A fellow SEO and friend of mine received an email a few days ago with a question from a web consultant whose client was solicited with an offer to purchase a keyword-rich domain name.
The premise is that because Google likes to see keywords in your domain name (see my recent post, “How to SEO Your Content: 16 Places to Place Your Keywords“), having a keyword-rich domain name would benefit the client’s search ranking.
Was it worth it, and was it worth the nearly $500 they wanted for the domain name?
I get this question every so often, and I even wrote a post about it way back in 2009. So what’s changed in those ensuing years, if anything?
The standard consultant answer to these types of questions is, “It depends.” (Yes that’s a joke.)
Let’s break it down a bit.
Does Having Keywords in Your Domain Help SEO?
The simple answer here is, yes. If you have already established your domain name, and it has keywords in it, then it is a factor in Google’s rankings.
As an example, this website is www.dog-obedience-training-review.com.
I’ll give you three guesses on what their company is all about, and the first two guesses don’t count. They rank well for all kinds of dog training information.
When my buddy set up his domain, he specifically wanted “Bay Area” in the domain name, because people search for SEO training in the San Francisco Bay Area where he teaches.
It’s a ranking factor, and it helps him get found for my target search terms. How much does it help?
So it would seem logical that if I have a website, www.company.com, and purchase a couple of target keyword domains, and point them at my website because Google counts keywords in the domain as valuable, then this would help me rank higher for that target phrase.
Hold that thought for just a second.
Google counts unique web addresses (including domains) as being a web page. So www.company.com/page1.html is one page of content. Similarly, www.company.com/page2.html is another page of content, and Google gets that.
However, if www.company.com/page1.html has some content, and www.company.com/page2.html has exactly the same content (because you copied it for some reason), then Google gets a little suspicious that something fishy is going on, because the content is identical.
Having two different URLs with the same content is called duplicate content. Google will discount one of the addresses, and it won’t rank well, if at all (I’ve tested this).
Now if you compound this and point www.keyword1.com to www.company.com, you’re going to further duplicate the content on every page. www.keyword1.com/page1.html will be identical to www.company.com/page1.html, but in a different domain.
Now things are smelling really fishy to Google, because it sees that you’ve duplicated ALL pages into another domain.
If you purchased five keyword domains, this has just been compounded to be a bigger duplicate content issue, and you’ve completely shot yourself in the foot. Google will devalue all the duplicate pages, and they won’t perform well at all in the search engines.
The Problem With Keyword Domains
Unless you’re starting a new website or changing the domain to something else for branding, keyword domains severely limit you. You’re stuck with whatever domain name you chose, and if you chose wrong, then it may prevent you from expanding into other lines of business or switching gears if your company changes (and whose doesn’t?).
Being very picky about the domain name is important so you don’t box yourself in unnecessarily.
My own domain, for instance, includes “Bay Area” and “Search Engine”, but no other specific terms. That’s deliberate. I didn’t want to box myself into one thing.
Furthermore, if you haven’t done the keyword research to find out what people are searching for, randomly buying a keyword domain could be a complete waste of money.
If you think it sounds good, but haven’t done the research, then you might as well roll some dice. Chances are good your roll of the dice will lose.
As an example, the consultant’s client website was something like “SamsAutoRepair.com” (I’m making this up – not a real website). The domain they were being offered was something like “houston-carburetors.com”. Sounds good.
But why would they limit it themselves to carburetors when they do so many other things too?
When It’s Useful to Have Multiple Domain Names
You absolutely can have multiple domain names, but you don’t want them to resolve or be indexed by Google. To prevent that you set up a 301-redirect or “forward” the domain to the “real” domain.
If you 301-redirect a domain, it will never be indexed, because the “301 error” is a message to Google that “sorry, this URL doesn’t exist, here’s the real one you should pay attention to.”
As an example, a friend of mine used to have bayareasea.com which redirected to bayareasearchengineacademy.org. The former is just easier to send on social media or in emails. But we never want it to be indexed. If you click it, you’ll see it automatically changes to the correct web address.
You might want to own the .com, .org, and .net versions of your domain so a competitor doesn’t get them. Just 301-redirect them to the one you want to be indexed. Example:
I had a student in one of my SEO classes that said people were always calling them to say their website was down. It’s because their company name was an odd spelling, and the customer was mistyping it.
I said, “Buy the misspelled version and 301-redirect it to the correct version. No one will ever know the difference, and you’ll stop the phone calls and end customer frustration!”
So to conclude, in my opinion, the company that was being solicited for a keyword domain purchase, I let them know that it would be a complete waste of their money.
Such a strategy is certainly not worth the $500 in question unless they did their due diligence on the selling company, done the keyword research, and validated the domain name as a viable option that wasn’t going to limit their business in other ways.