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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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