Companies and websites evolve, merge, pivot, expand, change direction, need a refresh or just outgrow their previous self. This may mean rebranding, renaming your website and changing domains.
Starting a company rebrand sounds fun, creative and exciting – playing a role in the transformation of a brand, digging into every part of your company looking for that clever thing that will pull everything together so nicely, brainstorms, mood boards, mock-ups, focus groups, tag lines. It’s all very exciting and rewarding until your SEO agency or team tells you that it’s not going to work. And then you need to start the process again, and again, and everything begins to feel like it’s groundhog day. For a business or website that relies on their traffic to survive, this exciting project can quickly turn into a source of anxiety, cost huge amounts of money, and take far longer than anticipated.
However, this can be avoided if SEO is considered from day one. From an SEO perspective, your domain name is important. What you choose not only represents your brand (and Google loves brands because users love brands), it can indicate to search engines what the website is about. The type of domain you pick also adds credibility and can impact user signals and click-through rates, affecting rankings.
Here are some of our best tips to help you decide a new domain name if it’s time for a change and understand how it may impact your rankings.
Choosing a brand name today isn’t easy and it can sometimes feel like nothing is unique anymore, but once you find one that is, you’ve struck gold. If it’s unique enough, you’ll have much less competition in the search results and it’ll be much easier to acquire the social media handles that match for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. When people search for your name, you should be the first to come up – that’s the goal, but you also never want to be bland and boring. Fun fact: the @johnlewis Twitter account belongs to a teacher in Virginia “not a retail store” as his bio explains, and has recently made his own John Lewis Christmas advert.
Google is looking for strong online brands and will reward you with better rankings. But what is a strong online brand? Distinctive. Authoritative. Memorable. Not to mention, the more loyal user traffic you receive, the higher your credibility and trust. If you want to stand out, you need to do your competitor research. Look for patterns in your industry and use them as inspiration.
Or be meaningful
Creating a new domain name can still be fun and is the perfect opportunity to layer in hidden meanings or play on words to shape new ones. You might want to take popular industry buzzwords and turn them into something entirely new and refreshing. Another good tip to finding the right name is to use synonyms for more common words. When your users understand the layered meaning of your name, it creates a connection and sticks in their minds more effectively. Be careful if you’re using multiple words though, remember to check what it looks like strung together in a lowercase sentence to avoid unintentionally inappropriate fails (check out this post for a laugh).
Just don’t be too unique
Obscurity isn’t always your friend, especially when you want to be easily found. A brand name needs to be memorable, easy to spell and pronounceable. Many brands either invent a new word entirely, or adapt the spelling of existing words to show creativity and boldness. Often, this works great, but not every time and not everyone will appreciate your trendy, creative take on a normal word. Flickr used to lose 3.5m unique visits a year to Flicker – great for Flicker, not-so-great for Flickr or the users searching for it. You also don’t want Google asking “did you mean…” whenever anyone searches your domain name as it makes it look unprofessional.
Keep it short
An effective domain name should be as short as possible, ideally less than 15 characters. A shorter domain is just easier and quicker to type in, especially for emails, social media, advertising campaigns and even word of mouth. In fact, Twitter’s max length for a username is 15 characters, so for your social media handles to be consistent, they have to be short. During a webmaster hangout Google’s John Mueller said that when there are two URLs with the same content, Google will choose the shorter of the two, though it’s not an actual ranking factor.
Think about what you promise
Rebranding can involve repositioning your website, which also means changing the way you present your website to the search engines. Along with messaging and content, if you currently have some kind of promise in the domain name itself or are planning to add a promise, this signal may impact how search engines understand and rank your website. For example, if you were to move from the domain cheapwindows.com to qualitywindows.com you would expect search queries for the website to change from terms like cheap, low-cost windows and installation terms to premium, high-quality or durable windows and installation terms. There may be some crossovers, but ultimately that change would suggest product and service offering is going to change as well, and the website may no longer satisfy the users it has in the past.
