By Joshua Ansell-McKinnon
If an investor or customer searches for your company name or product, will they find you?
From the get go, start-ups have to be thinking about search engine optimization. When you first launch a website, it will not rank for its own name. Just because you have a site on the web doesn’t mean it will even rank in the first 10 pages of Google under the same keyword as your URL name.
Example: Site Name: “Start Up SEO Guide” Site Domain or URL www.StartUpSEOGuide.com
Before choosing a domain name you should consider: your brand, what the online competition is around the name, what top level domains are (TLDs) are available, the length of the domain, the domain name linguistics, and if you can get the social media accounts associated with the same name.
When your start up gets searched for and is not found you lose!
One of the most important aspects of building your company is your brand. Your domain name should reflect your brand and, in no way, jeopardize the brand’s image. Do not use a domain name only for it’s SEO value! Please consider the brand first.
If the search results competition is really high for the domain name that you buy, you will have a tough time getting your site to rank for your own URL name. Online, your competition can be from a different industry entirely, but going after the same keywords. Knowing what the competition is like for a domain is really important in understanding your industry and how you will be able to rank online. Often I talk with clients and they know their direct competitors, but have no clue about their online competitors. Using competitive intelligence is an important step when looking for a domain name and a critical part of SEO.
My favorite tool to compare competition is SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer (OSE). OSE lets you compare up to five sites at the same time and has a browser plugin that allows you to see some metrics in your search results. You can also download a csv with lots of details about your site and your competitors.
Top Level Domains (TLD)
When deciding your domain name, you must understand your Top Level Domain or TLD. Your TLD is the extension at the end of your domain name: .com, .org., .net., etc. In general you want to own as many of the TLD’s as you can afford to own and use the most common, .com in the U.S., for your main site. People generally type .com automatically if they don’t know what your TLD is, or they search for the name. In search, .com’s hold the most weight and are the easiest to rank (this is of publically avaliable domains, .edu’s or .gov’s are not available to the public).
This is not to say that you can not rank a domain with a different TLD like .ly. Your country TLD can also have an effect on how you rank online. For example the TLD for Canada is .ca and China is .cn. Using country specific extension’s are important to rank in your country, but hold much less weight outside of the country.
Domain Name Length and User Experience
The length of your domain is important for different reasons: user experience, short url’s, and search engine rankings. Most important is user experience (UX). If your domain is too long it will be harder to type in, will increase difficulty for the user and decrease traffic directed to your site. In social media there are often character limitations, so shorter URLs are easier to use and work with. For this reason I like to try and purchase short versions of my domain name using different TLDs. For example if you tweet an article from the nytimes.com website, the tweet uses the domain nyti.ms, which is still branded and four characters shorter. Setting up this type of short domain is simple and integrable with services like bit.ly. The length of your domain for search also matters. Search engines still favor exact match domains, but you can set off spam signals to users and search engines if you have lots of dashes. The best domains are short and sweet with no dashes.
Domain Linguistics Test
Think about how your user will use the domain, type it, talk about it and share it.
- If you are in a loud bar, will a person be able to tell someone else about your domain and will that new person know what was said and how to spell it effortlessly?
- Are there multiple ways to spell the domain?
- Does the domain name mean something different in another language or culture?
- Is the domain name brand-able or generic?
Finding a Domain Name
My favorite tool is Domai.nr. Domai.nr lets you type in a keyword and see available domain names, TLDs, give short domain name recommendations, and then links to registrars, who.is, OSE, the site it self, wikipedia, and more.
Who.is is another great site that lets you see who owns a domain name and any listed contact information available.
Sedo.com is a domain auction site where you can find lots of great domain names for sale or or where you can sell a domain name that you already own.
Domain Permalinks and URL
This is a bit more complicated and largely depends on the size of your site. Generally you want to work with your team to figure the most efficient and SEO friendly URL structure. From an SEO prospect your URL should use keywords relative to a page’s content, whether for a page, product, profile, blog posts, etc.
There are a lot of different aspects of how to use permalinks and why different option work for different sites.
Use this: startupseoguide.com/blog (blog as a directory)
Don’t use this: blog.startupseoguide.com (blog as subdomain)
There is lots of SEO research about using sub-domains versus a new directory for a website’s blog (blog.startupseoguide.com vs. startupseoguide.com/blog). All evidence shows that it is a better SEO practice to use a new directory for your website’s blog (startupseoguide.com/blog).
The point of having a blog is to communicate with users and build links to your website, all of which help build your domain’s authority. When you put your blog on a subdomain the subdomain does not transfer authority as efficiently as a blog in a subdirectory.
And whatever you do, don’t use a different domain for your blog! Spend a little extra time and make a site with a blog that is branded to match your site.
Social Media Domains
When looking for a domain you should also be searching social media sites to see if you are able to claim your name.
- With Facebook Pages: when you get 25 fans you can change your Facebook URL
Grab your Brand Twitter
If you don’t have the time to claim and build a bunch of social media accounts you can use Knowem.
Grabbing as many of these social media accounts as possible helps protect your brand from brand campers, gets you inbound links, ensures that you control your brand name across the web, and helps with overall brand awareness.
Getting a domain is a complicated task which should be well thought out, researched and planned. If you have the money, spend it to get expert advice. If you don’t have the money, take the time to learn what you need to know to do it right.
Joshua Ansell-McKinnon is Digital Director, Co-CMO, Surfer, SEO, food lover, etc. Find me at http://polidigital.org, http://www.startupleadership.com and sometime Gastropub