Your domain is the identity of your website. That’s the bottom line. If you were to build an online business, you, of course, need a website. You need to have an internet home for the brand or value proposition that you are building. This unified place is easily accessible and communicates the value that you want to bring to the table so you can convert visitors into cold hard dollars in your bank account. Pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, a lot of marketers completely drop the ball from day one. Why? They choose the wrong domain name. I can’t emphasize this enough. Your domain name is like your street address. Get that wrong, and it’s going to be quite difficult for your target audience members to find you. It also makes it difficult for them to develop a loyalty or a community around your content or brand. Whatever the case may be, you end up losing out. Sadly, a lot of people who are looking to build blogs, websites, authority sites, or online tools, are simply clueless regarding the implications of the correct domain choice.
The bottom line is that it’s all about your identity and you need to choose carefully. There are three choices available to you: keyword domain, exact match domain, and branded domain. At first glance, it may seem like there’s really not that much difference between these three types of domains. However, upon closer inspection and analysis, they actually can make or break your business. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, as well as your “long game” or long term plan, it may be best for you to invest in a branded domain compared to the other options. Still, in the interest of giving you a full understanding of the marketing implications of domain names, I’m going to go through all three options.
Keyword domains are domain names that contain keywords that you’re targeting. Keep in mind that these domain names aren’t just composed solely of your target keywords. They just include part of the keywords you’re targeting. Generally, picking keyword based domains helps search engine optimization to a certain degree. If you do everything else right, and I’m talking about creating the right content, building the right website relationships, and establishing the right social media presence, keyword domains can help. At the very least, they won’t hurt you.
The reason why they can help you is because they help establish niche relevance quickly. For example, if I’m selling real estate in a particular district in Los Angeles, if I include very specific keywords in my domain name, I quickly establish niche context. In other words, somebody looking for “Santa Monica, Southern California real estate” can easily tell that my Santa Monica, CA Realty is within the niche that they’re interested in. Context is increasingly important when it comes to search engine optimization. The down side to keyword domains is that they’re fairly generic. Let’s use my real estate example. If I registered the domain name Santa Monica, CA Realty, it doesn’t really distinguish me from other real estate businesses based in Santa Monica, California. If I were to put a lot of time, effort and energy branding that domain name, I would still end up with a generic phrase. People would say “I’m looking for Santa Monica realty,” that can apply to a wide range of realty services in Santa Monica. Do you see the problem here?
Unlike keyword domains, exact match domains are composed solely of your target keywords. For example, if I have a website that sells baby shoes, my exact match domain would be babyshoes.com. For the longest time, exact match domains have search engine optimization advantage. Google loved (pay attention to the past tense) exact match domain names. The thinking is that if somebody typed in the exact match domain, they’re looking for that type of information. The problem is, this was abused by a lot of affiliate marketers. Somebody could type in babyshoes.com and end up on a website that’s all about dog training, for example. As a result, Google downgraded whatever search engine optimization benefits of exact match domains. The good news is you can still use exact match domains if you use niche specific content and link sources. While there are no instant SEO benefits, you can still use exact match domains and do well as long as you play close attention to the content that you are using. Another weakness with this type of domain is that it’s generic. Read what I said about generic keyword domains in the discussion above regarding keyword domains.
Branded domains often use nonsense or made up words. You can’t tell just by looking at the name what it’s about. For example, Yahoo or Ebay. These are two of the most well known online brands, but it took a lot of branding for people to instinctively get what they mean. When they first got established, people wouldn’t know what an Ebay is or a what a Yahoo does. And this is where its strength come from. The more you use it, the more your audience associates your branded name to your site or value proposition.
Another key advantage of using branded domains is that you’re starting from scratch. You take a nonsense word and there’s a high chance that nobody has registered it because it’s nonsense. It has no meaning at this point and time. It’s only after several months or years of branding that it has a specific audience and a specific value. Which brings up its downside. The big disadvantage to branded domains is that it requires a tremendous amount of effort, time and, yes, money to build up. Since its context is not obvious, you have to basically “educate” your target audience members to equate that nonsense or made up word with the range of value propositions you bring to the table.