Eliminate any confusion
Searchers will make mistakes when looking for your website, it’s inevitable, so you should ensure you have a foolproof plan ready. If a domain name is too long or too complicated, you’re practically asking your user to make a typo which could lead them elsewhere. Just think of all the autocorrect victims of the world. This is also true for homophones where two words are heard the same but have different meanings – word-of-mouth is important to consider too and a verbal recommendation could lead to confusion. If there are similar spellings that you anticipate users will find themselves on and you can afford to acquire the domain, it may be worth doing so and setting up a redirect. That way, no matter which variation of the spelling is used, the user will always find their way to your landing page.
In summary, you should avoid:
- Abbreviations (e.g: 2cool4skool)
- Special characters
- Difficult to spell words
- Mixing numbers and words
- Hyphens (can look like a spam version of a real website)
- Doubled letters
Think about your use of keywords
While having appropriate keywords in your domain has little-to-no SEO value, it can be useful in sending positive signals to your users. It’ll give them a clear definition of your website’s purpose and core offerings straight away. However, keyword stuffing is where this gets made redundant. It’s better to have no keywords and a unique name than to stuff your domain name full of keywords. Keyword stuffing is black hat SEO and should be avoided at all costs as it can lead to your site being blacklisted.
Check your search competition
SEO should be at the heart of your domain decisions, especially when it comes to ranking on Google. Ask yourself: will it be easy? Is there a potential to move up in the rankings? If it’s similar to another popular product or website or a generic name, your website could be up against millions of search results. To maximise success, look for a domain that isn’t highly competitive or, even better, a blank slate. With research and a bit of common sense, you should be able to figure out if your domain is or sounds similar to something already out in the world.
Research your domain’s history
Just like when buying anything second-hand, you want to do your due-diligence before making a commitment. Dropped domains from active sites can have negative histories of Google penalties, spammy backlinks or a bad reputation that can affect your future SEO. You may even be dealing with a domain that was scrapped by a previously malicious site. Don’t worry, if you’re decided on a domain with this problem, it can be fixed with the right plan in place.
Check the availability
Avoid wasting time on a domain that you can’t acquire. Start by checking whether the domain is available by simply visiting the domain itself to see what currently exists or if it’s for sale. If it is for sale, there will usually be a number or enquiry form to fill in. If there is a website and it looks like something you could afford to acquire, contact the owner directly either through the website, get their name, email or address from the domain’s Who Is profile or find and message them on LinkedIn. You can also run a search on a domain registrar, like 123 Reg, for the availability and prices. In some cases you’ll be able to buy it there and then.
Choose your extension
All domain extensions are judged equally by Google, but not the users, which is why it’s important to get it right for your brand. There are now hundreds of different extensions you can choose from, far beyond the ‘big three’ of .com, .net and .org. You need one that is relatable for your users or it will send negative user signals to the search engines. Some extensions are definitely worth avoiding like .biz, .info and .name as they can be perceived as spammy and will probably see a lower click-through rate.
The .com domain is the original and the largest, which usually makes it the best option, especially if you’re a profit-making website. Simply put, we’re creatures of habit, so if it’s available and affordable, choose it, if not, get it as soon as you can. If you don’t have a .com domain and one exists, many of your users will accidentally end up there instead, so make sure it’s not a competitor. Geographical domains are kind of the exception as Google looks favourably on them. Even so, let’s say you’re a UK business, you should try to own both the .com and the .co.uk to protect your business reputation.
Another impact of misspellings or having say a .co domain extension rather than .com or .co.uk means you’re likely to lose out on backlinks from journalists and bloggers trying to link to your website, but instead automatically typing another.
Never use trademarked names
Before finally registering your domain name, protect yourself from expensive litigation by doing a trademark search and also checking whether there is already a registered business that uses the same name. Using a trademarked name is illegal and you could lose all brand equity if someone finds out, sues you and issues a cease and desist letter.
Alternatively, you should consider filing a trademark for the name yourself, protecting you from future copyright issues and stopping competitors from using your name at all in their own advertising campaigns.
Once you’ve finally found a domain that is right for you and your SEO strategy, ask yourself the following questions:
- Would you personally click on this domain name?
- Can you easily pronounce the name in your mind?
- Will the name stand the test of time?
- Does your name leave room to expand in the future?
If all of these answers are yes, congratulations, you’ve found your new domain name.