Often, it seems like a good idea to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, taking what looks like the tried and tested approach.
However, whilst in the past descriptive domain names may have given businesses certain advantages online, recent changes to Google’s algorithm at the end of 2012 have done away with many of these previous benefits.
The early days of the Internet
When the Internet was young, and not unlike a small village with just one top shop, one grocery store, one pet store, and other businesses who were the trailblazers in their industry with a website, a tradition started of using descriptive names or phrases for domain names. People searching for these pioneering online suppliers could readily find them by using descriptive keywords to search for them, and search engines made the websites easy to find. In those early days if you wanted to find a business chances are you would just type into your browser Books.com when looking for books or Hotels.com to find somewhere to stay and so on. Nowadays, less than 25% search in this way.
As online business took off, and nearly every business put up a website, the online space became overcrowded. A high ranking in search results grew to be the key objective of many businesses, as more and more of us turned to Google whenever we wanted to find a product or service, and so the practice of using descriptive domain names became entrenched because Google continued to give a preference to domain names describing what their potential customers were searching for. For example if you were called Jobs.com, you would be more likely to show up in the top results, assuming your website was otherwise well designed.
However, this led to marketers using “exact-match domain names” as a way to cheat the system, pushing low quality websites up in search result listings. With Google’s recent changes to its algorithm, Google has made it harder for sites to cut corners, ensuring that the focus is on quality and relevance. Today, Jobs.com does not even make the top 10 search results for a search for ‘Jobs’.
Brands over descriptive
Selecting descriptive names has never been good practice in branding, as these names do little to set you apart from competitors, but now with Google’s alterations to its algorithm, this method of choosing names is even more inappropriate.
Even before this algorithm change, the online environment that influenced people’s practices has been quietly moving on away from descriptive names, with users searching online being much more likely to opt to visit sites with recognised brand names. Rand Fishkin, a renowned online marketing expert and co-founder of SEOMoz, which helps websites get found online, summed up the point concisely in a recent blog post: ‘Unbranded sites may be losing significant amounts of traffic vs. their better-branded competition. Choosing a “keyword-match” domain seems like a worse decision than ever’.
We couldn’t agree more, and encourage readers to take care when choosing a domain name for products and services. Choosing a distinctive name comes with a whole host of benefits, not least of which is the opportunity to own it through trade mark registration. It is also easier to deal with competitors who seek to copy your domain names. Do get in touch if this resonates with you, and you want to find out more about branding your business.