the spaces between words are removed) into the domain checker to see which ones have .com, .net or .org domain names still available. The goal is to pick the available domain with the highest keyword value (Potential) that actually makes sense for your site. If “mountaindew.org” were available, your site about mountain bikes, the keyword value would be irrelevant.
Many bulk domain checkers limit you to entering 100 or fewer names at a time (sometimes per extension), so you’ll have to do this procedure as many times as necessary, but it goes fast. Paste in your keyword list, tick off the domain extensions you want the tool to check (.com, .net and .org), and uncheck all other options. Go ahead and run the search.

In all likelihood, 95% of your keywords will have already had their domain names taken, but you’ll probably score at least one or two good candidates. In my case, a check for “bluetooth accessories” domain keywords showed one available option that was irrelevant—cheapphonecovers.net—and two that are relevant: cellphoneaccessoriescheap.net and whatisbluetooth.net. The .org versions of all three are also available. While “bluetooth” isn’t in the domain, I’d choose cellphoneaccessoriescheap.net for its potential for product expansion.

Try It Yourself

Almost everyone insists that all of the good domain names are taken, but if you cast a wide net by building a large keyword list, you’ll often be pleasantly surprised at what you can still grab, even in very competitive niches. Spend can afternoon building an extensive set of keywords to check, and you’ll probably find a few domain names that you won’t believe are still untouched.


Popular search terms for this article:

how to choose a domain name, how to choose domain name, how to select a domain name, how to pick a domain name, how to select domain name, choosing a domain name, domain name search google, google domain name search, what if i cant get the domain name that matches my keyword

Andre Kibbe currently works as a content analyst for Internet Brands. He can be found on Twitter: @andrekibbe

Discussion

  1. Ahmed on the 4th February

    Good Article. I never thought of pasting the keyword list into a domain search tool – Excellent tip!

  2. Wasim Ismail on the 4th February

    Just yesterday someone was telling me that they are stuck for domain names, as all of them are taken, yes it is difficult to get a good domain name, but if you experiment and try various techniques like the ones you have shown above, at the end you will find a domain name that will represent your company, brand, and image.

  3. Justin Farr on the 4th February

    how about a “.biz” address? Does that hurt SEO at all?

    Thanks for the good tips!

    Justin

  4. Andre Kibbe on the 4th February

    @Justin: For SEO, .biz doesn’t give you any additional points with Google. You really need a .com, .net or .org for there to be any search engine benefit when used in conjunction with a keyword. Aside from SEO, you also have to think about customer/user perception. Most people give more credibility to .com and net domains than other extensions, unless they’re “domain hacks” (e.g. adverbs ending in a .ly extension–no SEO benefit, but good for branding).

  5. Ash on the 7th February

    If your website is location based, i.e you are a flower shop in paris buying a .fr domain helps – it terms of SEO.

  6. Caitlin - BrandBucket on the 8th February

    Great post on keywords. I think there is definitely a place to do it but if you cant get the exact spelling and no hyphen .com domain name then you should choose a more creative brandable domain name. Otherwise your sub par keyword domain will just blend with the rest.

  7. Jess on the 10th February

    Hi,
    Great article. Does this work for parked domains? For example, right now my domain name is http://www.mybusinessname.com. Would it work if I register 5 keyword-rich domain names and park or 301 redirect them to my website?

    Would love a reply on this.

    Thanks!
    Jess

  8. Thomas on the 12th February

    Great resource here, I will certainly direct my readers here for domain name tips. I’ve had great success with exact search phrases like recentufosighting.com and popularaccountingsoftware.com. The good domains are by no means taken.

  9. ertan on the 13th February

    I agree with you, .com is better.
    thank you for article

  10. Remo Harsono on the 24th February

    great articles, same with ahmed the idea of pasting list of keywords into a domain search tool is excellent tip!

  11. Jason on the 30th March

    Is there any negatives to using a stop word in between two keywords. For example http://www.keywordtokeywordkeyword.com.

    The to between the first two keywords being the question. The first two keywords are city names if that helps.

    Thanks

  12. Erik on the 12th December

    Good article.

    However you haven’t concider cctld’s . Google tells us the the the country domain extensions are concidered in the algorithm. So if you search for for “safaris tanzania” you could get more weight if your domain is co.tz than .com . Pretty hard to prove, but in meetings google is very encouraging to cctld pushing use of their names.

  13. What a great read! I wish I had found this article when I first started seo. Great tips I will take with me on all future sites I make

  14. Femi on the 29th November

    Good Article. I love the metric system of domaining

  15. Dave Honeyestewa on the 17th December

    I like it when people come together and share thoughts. Great website, continue the good work!

  16. May on the 15th March

    Love your sharing.
    Anyway, with many new gTLD coming, there are plenty room for get good domain name. :)

Add a Comment