Edinburgh Web Development

Domain name delirium

by Iain Wilson

30 March 2006

A recurring theme in our business is the tricks people think will help improve their rankings on the search engines. I think this is a mix of human nature always looking for a 'silver bullet', and past history where it was possible to improve search engine results by doing quick, secret and magical 'under the hood' tweaks to websites.

One that continues to come up is buying extra domain names. I've lost count of the number of times clients have told me they've bought extra domain names that contain keyword phrases related to their business. They're sure this will somehow help them on the search engines. These days, this is almost completely pointless.

A while ago, having a phrase in your domain name could make a serious difference in your ranking, but that no longer holds true. The search engines change their ranking algorithms regularly, so the effect of having keywords in your domain name will vary over time, but it is unlikely that it will ever make a massive difference and the universal trend has been to diminish the importance of keywords in urls.

There may be a little boost, but no more than having the phrase in your page content in the right places. If you think the keyword phrase is more important than your brand or company name, by all means use the phrase in the domain name, but stick with that one domain name and develop the content on that site.

Mini-websites, doorways and gateways When people buy extra keyword-rich domain names, sometimes their intention is to create mini web sites with maybe one page about the content of the keyword phrase that has been optimised and is a doorway or gateway to the main website. I've seen this work, but the search engines explicitly don't approve of this. They have started to recognise sites built for this purpose and when they do, the main site will get penalised or maybe even banned.

Why don't they like this? Well, they want to provide good content results to their users so they will come back and use them time after time. This enables them to sell their advertising. If their results are cluttered up with rubbish full of doorway pages created to trick them into giving high ratings, people will stop using them and their advertising revenues will disappear. So Google, Yahoo and MSN are totally motivated to deliver good content results - not rubbish that has been created to trick them!

Create content on your main site The answer to this, we believe, is to forget about trying to do short term tricks. Long term they just won't work and the consequences of getting found out are not nice. Put your efforts into improving the content on your main site.

If you can come up with the content for an optimized doorway page on an extra domain, then that content should be on your main site as a page. Remember that every page on your site can be optimised, and every page on your site is a potential landing point from a search engine enquiry.

What do you do with the domains? So what can you do with your extra keyword rich domain names that you bought? Well, if there is strong content that can be written about the subject matter that can justify a proper website of 5-10 pages, great, create a new website, but why isn't this information on your main site?

Do not, absolutely not, create a duplicate site of your main site on these domains. The best thing that will happen is that it will be ignored by the search engines and the worst thing is that your main site will be penalised, maybe banned.

You could redirect people from the extra domains to your main site by putting the IP address into the domain DNS record or through a 301 permenant re-direct, but is there really any point? How will they find the domain in the first place? Search engines will only list one entry for a site so the extra names won't be on any search engines and what are the odds of someone typing it by chance? Luckily, you probably didn't spend too much on acquiring the domains, so write it off to experience and make sure you don't renew them next time around.

In summary, I'm afraid the days of the quick-trick domain is passed. The search engines have matured and evolved. Like most things these days, you need to do a little bit of work to be successful!

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