Still, given all three options, branded domains is still the way to go. You save a lot of money when registering the domain, and its value really goes up, the more time, effort and energy you put into marketing your website. It “rides” your promotion activity. The same can’t be said with exact match domains or keyword based domains because they’re generic words. Eventually, if you do a proper job marketing your website, your brand equity can eclipse what your brand equity would have been if you have chosen an exact match domain or a key word based domain. If this discussion has gotten you excited, you’re probably asking, “Ok, I’m on board, but I still have one question: What makes a domain brandable?”
Keep the following in mind when trying to come up with the domain name that you would like to turn into a brand. While these are not dispositive, they do speak volumes regarding the natural value evolution of brandable domains compared to less brandable options.
First, the shorter a domain name is, the more brandable it is. This is very easy to understand because most people don’t have the memory of elephants. Most people have short attention spans and short domains are easier to remember.
Second, brandable domains are easy to remember. When somebody says “Yahoo”, you know exactly that it is an online portal. The same goes with the word “amazon.com.” There has to be something distinctive about the name that makes it very easy to remember. Its short length can definitely help, but there has to be something more. In and of itself, the name has to be memorable.
Third, the name must be relatively immune to misspelling. This is a serious problem. You spend a lot of dollars marketing and building up a brand, but people can’t find you because they don’t know how to spell or easily misspell your brand. This happened to the supposed “google killer” search engine that had a name that rhymes with cool. But since the name was spelled so weird, people could not find the search engine. Venture capital firms blew hundreds of millions of dollars funding that dog of a project and it went belly up. Make sure that your domain is not prone to misspelling.
Finally, there has to be some sort of resonance with your niche. There has to be some sort of emotional or intellectual connection with the niche that you’re targeting. Effective domain names appeal to emotional resonance or some sort of intellectual reference to their target niche. In other words, it’s not much of a stretch to see the domain name and then equate it with a particular set of topics, categories and needs.
Now that we are clear on what makes a domain name brandable, here are some of the benefits they can bring your business. First, if you select brandable domain names and resolve to come up with them or hire people to invent words, they are much cheaper. Compare this with buying a drop domain that many marketers are competing over, it’s not even a comparison. Which would you rather pay, $10 or $1,000? I thought so. The truth is, if you were just to come up with a new word, then you only have to pay the basic domain name registration fee. There are no competitors out there because it is a new word, it’s something you made up.
Another great benefit to brandable domains is that they are flexible. Just like with any kind of business, in the beginning, you probably don’t know the specific niche or orientation of your business. You would probably appreciate a little bit of flexibility. Well, when you use a brandable domain, you get that flexibility because the value propositions associated with your name would evolve with your business Compare this with buying an exact match domain name. For example, if the online store that I’m building is a baby shoes store, it would seem to make sense for me to buy the premium domain babyshoes.com. What happens if I branch out to baby carriages, baby supplies, and even non-baby related products? Babyshoes.com, far from being a big neon sign pointing new parents to my site, becomes a liability because it doesn’t do justice to the wide range of merchandise my business has evolved into selling. Flexibility is crucial because you really don’t know what’s around the corner. The more flexibility you have, the higher the likelihood your business will succeed.
Finally, brandable domains enable long term equity building. The more you promote your site, the more brand equity you build up. While this applies to keyword and exact match domains to a lesser degree, the big advantage to brandable domains in this context is that there’s less likelihood of confusion.
If you’re serious about putting up a website, or starting an online business, think long and hard about your domain choices. Believe it or not, your choice of domain can either push your business forward and higher, or hold it back. The last thing that you want is to pour millions of dollars into a solid online brand only to change direction or pivot later on. This is what happened to upwork.com, which used to be called oDesk. You wouldn’t want that to happen to you. So choose wisely.