For an SME looking to master the web, selecting a memorable domain name is a good place to start
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that having a strong online presence in this day and age is nothing short of indispensable for a business hoping to go places. However, it is dangerous indeed to think that just being listed on the world wide web is sufficient. A well-designed and user-friendly website is one thing, but it won’t be of much value if it becomes lost in the digital vacuum.
Up until recently, a popular means of drawing eyes towards the virtual version of one’s brand was anticipating somebody’s needs and reflecting that in a domain name. Keywords were king and they still are, but to an apparently dwindling extent. The use of so-called ‘black hat’ search engine optimisation (SEO) tactics has certainly not gone unnoticed by the folks at Google, with ‘keyword stuffing’ in a website’s meta description, and in hidden content on the site itself, being consistently targeted by our web overlords. The purpose of these much-maligned ‘unfair’ tactics is to get a website ranked, almost instantaneously, on the Holy Grail that is the first page of a Google search.
Needless to say, it seems that Google is altering its approach accordingly, by responding to complaints about keyword-laden domain names. While this could serve to have a notable impact on a number of our SMEs, a new emphasis on branded domain names – or alternatively a shift away from keyword-laden domains – appears to present a tangible opportunity to our web-hungry start-ups for whom unique, accessible and trusted content is very much the name of the game. “There are still a lot of websites out there that do rank well for their keywords and have the keywords in their domain name – but it is more based on the fact that they actually offer a good service and they have high-quality online content,” explains Tom Roberts, founder of search marketing agency So What? Media.
In addition to a mere focus on brand identity, Google is placing more credence on any business that, through ‘white hat’ SEO practice, singles itself out to be what could be regarded as an ‘authority’ on a specific subject, or in a particular market. For many in the tech world, this has just served to further underline the ethical approach an SME should be taking when it comes to nurturing its brand online. “You must use ‘white hat’ SEO techniques,” affirms Matthew Slinn, founder and CEO of web development and SEO firm Perceptant 101. “These days, they centre around content, and unique content is the key to getting a website recognised on Google. The more unique content Google sees linking to your site, the happier it is.”
Indeed, according to Roberts, this fresh campaign centred on ‘authority’ really opens the door for businesses to make a domain name an extension of their brand – or, more pertinently, a brand in itself – without having to worry about a competitor underhandedly diminishing their concrete web credentials. “It is very strange when people talk about a natural links profile, but the general consensus is that if people are linking to your website in your brand name rather than keywords that you are specifically trying to rank for, it does look more natural – it looks more natural to the Google algorithm and it looks more natural to a Google quality search team.” He continues: “If you have a brandable name, or it’s a name that people can trust and recognise, and it is not keyword rich with about three or four hyphens in it, then people are going to trust you in the offline world as a bit of an authority as well. What Google is trying to do in the next two or three years is to replicate offline trust in their online algorithm.”
Of course, selecting the exact domain name you believe will stand you in the best stead is a relatively pain-free process, but acquiring it can sometimes be a bit more challenging. That said, while the comparative values of a .com, a co.uk and a .net can often be a topic of heated debate, each has their own relevance and attraction, depending on the nature and ambitions of a business. “If you have a UK business and you are selling to UK companies, it makes no difference whether you have .com or .co.uk,” says Slinn. “In fact, I would go further and say when I look for help in the UK, I am more interested in domain names that end .co.uk.”
Nevertheless, for companies seeking a global presence, the .com is nigh on critical, or so it would seem. “With .com having over 100 million domain names registered versus the closest competitor which is about 14 million domain names, it is almost essential to tie-up the .com nowadays because availability of the domains is so short,” comments Matt Mansell, head of domain strategy for the Host Europe Group, owners of domain-name registrar 123-reg. Yet, while admitting that for a start-up not everything is possible from the word ‘go’, he offers some comfort in the assertion that a business shouldn’t regard .com as a straight-out panic-buy. “With every brand I have ever launched, we haven’t had the .com to start with, we have always launched it under a .net or a .co.uk, or another available domain, and then we have at one point or another acquired the .com domain.”
And with domain names ranging in price – according to demand – the chances of securing the best fit for your start-up will be greatly enhanced through a carefully measured, ethical and ultimately lucrative approach to online brand-building, with an initial domain name that reflects the values and nature of your business. Easier said than done, you may think, but nobody ever said running a business was simple, did they?